What does a blended classroom look like?

What does a blended classroom look like? There is no simple answer to that question, because there are so many flavors of blended learning, so many ways that technology can be deployed, and so many ways that classrooms using blended learning can be configured. In the last couple of weeks I’ve heard two accounts of how a good blended classroom might appear.

First, in a presentation, Susan Patrick of iNACOL said (I’m paraphrasing): “If you walk into a blended classroom you can’t immediately tell where the front of the room is.” As she went on to explain, the room isn’t set up for a teacher to lecture to all students at once. Although the one-to-many lecture may happen from time to time, it doesn’t drive the configuration of the room. The space is likely to be organized around students working individually or in small groups. Without the reliance on a room arranged to facilitate lecturing, what constitutes the front of the room is no longer clear.

Second, in a meeting at a school implementing blended learning, my Evergreen colleague Stacy Hawthorne said (again, I’m paraphrasing): “In a blended classroom you may not immediately know where the teacher is.” Similar to the ambiguity in classroom configuration, that’s because the teacher may be anywhere in the room. She may be sitting with a single student, or with a small group of students, at their work areas.

Stacy also related a story that speaks to both classroom configuration and student agency. As she tells it, in one school the substitute teacher didn’t arrive to the classroom, and for awhile nobody noticed. The students knew what they were supposed to do, and because it didn’t start with listening to the teacher, they went ahead with their work even though no teacher was there.

I’m not suggesting that the class would have been successful for long without a teacher present, but that story certainly suggests students investing in their own learning.

Some readers are likely thinking that what I’m describing could be a good classroom without technology. They are correct. An expeditionary learning charter school with which we worked in Denver had classes that fit these descriptions, without using technology (although they were in the process of adding a technology component to their classes). The issue isn’t necessarily that a school has to have technology to personalize learning—although we believe that the technology helps. The issue is, however, that if a school adds computers to a classroom and then still has all students routinely listening to the teacher lecture, it probably isn’t reaching blended learning—or personalizing learning—goals.