By Eric Wearne
Much research has been done over the past few years on the idea of “blended” or “hybrid” learning. Students in these models attend class part of the time, and learn online part of the time. One school in Georgia is taking some of these ideas and trying to create a program that implements a hybrid system in a traditional public school setting.
South Forsyth High School is in the planning stages of such a program, and recently held an event that drew over 100 parents and students. Currently, the school is surveying its juniors to gauge interest and seeking applications from students who would like to participate next school year. A SFHS hybrid student’s week would look something like this:
- Monday would include synchronous classroom chat and activities. Students would be expected to log on to their course website at the beginning of each period. The course websites are specially designed software that allows for chatting, for teachers to speak to the class and to show documents, for students to manipulate documents for the rest of the class to see, and for the teacher to “ping” students, to ensure that they are still actually at their computer, rather than just logged in. Students would receive instruction from their teacher and chat with the class online for 15-20 minutes. The rest of the period would be spent doing classwork. At the start of the next period, students would login again to check in with their next teacher for 15-20 minutes, and so on throughout the day.
- Tuesday through Thursday, students would physically attend SFHS all day. These days would look no different from the days of other SFHS students.
- Fridays would be asynchronous learning days. Students would have lesson plans and know what work needed to be done on these days, but would not have to check into the course website each period. They could complete all of their work quickly and be free the rest of the day. They could work all day long, taking breaks as they needed to. They could meet up with other students and work on projects or study together. One SFHS expectation is that if a student’s grade falls below a 75, that student would have to physically come into school on Friday until their grade recovered. But that’s not a punishment; if only two or three have such low grades, the teachers will be free to work with them in very small groups, or individually, as the rest of the class will be working from home that day.
South Forsyth’s program will still be fairly structured, but it is a step in the direction of allowing students more freedom with their time and an attempt to better serve their individual interests. If nothing else, it is also good scaffolded practice in time management, as many of these students prepare to leave the rigid bell schedule/cattle call of 13 years of schooling for a much more varied schedule in college. The program is not scheduled to start until the 2014-15 school year, but given the number of people who seem to be interested, and given the rewards of time, flexibility, and a much more personalized work environment, the program seems likely to take off.
The school could benefit in other ways as well; if the students in such a program physically attended on different days, the same school building could conceivably serve more students (and reduce or eliminate trailers). This program is one of many possible answers to how schools could individualize instruction and more efficiently use their time and space, but SFHS should be lauded for its willingness to experiment.
(Eric Wearne is Assistant Professor at the Georgia Gwinnett College School of Education and a senior fellow for education policy at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)