Opinion | Hybrid, remote, blended learning. What parents need to know. Now.

Dan McMinn

Dan McMinn is the principal and school leader of NexTech High School of Grand Rapids, a blended learning public charter school.

Parents, teachers, administrators, students, employers and tens of thousands of others are feeling the ripple effects of one of our biggest questions in Michigan these days: What do we do about schools?

Some districts and schools have released full plans, some partial and more are announcing each day. Some parents and students have already had to make commitments, while others are waiting until the last possible moment to choose. No one feels settled. No one feels certain.

In the midst of so much uncertainty, my biggest education takeaway already is the need for flexibility. This school year will be constantly fluid, with week-by-week changes and different regions functioning differently. While minimizing face-to-face interactions is in the best health interest for student, the way in which this is carried out will have an impact on students’ ability to learn.

Many educators and districts — from traditionally brick and mortar institutions — are offering the option of fully virtual learning, while many others are simply mandating remote. Parents may be intrigued by the option to shift to a completely virtual environment at any point during the school year, but the problem is, these virtual plans aren’t complete.

As students shift into a completely remote learning environment, whether by choice, mandate or a Phase 3 declaration, many kids will serve as an experiment for educators and districts who have no experience delivering meaningful, academically rigorous and engaging curriculum online — especially if this shift happens in the middle of the academic year.

By the time parents and families realize their school’s virtual plan isn’t meeting their student’s need, I fear it’ll be too late to identify what options they do have.

As an online educator, I don’t believe simply offering hybrid and fully remote learning is the best model to encourage learning and growth during a time of immense change.

Yes, I said that.

We commonly use the terms hybrid, remote and virtual interchangeably but how do we define them truly? And how does true blended learning compare? Blended learning combines face-to-face and online learning to focus on outcomes for our students. Some students may lean more toward the digital side of the spectrum while others may thrive in a face-to-face setting.

Blended learning offers flexibility based on what students need, and based on what the virus demands, allowing us to downsize the number of students in a physical space and increase digital engagements in mere moments.

A true blended program allows for student choice and voice on the timing and delivery of the materials, with real human guidance from teachers, remotely or in person, regardless of what’s happening in the outside world. And that control for students is invaluable right now.

The focus of a blended program is to make a unique connection to the goals of each student, making those goals clear up front, whether it be a career or college focus. And it allows for an environment where COVID-19 doesn’t disrupt those goals.

Parents: explore deeply what your schools are proposing as they release their plans, and look at all of the scenarios so you know what could happen as virus stages change in our region. Learning shouldn’t just be about where learning takes place, it should be about student achievement and understanding. You can identify a blended approach as it will take the needs of the individual student into account and keep them at the center of the plan.

And for parents who are still feeling fearful and uncertain about what to do in the fall: know you are not alone. A University of Michigan survey found one-third of parents might not send their children to public school this fall out of fear. Parents, take what comfort you can in knowing there are options that allow students to have meaningful educational experiences that will keep them safe and are easily adapted as the virus itself changes and forces us to do the same.

Remote learning doesn’t have to be a “worst case scenario” nor does it have to be fully virtual. Those providing blended learning understand the time involved in true learning, and they can help students develop their own paths in life. Take this opportunity, forced upon us by grim circumstances, and re-engage your student in their education, no matter where it takes place.

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A Yooper
Wed, 08/26/2020 - 10:48am

This is uncharted territory now.
It is paramount districts work together including the most rural districts.
Strategies are going to be far from perfect but resilience and perseverance can win out.

Sun, 09/06/2020 - 10:19am

Unfortunately it's too late now for many parents who have chosen the virtual option at their district. Here in West Michigan, in one of the top ranked school districts in Grand Rapids, they have pulled the wool over our eyes as far as what was promised versus what is being delivered. There is zero accountability, just ask the ISD who is monitoring this, and you will find out the answer is "nobody". 40 kids assigned to one lower elementary teacher. Classes with 1st graders with 35 kids to one teacher. And yet they promised this would be equitable to what those families who chose in person schooling would receive.
The figureheads high up in the school's administration have decided they must try to replicate exactly the same schedule the child would be receiving if in person, with no regard to the effects this has on a child suffering through a Zoom call for 7 hours of the day.