The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted and will continue to impact education at all levels. The educational sector, like many others, have been forced to adapt quickly to local, regional, and national approaches to reducing the spread of COVID-19, flatten the curve, and keep the most vulnerable safe from transmission. Through the past year and a half, primary and secondary schools in Malaysia have displayed incredible levels of flexibility and ingenuity to meet the uncertainty of day-to-day teaching and learning. Shifting from traditional to blended or hybrid modes of teaching became a key developmental issue for schools to respond to uncertainty and to preserve the quality and continuum of learning within schools. I believe the ultimate goal for all schools during this time was to continue to deliver high-quality education to our students with approaches that are responsive and adaptive to uncertainty. Teaching had to meet the needs of the students no matter where they are located, in a traditional face-to-face classroom, in a fully online learning environment, or in a hybrid environment where some students may be physically present and others are joining remotely with an online connection. To further complicate the matter, students could find themselves in all three of the above learning modes in a single school session and schools needed to move quickly to support both students and teachers to make the most of the particular learning mode permitted at that particular time. Now, I believe the majority of schools in Malaysia have gained valuable experience in different learning modes and the question of which mode has been proving itself the best in these turbulent times.
I believe the blended classroom is proving itself to be an effective approach to teaching and learning. The response to the pandemic has pushed educational institutions to increase professional learning and to apply new technologies to better meet the needs of students. Blended learning can appear in many different forms. While a blended classroom is going to look very different in a primary classroom when compared to a secondary classroom, there are common features to be found. Firstly, an online learning management system is required. There are many applications and products that provide an even greater range of tools for teachers but they all give opportunities for students to be connected to their teacher, their peers, and the curriculum.
Schools who have heavily invested in online learning platforms have and will continue to weather the uncertainty well as they make the shifts from face to face, to hybrid, and to fully online classrooms seamless when used effectively. When units, lesson, and curriculum content is contained in an online learning management system, students can access resources no matter the location. The only barrier would be access to a computer or equivalent device and the internet. Many of the online learning management systems provide additional services and applications that enhance teaching and learning. For example, systems that integrate well with Google Apps for Education provide students not only with integrated productivity applications, but also excellent collaboration tools. Students can work on the same document or presentation from different locations. They can chat with each other within the application and use additional Google tools such as Jamboard to brainstorm and refine their ideas. Resourceful school teams will explore, evaluate, and share applications and tools that will improve the teaching and learning experience. There are multitudes of services and applications available and identifying those that provide the best value may be the largest challenge facing our schools.
Blended learning helps reduce the interruption to teaching and learning as we respond to the global pandemic and keep our society safe but this approach does not completely replace a traditional classroom. A challenge that current services and applications may not sufficiently replace at this time is socialization and the sense of community that is established in a physical school. Curriculum and academic achievement are the foundation of a school but there is so much more. Schools are important places for young people to develop and practice their social skills, to forge relationships
with peers and adults and to learn how to navigate how to approach problems in a group and resolve disagreements. Additionally, there are extra-curricular activities that build character and develop civic-mindedness. Athletics and the arts provide modes of expression and celebrate achievement outside of the traditional curriculum. These elements of the school can be considered a second curriculum that can be equally important and are not as effectively supported through a blended learning environment.
In conclusion, I believe blended learning has added exciting innovations to teaching and learning in schools and it has only accelerated with recent events. I anticipate that the momentum will continue and I can only imagine what the future may hold. That being said, the curriculum is only one part of a school’s identity and benefit to the community. I do not believe that blended learning, in its current form, can completely replace the traditional school experience.
About the Author
Michael Owen came to, and fell in love with, Malaysia in 2006. He is a passionate technology teacher with a vested interest in international education and educational leadership. Currently, Michael is the Deputy Principal of Sunway International School and has been a member of Sunway Education Group since arriving in Malaysia.