I didn’t write this blog title. The editor at Edutopia changed mine before publishing my latest article. Originally, I thought that I wanted to discuss the promise and the peril of blended learning. However, I am thankful that he had a better idea.
Admittedly, this post began as a rant against blended learning. Not the effective version as described by the tremendous educators in Bellevue, Nebraska whom I feature in this post, but the “I regularly put digital versions of analog assignments on ___ (insert platform name) and then collected them back” kind.
True blended learning affords students not only the opportunity to gain both content and instruction via online as well as traditional classroom means, but also an element of authority over this process. With students freed from the confines of the school day, the walls of the classroom, the sole expertise of the teacher, and the pace of the rest of the class, blended learning could fundamentally change the system and structure of school.
And yet, as illustrated by the varying perspectives of what constitutes blended learning lies the issue that I am really wrestling with: how to create a vision for innovation. For my dissertation, I am looking at how to scale up change, more specifically, how to help districts expand the pockets of innovative teaching within classrooms and buildings to the rest of their ecosystem. As I think more and more about this, the real challenge may lie in first helping districts to recognize innovation versus digitization.
In the readings for my Evaluation course, a concept struck me: when something fails, do you blame the theory or the implementation? I think that in education, great concepts often get abandoned because of poor execution and a lack of understanding about the implementation. Researchers Leviton and Lipsey describe this as not knowing the inner workings of the “black box.”
I first read about the notion of “the black box” in the context of the economics and education last fall. Economic researchers frequently write about inputs and outputs. They examine what goes into the black box of schools in terms of time, money, or resources and then measure what comes out – student test scores, teacher evaluations, etc. However, economists rarely open that box.
The same thing happens with schools when they look to implement a new program. In their 2012 article, Theoretical Frameworks to Guide School Improvement, authors Evans, Thornton, and Usinger explain that most educational reform efforts occur absent a defined theory of change. Instead, schools and districts implement new plans or programs without defining why they believe that these change efforts should work; what they hope to achieve; and how they might measure success. In other words, they often take a black box approach.
For my dissertation work, I have to define the theory of treatment for my intervention study so that if something goes wrong, I will know if the problem lies in the theory or the execution of my design. To do this, I have to define the logic behind my assumptions, the causal or correlational relationship between variables, and the literature to support my claims. This latest blog post at least helped me to wrap my head around the concept and the process.