Posts Tagged ‘blended learning’

Broadband is Key

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Author:  Matt Holloway, Education Specialist, Special Education

Broadband has become as essential to our schools as water or electricity.

– Culatta, Richard, acting director of the U.S.  Department of Educational Technology.  Emerging Technology Panel.  SXSWedu.  Austin, TX, 5 March, 2013.


As more and more is asked of teachers in terms of instructional accountability, rigor and differentiation, leaders ask themselves what can be done to support these expectations. Technology, while not a panacea, can be a tremendous boost to student performance when implemented responsibly and with a goal towards personalization.

Educators may be confused by the current definition of the term “personalized learning” in edTech circles: a highly responsive computer program that adjusts academic tasks to a student’s performance, attention span, interest level and learning profile.  The personalization concept here refers to the individually-tailored learning tasks that students complete rather than the student-teacher relationship.

The teacher does not become less important in this system.  Skilled teachers may be better able to attend more fully to the higher conceptual tasks inherent in the curriculum when they identify and use effective computer software apps to reinforce foundational academic skills (e.g., spelling, math facts).  A computer will never be able to replicate the learning experience of thoughtful, engaging dialogue and lesson content as delivered by a human being.

This shared academic load – with computer programs providing the rote learning and teachers the creation of nuanced, higher-level learning experiences – is currently being called “blended learning.” This concept closely reflects the engagement of the general population in electronic devices.  A key tenet of the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium (2012) calls for “future-ready students engaged and challenged in a digitally rich learning environment that results in students who are prepared for the life and work competencies essential to thriving in our global society.”

What are the key challenges to such a vision?  How do we ensure access to a “digitally rich learning environment”? In short: broadband capacity. As more learning software becomes available online, schools will need to have sufficient connectivity to keep up with the demand, and the capacity to evaluate the educational value and effectiveness of new software.

The United States Department of Education is preparing for a major investment in schools’ connectivity. According to Richard Culatta, acting director of the U.S. Department of Educational Technology, information collected from school districts will be used in Senate testimony to advocate for funds and support to school districts whose Internet capacity is not up to speed. All campuses, but especially those in rural areas, are strongly encouraged to visit and share campus/district connectivity data.

Under the guiding hand of professional educators, technology can be leveraged to improve learning outcomes for students while allowing for more meaningful classroom instruction. Act now to support equality of access to the 21st Century Learning Environment for all students.



Texas High Performance Schools Consortium. Update on the Progress of the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium. Texas Education Agency, December 2012.

OnTRACK Social Studies Lessons Now Available!

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Author: Rachel Hernandez, Social Studies Education Specialist

OnTRACK courses for World Geography, World History and high school U.S. History have been made available through TEA’s Project Share initiative.  These lessons are intended to supplement classroom instruction and provide teachers and students with a resource for intervention.  Teachers in K-12 public and charter schools currently have access to Project Share, an online learning community developed by TEA.  The lessons available in OnTRACK vary by course and are TEKS driven.  U.S. History, for example, has lessons available on the Progressive Era, Social Welfare Reforms, The Spanish-American War, U.S. Expansionism, Great Depression, Japanese
Internment, Korean War and Civil Rights.  The entire course has 6 units with a total of 45 lessons that incorporate engaging content through interactive experiences.  A lesson example from the module on Social Welfare Reform includes an introduction on Upton Sinclair and a short reading excerpt from Sinclair’s book, The Jungle.  Students can try an interactive exercise matching vocabulary and watch brief video segments on the impact of Upton Sinclair as a reform leader.  Mini-assessments are included in the modules for you to assess student learning.  The best aspect of these courses is the ability for you to modify, add or remove content to make the course customized to your liking.


A few items are worth noting:

1. OnTRACK lessons do not address all of the Social Studies standards for each respective course.

2. OnTRACK Social Studies courses should not be used by districts to provide course credit to students. (Why not?  See point #1).

3. You can use OnTRACK lessons to support individualized intervention or use all or part of a lesson with a class or group of students.

4. You need to spend “sandbox time” exploring the course lessons and consider ways to blend these resources into lessons that you already have for extended learning and review.


The bottom line is that these lessons are a great resource for you and your students; how you use them is entirely up to you.

Please note:  TEA has plans to add Grade 8 Social Studies and Bible Literacy courses to the OnTRACK offering list in the spring of 2013.  Additional lessons will also be added to the existing courses sometime in the near future.