Students Critique Blended Learning Experiences
Students weigh benefits and drawbacks of blended learning
Learning partly online and partly in a face-to-face environment helps students move through the curriculum at their own pace, but also requires them to take more responsibility for their own learning, students in hybrid schools say.
"I started coming here because of the independent way of learning and how you could progress through classes at your own pace," says Alex Kam, an 11th grader at the San Francisco Flex Academy, where students spend part of their time learning through an online curriculum and the other part in pullout groups with teachers. Kam has been going to the school since it opened in fall 2010.
Before coming to the 178-student academy, which serves grades 9-12, Kam was in a traditional school environment where he would get bored with his classes because he had the potential to progress faster than his peers, but was not allowed to do so, he says. As a result, he began skipping classes.
"Here, I can go at my own pace and stay where I want to be at," he says. But part of being successful in that kind of environment is knowing when to ask for help and taking responsibility for your own learning, Kam says.
Jazmin Stoughton is also an 11th grader at "SF Flex," as well as the student body president.
Stoughton, who was home-schooled before coming to the school, got used to learning independently but fell behind on the credits she needed to graduate on time.
Enrolling in SF Flex in January 2011, she says, has helped her get back on track. Being able to move at her own pace is allowing Stoughton to regain those credits faster than she would in a traditional school environment or in homeschooling.
"When you come here, the things you're good at you can move ahead [in], and the things you're not so good at, you can spend more time [on]," she says. "I've pretty much been given the chance to graduate in two and a half years instead of four."
Stoughton also appreciates the individual attention she receives from teachers in the pullout groups.
"After so many years of studying on my own, the fact that there are actual teachers here to help me has done really good things," she says. "Each of the teachers try to work with you individually if you need it, and they seem very understanding when you talk to them about what you're having trouble with."
As a student with dyslexia, Stoughton says having that extra attention has helped her learn better. "I never thought I would be doing as well at school as I am right now," she says.
The 126-student Bronx Arena High School in New York City serves overage, undercredited students in a blended learning model. The school, which is a partnership with Glen Cove, N.Y.-based social work organization SCO Family of Services and Boston-based Diploma Plus, which aims to prevent drop-outs, does not classify students by grade level, but helps each student map out a plan to graduation that works for him or her.
Maribel Peralta has been attending the school since it opened last fall.
"At first, it struck me as strange that everything was online, and that the teachers were just there to guide you if you needed help, instead of everything being on a board and learning as a whole class," she says. "But it's definitely much better than a traditional school because you get to learn at your own pace, so if you don't understand something, you can always take the time to learn it, and it's not like you got left behind."
Peralta, 17, is on track to graduate in three years. She finds that the face-to-face project-based learning she does with her teachers also helps her understand the curriculum better.
"It helps having the conference with your teacher, because you're not always going to understand what you have read online, and the interaction with other students when you have small groups," she says.
But to be successful in such a model, it's important for students to tap into their own motivation, says Peralta.
"There's going to be times that you don't understand the material that you're learning, and you have to push yourself forward to keep learning and trying," she says.
Tatiania Morales began coming to the Bronx Arena High School last fall after dropping out of school when she was 16. It has been the 19-year-old's first experience with online learning.
"Just learning off the computer, for me, is kind of hard," she says. "But it gets easier."
Morales says she was "slacking off" when she first started at Bronx Arena, but through the support of the school, she says, she has now made major changes in the priority she places on school in her life.
"School is definitely number one," she says. Morales stays after school to complete coursework and works on her classes at home and during the weekends, she says.
"My [advocate counselor], my principal, my teachers, they're definitely always pushing me to do what I have to do," she says. "So I try to come in and type up what I've got to type up, draft what I've got to draft, revise my work, and do what I've got to do, and by 2:30, I don't want to go home. You just want to keep going and going until you're finished."
Morales hopes to graduate in June, and says she would like to return to work at the school as a counselor one day.
Sol Gonzalez, 18, says that transitioning to Bronx Arena High requires dedication.
"The work is not easy, but you can get through it. You just need motivation and people to help you with it," she says.
It is her first time using online learning for her coursework, but Gonzalez says that transition was easy for her.
"I'm really good with technology, and it's easier [for me to learn] on the computer," she says. "I love the self-paced thing because I don't have anyone pressuring me. When you need help, your teachers are there, and they will show you."
Like her fellow students, Gonzalez says internal drive is an essential skill to succeed at Bronx Arena.
"Bronx Arena is not like a traditional school. You need more motivation of yourself and [you need to] learn how to ask questions and make sure you know what you're doing," she says. She, too, has a goal of graduating in June.
The sense of community and individualized attention is what appeals most about Bronx Arena to Christian Guillen, 18, the school's student body president.
"It's a big family because we have extra support [that's lacking] in a traditional school," he says. "You're not just a number or a student ID. You're a person."
Guillen finds his project-based, face-to-face classes engaging and relevant.
"My [classes are project-based], so each credit you need, we figure out a project of your interest," he says. "If you have some type of interest [in what you're learning], you get the work done faster. People that don't like what they're working on most likely won't get the work done."
Learning both online and in a face-to-face classroom is also helping to prepare him for the future, he says.
"It's the best of both worlds because once you go to college, you're going to be online all the time," Guillen says. "This program has given us a taste of that."
Vol. 31, Issue 25, Pages 32-33