As a result of a change in Infinite Campus codes, students and teachers coming to blended learning classes in this school year found that classes would be operated differently; at first, release days were entirely prohibited and, as of Sept. 30, 2019, they have been changed to require students to remain in a supervised area in the school. This new practice, referred to colloquially as “in-house blended,” also mandates that students fill out a form at the end of the period to demonstrate what they were working on and how productive they’ve been.
Specifically, Infinite Campus removed the Did Not Meet (DNM) code from its database, the code that blended classes had been using to take attendance. This change was due to the code being used in different ways throughout schools, but made implementing the blended program again far more difficult.
“A code that we were using for our blended release periods is not available on Infinite Campus anymore, so we have to go through a new approval process through the state,” English teacher and Gunn Blended Coordinator Jordan Wells said. “The end goal is to be back to our blended release periods.”
As for the forms, the goal has been to provide administrators with information about the purpose of blended periods, and requires students to rank their productivity. The forms also count for attendance and must be filled out by the end of the period for students to not receive a cut.
Still, some might argue that the changes requiring students to stay on a supervised area of campus de- feat the purpose of the program. “I’ll be blunt: there’s value in having online content, but there’s also value in treating students like adults,” computer science teacher Joshua Paley, who has taught blended classes for 10 years, said. “I know there are legal rules about how much time students have to be in the classroom and so on, and I get that. But it seems like every time we implement some new rule, it moves away from treating students like adults, which they basically are, and treats them more like four-year-olds.” Some students, especially those who had blended classes last year, agree and have felt the difference in the new system. “Having a D period blended class, I’d typically sleep in on Tuesdays, but I had to wake up still and go to the class because I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere else, and I had to stay on campus even if I had no work or I wanted to go to things or I was tired,” junior Sachait Arun said. “It was really annoying, the entire process they are putting us through. I had AP [computer science] last year and that was blended and I signed up for English knowing it would be [blended as well], but now I have to do the blended form and be in school.”
When it comes to its origins, blended learning at Gunn started with the goal of rewarding hardworking students and allowing them to take control of their own learning. “The thinking behind it, at least in talking to Kevin Skelly, who was the superintendent at the time, was that parents used to be working nine to five, or thereabouts, and therefore students going to school when they went to school made sense,” Paley said. “The problem is, now what do you do when there are lots of parents who don’t work nine to five? Why in the world should students have to follow the same kind of schedule? And in particular, along those lines, sort of tangentially, if they don’t need to be in the classroom in order to learn the material why should they have to be in the classroom?”
Wells echoed that sentiment, agreeing that the goal of blended classes was to allow students to be able to make their own decisions about learning in a conducive environment. “It’s important to blended learning to give students that chance to have control over their own learning and be more flexible in what’s going to work for them and also figure out what works for them in a safe environment,” she said. “In high school we still have a lot of things to make sure people don’t fall to the ground. We still have that face-to-face time, I’m checking in with you on at least a weekly basis, so there’s that kind of safety net. We have those safety nets in place in high school that aren’t necessarily there in college so it’s a chance for you to find out about yourself. It’s essentially an ability to take a risk, when there’s still support.”
Unfortunately, the changes to blended have made it difficult for the program to fulfill its initial goal. “What’s happened is, now, on days that are supposedly release days you either have to be in the classroom, which defeats the point of it being a release day, or you have to be in some sort of administered classroom by somebody on staff, whether it’s a library or some other teacher agrees to it, but that also defeats the point of a release day,” Paley said. “There’s nobody being released from anything. So, I don’t know, to me the only meaning of blended nowadays is that some of the stuff is online. The meaning of blended has just been lost.”
Wells wants students to know that while this might be hard, the changes to blended are currently in the hands of the state. “The release days are a privilege, not a right, and we are legally responsible for students- student safety comes first, making sure that everyone is held accountable and being taken care of is the most important,” she said. “We have to get the state’s approval to be accredited, we have to do the right things to make sure we are operating as a school correctly.”
Paley hopes the situation will be resolved soon, and that blended will go back to the way it was originally set up. “I think it’d be neat motivation to be a good student if you knew you wouldn’t have to go to classes much,” he said. “More than anything, I wish we’d treat students more like adults. I mean, if a student proves to us that they don’t deserve to be treated like an adult, okay then treat them like a four-year-old.”
The ultimate goal for Wells, as well, is to get back to the way blended has been set up. “As soon as we get approval, everybody in the program is ‘chomping at the bit’ to get back to it because that’s what we’re all about and we’re excited for it and we planned for it over the summer; we’re ready for it,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s kind of out of our hands at this point.”