By Katrina Schwartz
As the blended learning movement grows in the U.S., schools will need to experiment with what works best in different types of settings. There's still a lot to learn about different types of blended learning models, and a new nonprofit called Silicon Schools will raise and invest $25 million toward that effort.
With partial grants from the Bay Area's Fisher family (owners of Gap), and the advice of board members Michael Horn from the Innosight Institute and Salman Khan of the Khan Academy, the nonprofit, which has raised $12 million so far, aims to fund new and innovative approaches in existing blended learning programs with grants to each school.
The effort is led by Brian Greenberg, who chronicled the successes and challenges of piloting the Khan Academy in Oakland’s Envision Schools on the Blend My Learning blog. During that process Greenberg and his staff were very open about the pros and cons of integrating technology into the classroom, and other educators added their perspectives to what worked and didn't work on the blog. Greenberg points to the parts of the program that worked well, namely letting the technology do some of the heavy lifting in terms of grading, lesson planning and collecting analytics that free up teacher time to focus on students.
Giving students more responsibility for the learning process was also a significant outcome of the Envision pilot program. “What we're finding is that if you make the steps clear and make them accountable, the more you put them in charge of the process the more they amaze,” Greenberg said, referring to students. The pilot program also helped move the class toward “proficiency-based learning,” in which a student is responsible for an intended outcome, but not penalized every step along the way.
Greenberg intends to apply one important lesson he learned from the program to the schools funded by the Silicon Valley Fund: Technology in no way replaces the teacher. At some point the usefulness of technology runs out and the educator’s role is crucial. He also says that technology doesn’t preclude the need for a good classroom management systems and positive school culture. Kids can get off track or “fake” work on sophisticated software just as easily as they could in a traditional classroom.