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Tag: Change

In the early 1990s Web browsers were in their infancy and anything but interactive. Web pages held information, mostly text, and there really wasn’t much to click on. But even with a lot of green screen text and almost no graphics, communities of online users were built and flourished. Here are a couple of personal examples from almost twenty years ago:

I had been working on a database software problem and I was stymied. I went online and found the software vendor’s Web page. I noticed a link to an online forum where you could actually type in your question and others visiting the site could respond. A novel idea I thought; but because it was Sunday afternoon I doubted if anyone would be reading my plea for help. I logged off to continue my struggles. A half hour later I logged on  again to see if I had gotten lucky. And there it was: An answer to my question and a solution to my problem. It was a very detailed but clearly delineated answer. And it came from a person in Sweden.  Today that wouldn’t even make us blink; but back then it amazed me that sitting in Eugene on a Sunday afternoon I could get help from someone half a world away.

Here’s one more example: Three friends and I were awarded a grant to attend a summer institute at Stanford University. We flew to Palo Alto where we saw each other for the very first time. All of our interactions prior to that meeting had been online without the benefit of a Web browser. We had no idea what the others looked like yet we knew each other as friends, helping one through a loss of a job, another with the death of a parent and a third through a divorce.  To say we had built an online community was an understatement.

The Internet can create community and, for better or worse, social networking sites like facebook and My Space are demonstrating that everyday. But there are other communities that don’t necessarily involve the sometimes mindless postings about what we had for lunch. These networks of people often revolve around a common interest, vocation or passion.  And even though most of us would prefer and greatly benefit from face to face interaction, it doesn’t mean that online interactions can be any less powerful or meaningful.

Web 2.0 applications can position any individual or group to create or participate in virtual communities whether or not the participants are in Sweden or Pleasant Hill.

Bethel administrators almost universally agreed that they were not tied to the six hour school day, five day school week or nine month school year. So what would schools look like if we were able to make changes to these often taken-for-granted structures?

As I was thinking through this, it occurred to me that there might a very different way to view how school time is organized. Specifically, we might consider a totally different mind set about when learning takes place. Instead of changing the hours, days or months, it might make more sense to blur the the lines of when school ends and when it starts. Why not make schools 24/7? Could after school programs like KidSports or daycare be a component of a child’s learning? How about weekend activities involving parents? Why do we just give up July and August to summer school remediation? Doesn’t every child need to learn as much as they can?

eLearning.com says blended learning “combines coursework in a traditional classroom (synchronous) setting with an online (asynchronous) component. Students get the sense of community with other students, but are allowed to complete a portion of the coursework independently in a virtual environment.”

Purnima Valiathan defines blended learning as a “solution that combines several different delivery methods, such as collaboration software, Web-based courses, EPSS, and knowledge management practices. Blended learning also is used to describe learning that mixes various event-based activities, including face-to-face classrooms, live e-learning, and self-paced instruction.”

But this still makes the distinction between the traditional classroom and the virtual classroom. Why not just call it learning or education no matter where it happens? Although learning beyond the four walls of the classroom is a great match for Web 2.0 technologies, it doesn’t  have to be exclusively a technology environment. Reading to a child, helping with an art project or taking a field trip on the bus could just as easily enhance learning.

If as community members, professional educators and parents we come together  in a community of learning, we can make everyday learners into life-long learners. It seems to be as much a state of mind as a structural change in how children learn.

Blended education might be Bethel Learning Environment Night and Day.