New View EDU Episode 45: Designing Schools for Blended Learning

Available October 17, 2023

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When you think of the term “blended learning,” do you think of a hybrid or remote learning plan, perhaps in a format that became familiar during the COVID-19 pandemic? That’s the impression many educators and school leaders have of blended learning, but as our guest’s work demonstrates, blended learning is so much more than just splitting education into “onscreen” and “in person.” It may, in fact, be the solution we need to prepare our classrooms for the future.

Catlin R. TuckerCatlin R. Tucker joins host Tim Fish for a deep discussion of what blended learning truly is (and is not), what opportunities it provides to shift the balance of responsibility in our schools, and how to enact it in a thoughtful, nuanced, and even joyful way. From the beginning of the conversation, Catlin defines blended learning as “active, engaged learning online, combined with active, engaged learning offline, with the goal of giving students more control over the time, the place, the pace, and the path of their learning.” Within that definition, she says, there are many possible paths but all of them must involve student agency.

Reflecting on misconceptions about what blended learning looks like, Catlin points out that many educators were introduced to the concept as an outgrowth of the pandemic, when they had to quickly pivot to instruction either partially or completely online. That experience may have given some educators a negative or incomplete view of blended learning. Catlin argues that the concept—and the opportunities it presents—goes far beyond just hybrid instruction or a “flipped classroom” model. Rather than creating a situation where students are passively consuming content online, true blended learning should engage students at all levels of the exercise. Designing any technology-assisted exercise with mental engagement in mind is one crucial element Catlin encourages all educators to consider.

Although designing the learning experience to allow for thoughtful use of technology, hands-on practice, student agency, mental engagement, and self-pacing can seem like a daunting task for educators, Catlin argues that blended learning can actually improve the workload for teachers and make teaching a more enjoyable and sustainable profession. She reflects on the pressure teachers are under to constantly deliver content while also trying to meet individualized learning needs and build social-emotional skills and a sense of community in the classroom, and shares strategies to leverage blended learning in a way that lessens those demands.

Shifting the roles of teacher and student is a critical element of Catlin’s work in schools. While traditionally, teachers have felt that they’re “trapped at the front of the room” and doing the majority of the work in the classroom, Catlin advocates for turning the responsibility around and focusing on the work of the learner. Teachers, she says, should be available to support, scaffold, ask questions, and help unlock the learning—but the students are the ones who need to do the difficult work. But that kind of role reversal is a direct challenge to our mental models of traditional education. Catlin encourages school leaders to consider questions like “are our students able to be our partners in this work?” There may be metacognitive skill building, SEL work, and other scaffolding to do before the school community is ready for a new model of teaching and learning, but that work is necessary for building resilience and future-ready skills.

Ultimately, Catlin says, we need to reimagine teachers as architects who design the building—not as workers who hammer the nails. Blended learning can put the hammers into the hands of the students, helping to avoid the disengagement, boredom, and negativity that too often permeate schools. And in turn, allowing the learners to do the work of discovery means that teachers can focus more on the human side of their work—the relational, compassionate work that helps foster well-being throughout our school communities.


Key Questions

Some of the key questions Tim and Catlin explore in this episode include:

  • How do you define blended learning, and how does it affect the roles of student and teacher within the classroom?
  • How can blended learning shift workflows to help make teaching a more rewarding and sustainable profession?
  • What opportunities can blended learning provide to help unlock student agency?
  • What is your best advice to educators and school leaders who see adopting blended learning as a potential next step?  

Episode Highlights

  • “Reserve that teacher-led instructional time for small differentiated group experiences, where we can be much more targeted and thoughtful about the vocabulary we use, the text we choose, the problems and prompts we present, the scaffolds we supply. … If teachers are still trapped at the front of the room, feeling like my job is to transfer information, there's no time and space to really position students at the center, give them more responsibility and let them engage in the messy work that is learning.” (13:32)

  • “Most of the teachers that get over that hump and start to make these shifts and lean on technology strategically, they're like, ‘This is crazy. I'm not doing very much, right? I'm sitting alongside learners. I'm asking questions. I'm observing their work and supporting them with individual scaffolds.’ … They almost in the beginning, I think, feel like, ‘Is this OK? Is it OK that they're doing the work and I'm not doing the work?’ And I'm like, yes. The person doing the work in the classroom is the person learning in the classroom. We absolutely want them doing the work.” (18:42)

  • “I try to put myself now as an adult in the seat of some of these students, where they spend seven hours a day at school, and they don't get to make a single decision about how they learn, what they learn, what they create to demonstrate their learning. That is not a space that most kids want to be in. And it shouldn't surprise anybody that a huge, I want to say it's over 70% of students, report negative feelings with school. And it's things like anxiety, being tired and bored, that's where we're keeping them all day. It's heartbreaking.” (30:50)
  • “I want teachers to rediscover, if they're not feeling it right now, their joy in this work. … It's a challenging profession. It is complex and multifaceted. I want teachers to realize that now that we have literally limitless access to information and resources in our classroom, that we are allowed to reimagine our role.”  (41:55)

Resource List

Full Transcript

  • Read the full transcript here.

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About Our Guest

Catlin R. Tucker is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, international trainer, and professor in the master’s of teaching program at Pepperdine University. She taught for 16 years in Sonoma County, California, where she was named teacher of the year in 2010.

Catlin has written a series of books on blended learning including The Shift to Student-led, The Complete Guide to Blended Learning, UDL and Blended Learning: Thriving in Flexible Learning Landscapes, Balance With Blended Learning, Blended Learning In Action, Power Up Blended Learning, and Blended Learning In Grades 4-12. Catlin also writes a blog and hosts a podcast called The Balance.

Catlin earned her bachelor’s in English literature from the University of California at Los Angeles. She earned her English credential and master’s in education at the University of California at Santa Barbara. In 2020, Catlin earned her doctorate in learning technologies at Pepperdine University, researching teacher engagement in blended learning environments.