Brazilian teachers experience blended learning

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Oct 2, 2014

Through our research, it is exciting to see examples of blended learning springing up around the world. We have much to learn as we observe how blended learning evolves in a wide variety of education systems with different school and community resources, different infrastructures, different ecosystems of online learning providers, and different policy contexts.

Recently, we spoke with staff members from the Lemann Foundation about an exciting project they are working on with the Instituto Península to encourage blended learning in classrooms in Brazil. Earlier this year they recruited 17 teachers from 10 different cities in Brazil to experiment with blended learning in their classrooms. For eight consecutive weeks, the teachers learned about different aspects of blended learning and then completed weekly challenges to implement what they had learned into their teaching practices. Example challenges included planning lessons that involved classroom stations, discovering online-learning resources to use with their students, developing activities that gave students increased control of their learning, and finding ways to use technology to better collect and utilize student data. After completing each week’s challenge, the teachers then shared their experiences with an assigned tutor over Skype and with each other via an online forum. (The instructional material for the program can be found here in the “Sua Vez” section of the page.)

Through this project, the Lemann Foundation and Instituto Península staff gathered some valuable insights regarding challenges and opportunities for implementing blended learning in Brazil.

One challenge was a lack of good online-learning resources in Portuguese. Math had the most options through resources such as the Khan Academy, but the resources for subjects such as history and geography were often available only in English. And across all subjects, teachers noted a need for more adaptive learning platforms in Portuguese. Fortunately, the website Escola Digital helps address this challenge through its database of hundreds of videos, games, infographics, animations, mobile apps, and other learning resources in Portuguese. The site has tagged these resources by grade level, subject, national curriculum content standards, and resource type to make it easier for educators to find relevant resources.

The program staff also noted how the program helped teachers to reimagine their roles and the roles of their students. For example, after completing the week 3 challenge, almost all the teachers said they felt insecure about letting the students have more control over their own learning. They worried that when they were no longer directing instruction they would not know if their students were actually learning. But by the last week, many of the teachers had stopped lecturing and started taking on more of a facilitator role. Students in the program appreciated how blended learning gave them more opportunities to make mistakes and learn from others, and parents became interested in the program as they found their students were coming home happier and more enthusiastic about school.

Another observation by teachers was that many of the blended learning ideas seemed intuitive and easy, but were harder to implement. These observations highlight the fact that high-quality blended learning is not just a simple tool or technique that teachers use to augment their standard practices. Instead, it requires carefully designing an instructional model around clear learning objectives, and then practicing ongoing reflection and adjustment to meet those objectives.

The eight-week program by the Lemann Foundation and Instituto Península provides a valuable example for how to give teachers initial first-hand exposure to blended learning. As my colleague Heather Staker has noted, the transformation of the factory-model schools system is not likely to happen through individual teachers implementing new practices within the four walls of the classrooms. Nonetheless, programs that develop teacher buy-in for blended learning can be an important catalyst for advancing blended learning at the school level. And as teachers who are enthusiastic about blended learning move into school leadership positions, their experiences with blended learning will undoubtedly influence their approaches to school improvement.

Over the next year, the Lemann Foundation and Instituto Península are hoping to scale this program to train thousands of teachers in Brazil on the basics of blended learning. We are anxious to see how this program will catalyze blended-learning developments in Brazil in years ahead.

Thomas’ research focuses on the changing roles of teachers in blended-learning environments and other innovative educational models. He also examines how teacher education and professional development are shifting to support the evolving needs of teachers and school systems.