Education Next’s new annual poll purports to show lackluster and declining interest in blended learning. However, the wording of the poll’s blended learning question is essentially about how much computer usage high schoolers should have during instruction.
To truly gauge support for blended learning, a more useful poll would have asked: “Do you support or oppose integrating technology tools to allow teachers to better customize instruction to each student’s individual needs and pace?”
And, as a follow-up question to suss out more depth of understanding, the poll could ask, “Should schools help students learn to take responsibility for their own learning path and outcomes?”
According to the EdNext pollsters, 51% of parents think students should spend 30% or more of their instructional time receiving instruction on a computer, down 6 percentage points from last year’s poll. 41% of teachers think students should spend 30% or more of their time receiving computer-based instruction, down one point from last year.
These results more likely represent parents’ and teachers’ increasing awareness of the effective, instructionally-sound use of computers, not just dumping students on devices and hoping for results.
The EdNext poll asked, “About what share of instructional time in high school do you think students should spend receiving instruction independently through or on a computer?”
This question assumes a binary relationship between student and computer, not the complex interdependency between student, teacher and computer.
Further, the wording of the question ignores major aspects of high-quality blended learning, including:
- Pedagogy: Blended learning is not defined solely by the presence and use of computers. Rather, blended learning is an instructional strategy that supports teachers in their systematic integration of technology tools to customize instruction to the different level and pace at which individual students learn, so students are better engaged and share responsibility for their learning. The poll’s approach has a narrow and misplaced emphasis on computer time and therefore misses the broader context of blended learning and likely, more support for it.
- Response options: By requiring respondents to indicate what percentage of time students should spend on a computer and drawing conclusions based on those relative percentages as to the strength of support for blended learning is completely misguided; more computer time does not equal better blended learning. In fact, there is no “right” amount of computer time in blended learning. How much time a student spends on a computer should directly relate to his/her instructional needs, pace and choice. 30% or more time spent on computers is arbitrary; a student on a computer for 10% of his/her time — for the right instructional reasons — could be more effective than a student on a computer for 70% of the time.
- Limiting the question to high school: The question should cover all grade levels since blended learning is as frequently employed at the elementary and middle school levels as it is in high school. Moreover, the parents in the poll (who were oversampled) that may not have students in high school which may influence their responses (no data is provided on the grade level of the students of parents responding). Focusing only on high schools is simply too narrow a dataset from which to draw general conclusions about blended learning support overall.
If the goal of the poll is to solicit feedback on how much time parents, teachers and others think students should spend on a computer, it does answer that narrow mission. However, as blended learning is so much more than just the use of a computer (or any technological device) the poll shoots wide of the mark and does not accurately represent a true picture of the support for blended learning.
Next year, EdNext has a chance to get the question right and provide real insight into support for blended learning. As blended learning becomes more widely implemented across the country, it is important we find out the strength of support for the effective implementation of blended learning — the systematic integration of technology tools by teachers to customize instruction to each student’s individual needs and pace.
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