Mar 312015
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Moving Forward Report     Online-Blended Learning (Deeter)

Many Jewish day schools are shifting rapidly toward online and blended learning. Providing differentiated learning environments — thereby meeting the individual learning needs of students — continues to stand out as the most common perceived benefit in utilizing blended/online modes of instruction.

This is one of the findings in two new “State of the Field” reports being released by The AVI CHAI Foundation about online/blended learning, which refers to the use of technology in teaching “blended” with traditional instruction from a teacher.

The reports – “Online/Blended Learning State of the Field Survey Summary Findings Report”  and “Moving Forward: An Interim Report of Select AVI CHAI Blended Learning Initiatives in Jewish Day Schools” – indicate rapid growth in the field and continued interest and acceleration.

In 2013-14, as much as 79 percent of day schools report some type of online or blended learning, compared to 23 percent in 2011-12. Among the most progressive schools are those involved in AVI CHAI- supported national programs that promote and offer guidance on blended and online learning. The DigitalJLearn­ing Network participants outpaced all non-participants in the implementation and expected growth of online/blended learning, and the use of more progressive online learning models, such as hybrid or flipped instruction. Schools that participated in Torah Umesorah’s blended learning program, attended ISTE conferences or edJEWcon workshops are also recognized among early adopters. Schools surveyed noted that benefits of online and blended learning include growth in academic achievement, high student engagement, the opportunity to enhance course material, and to expand course offerings beyond the expertise or capacity of their faculty. In addition, schools note that these teaching methods enable them to better provide differentiated instruction to students with individual learning needs. As a school leader quoted in the “Online/Blended Learning State of the Field” report by Anne Deeter noted, “We are a small school with students of various abilities and different learning styles in each grade level. Online materials/instruction provide the perfect way to differentiate instruction and help every student succeed.”

“The progress and sense of potential are striking,” said Dr. Leslie Siskin, author of “Moving Forward,” a report on 50 schools involved in AVI CHAI-funded initiatives in blended and online learning. “Strikingly, we have found no school, and no teacher, that has chosen to stop or even to decrease activity in blended or online learning.”

At the same time, both reports indicate that this work is still in its nascent stages in a few respects:

  • Most schools are still utilizing these modalities as supplements to traditional instruction. Only one-fifth (21%) of the 79% of schools reporting the use of some type of online/blended learning have moved beyond online lessons and supplemental online enrichment to deliver hybrid courses, flipped classrooms, or fully online courses.
  • It is still too early to demonstrate cost savings results. Personalized learning via blended and online modalities is relatively new, and the full effect may take time. More and more evidence shows that the educational goals are being met, and small cost savings trends are in sight. But cost is a tricky thing. It is not only about the technology or the teachers’ capacity; it is also about stakeholders’ willingness to buy in, and to change the human resources structure and size of classes accordingly.

Among the three new schools AVI CHAI supported in the first two years of this work, there are signs of progress. But as these schools grow beyond the first stages of starting up, there are new issues on the horizon. They are continually improving their programs while at the same time under pressure to reach the target of self-sustainability, particularly because they had overestimated enrollments (especially at the high school level). We will continue to watch these schools and the BOLD day schools (not included in this interim report) and share our learnings with the field.

The reports recommend next steps:

  • Support and fund the continued professional development of school faculty, particularly to advance skills in blended/online instructional design across all grade levels. AVI CHAI is beginning to explore what might be developed for teacher professional development across day schools.
  • The development of excellent Jewish Studies programs. Along with our support of iTaL AM and NETA/CET, we are partnering with The Kohelet Foundation to fund the Lookstein Virtual Jewish Academy. Additionally, the Virtual High School has just launched The Online Judaic Studies Consortium with AVI CHAI funding.
  • Further research is needed to better understand the evidence-based best practices in online/blended learning. We hope to publish a series of case studies, looking at the new schools that have opened with blended learning models.  The BOLD day schools initiative is being studied by the Center for Reinventing Public Education, and the lessons learned will be shared.  The DigitalJLearning Network is planning to collect data from its schools on their experiences with various software programs so that schools first selecting software can learn from other day schools’ experiences.

“It is gratifying to see Jewish day schools on the leading edge of blended and online learning.  I am even more excited to see the growing interest and capacity to integrate 21st century learning modalities throughout their curricula,” said Yossi Prager, Executive Director of AVI CHAI in North America. “The blended/online learning field is moving at a fast pace and day schools show every sign of moving forward in an energetic and responsible way.”