For years I have witnessed the work of IT innovators forging ahead with the development of bold new approaches in communications technology, automation or simplification of task, data management, etc… These creators of our industry as we know it today are true pioneers and have delivered extraordinary tools at an unprecedented pace. However, it never ceases to amaze how many times this drive to innovate leaves behind those who the innovation is meant to help. The development cycle in IT can often ignore the normal front-end work of product requirements research within the base of those who would be the actual users. Nowhere is this more apparent than in education technology. Countless times we see new tools created which are then delivered to the teachers who are then asked to develop the pedagogy to support it. “We must use on line tools to adapt to new learning styles!” Okay but has anyone actually worked with the teachers to develop the practice? Even if the software developers included teachers in their research, the follow on mapping of the tools into the given pedagogy of a school, classroom and ultimately individual student has been lacking.
Happily, new programs such as FuseRI at the Highlander Institute (http://www.highlanderinstitute.org/fuseri) are emerging in recognition of this issue and are working directly with teachers and students to develop techniques for the proper introduction of on line and digital learning tools into the classroom, all under the banner of Blended Learning. Blended Learning recognizes that digital technologies for teaching and learning are not the “be all, end all” panacea, especially without teachers who understand and actually contribute to the development of proper use cases. Blended Learning initiatives create student-centered learning environments that combine on-line tools and resources with face-to-face traditional teaching practice. The goal of the program is to afford more personalization of an individual student’s learning pace and methodology in recognition of diverse learning styles. Highlander’s FuseRI Fellowship is intended to develop and teach best practice for Blended Learning across Rhode Island. This kind of initiative represents an important component to the pace at which RI can address the global sea change in teaching and learning practice. In speaking with individuals involved in the program, RI actually has a shot at being a leader in this important space.