SOCIETY

ACS Athens (American Community Schools of Athens)

As Bob Pearlman, one of the key leaders in U.S. educational reform, points out (2010), a casual walk into any new brick-and-mortar schools across the U.S. reveals that despite the elaborate architectural designs and the wiring for educational technology integration, classrooms remain designed for teachers to stand in front of the students, thus still reflecting schooling as invented in the 19th century. Since those bygone and distant past times, however, the world has developed in such diverse directions and created new and particularly complex demands for citizenship, college and careers that it is no longer possible to be accommodated by old learning environments associated with old learning paradigms. Indeed, “we are on the threshold of a tipping point in public education” (Kay, 2010, xiii). The Partnership for the 21st Century Skills (2009) emphasizes that in addition to core subject knowledge, such skills as information and communication, inter-personal and self-directional, as well as being well versed in the technologies of this millennium, both from the consumer’s and the creator’s standpoints, are critical in order to prepare students as life-long learners to deal successfully with the demands of the ever-changing world of the post-industrial era of information revolution.

These learning outcomes not only necessitate schools to capitalize on the affordances of new technologies, but also to utilize more learner-centric pedagogies which focus on the newly emerged, idiosyncratic profile of the digital learner (Prensky, 2001). As a result, we have witnessed the unprecedented growth and firm establishment of online and blended learning at all levels of education, including various forms of Virtual Schooling in the K-12 sector (Davis & Niederhauser, 2007; Rice, 2012; Watson, Murin, et al., 2010). Indeed, online (and blended) learning has been saluted as the disruptive force that can transform the factory-like structure of today’s educational institutions. Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School Professor, who coined the term of art Disrupting Innovation, argues that by 2019 50% of all high school courses will be delivered online.

This projection may seem less bizarre upon close inspection of current facts and figures pertaining to online and blended learning in the U.S.:

the number of students taking at least one online course has now surpassed 6.7 million (sloanconsortium.org, 2013)

by 2013 that number will increase to 18.65 million

Half of the 4,500 brick-and-mortar colleges in the U.S. offer their degree programs online

96% of traditional universities offer at least one class in an online-only format

Open Course Ware offers 4,200 complete courses online for free

1,689 of which are classes from MIT (source Classes And Careers.com, 2013)

According to a 2009 study from the Department of Education: “Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.” Students who mix online learning with traditional coursework (i.e. blended learning) do even better (Internet Time Group Report, 2013). 

i2flex for Morfosis: A New Vehicle for a New Education Paradigm

At ACS Athens, we have followed closely the aforementioned global effort for educational reform. We are cognizant of the fact that traditional schooling is not the only avenue for learning. How could it be, since the reality is that students learn in different ways, via different modalities and styles, at a different pace in environments immersed in new technologies? We are also strong supporters of the notion of complete alignment among school learning outcomes, university and market needs. As a result, we have generated our own education paradigm named Morfosis and defined within the 21st century framework as a holistic, meaningful, and harmonious educational experience, guided by ethos. The vehicle to implement Morfosis is the i2Flex, a non-formal education model of instruction organically developed by the ACS Athens community of learners that integrates internet-based delivery of content and instruction with student independent learning, and some control over time, pace, place, or mode, in combination with guided, face-to-face classroom instruction aiming at developing higher order cognitive skills within a flexible learning design framework. Grounded on the concept of Morfosis, this type of learning that draws on practice and research on blended learning and the concept of “flipped classroom” in K-12 across the U.S. and beyond, is learner-centered and ultimately aims at developing students’ 21st century skills, while also helping them successfully prepare for their higher education studies (where a good deal of them are already offered online), and their future careers.

More specifically, this approach consists of a blend of face-to-face and web-based teaching and learning experiences. The web-based component may include both online synchronous and asynchronous teaching and learning experiences, structured for individual and collaborative interaction and guided by the teacher, as well as independent experiential and web-based learning, initiated and implemented by the student. From a theoretical perspective, i2Flex is a form of blended learning which so far tends to gravitate toward six models, namely, face-to-face driver, rotation, flex, online lab, self-blend, and online driver (Hopper & Seaman, 2011). Each of these models comes with its own set of characteristics, but they all fall under the following umbrella definition for Blended Learning in the K-12: “Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace. (Clayton Christensen Institute, The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning: Profiles of Emerging Models, 2011, p. 5). Where i2Flex significantly diverts from the blended learning definition is at the component of independent inquiry. According to the i2Flex independent inquiry, albeit scaffolded and guided by faculty, is a required component of the learning experience. Another major point of our approach refers to the superb learning opportunities for the development of Bloom’s Taxonomy highest cognitive skills (analysis, evaluation, and creation), which can be created by the integration of web-based activities where the student in preparation for face-to-face class meetings can interact with the content, the technology, peers and the teacher toward advancing the less demanding cognitive skills of knowledge acquisition, comprehension, and application.

Beginning from this Fall, many i2Flex classes are being piloted at the ACS Middle School and Academy, representing a rich variety of course subjects, teaching styles, and age groups, while at the same time reflecting different degrees of complexity regarding instructional design and technology integration. We are deeply aware that this form of learning which we are striving to implement requires substantial change in our school’s culture while at the same time generating shifts in teachers’, administrators’, and students’ roles. As a result, i2Flex pilot teachers participate in a series of individual consultations with the Director for Educational Technology and eLearning, in order to review their courses against the Quality Matters� research-based, national benchmarks for online course design, examine models and discuss issues of instructional design as they specifically apply to their class, and how the latter can be transformed into a successful technology enhanced and/or web-supported learning community. In turn, our faculty educates the students hands-on about the uses and benefits of technology for learning – as opposed to using technology for information, communication or entertainment per the digital natives’ daily routine outside the classroom! Our Administrators also have the opportunity to participate in formal and informal professional development sessions regarding the design, and implementation of i2Flex, while receiving frequent reports on the progress of the pilot classes.

Moving from the pilot to the next phase of this initiative, the vision of ACS Athens is to have all of our Middle School and Academy classes i2Flex-ed. We thrive on the tremendous possibilities that this new education paradigm offers our learning community. Davis et al. (2007) illustrate, among others, the development of new distribution methods to enable equity and access for all students; the provision of high-quality content for all students; and the fact that management structures can begin to shift to support performance-based approaches through data-driven decision-making. Therefore, if applied in a systematic, pedagogically sound way, i2Flex can serve as the vehicle for disruptive education in our school, can become the bridge between the four-walled, brick-and-mortar classroom and 21st-century education, and can empower our students to transform the world as architects of their own learning by linking high-quality teaching and high-quality courses with the collaborative, networked, information-rich environments that are a hallmark of the information age (Davis, et al. 2007).

References

Allen, J.E., & Seaman, J. (2013). Changing course: Ten year of tracking online education in the United States. Sloan Consortium, Babson Survey Research Group, & Pearson Learning Solutions. Retrieved November 11, 2013 from

http://sloanconsortium.org/publications/survey/changing_course_2012

Christensen, Cl., Horn, M. B., & Johnson, C.W. (2011). Disrupting class: How disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Clayton Christensen Institute (2011). The rise of K-12 blended learning: Profiles of emerging models. Retrieved November 11, 2013, from http://www.christenseninstitute.org/?publications=the-rise-of-k-12-blended-learning-profiles-of-emerging-models

Davis, N.E. & Niederhauser, D.S. (2007, April). New roles and responsibilities for distance education in K-12 education. Learning and Leading.

Davis, N., Roblyer, M. D., Charania, A., Ferdig, R., Harms, C., Compton, L. K. L., et al. (2007). Illustrating the “virtual” in virtual schooling: Challenges and strategies for creating real tools to prepare virtual teachers. Internet and Higher Education, 10(1), 27-39.

Hopper, J., & Seaman, J. (2011). Transforming schools for the 21st century. Retrieved November 6, 203 from http://www.designshare.com/index.php/articles/transforming-schools-for-the-21st-century/

Kay, K. (2010). Foreword: 21st Century skills: Why they matter, what they are, and how we get there. In J. Bellanca & R. Brandt (Eds.) 21st Century skills: Rethinking how students learn (pp. xiii-xxxi). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2009). Framework for 21st century learning. Retrieved November 7, 2013 from http://www.p21.org/about-us/p21-framework

Pearlman, B. (2010). Designing new learning environments to support 21st century skills. In J. Bellanca & R. Brandt (Eds.) 21st Century skills: Rethinking how students learn (pp. 117-147). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives; Digital immigrants. Retrieved November 11, 2013, from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Rice, J.K. (2012). Review of “The costs of online learning.”Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center.Retrieved June 1, 2013, from http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-cost-of-online/

Watson, J., Murin, A., Vashaw, L., Gemin, B., & Rapp, C. (2010). Keeping pace with K-12 online learning: An annual review of state-level policy and practice. Vienna, VA: North American Council for Online Learning. Retrieved from http://www.kpk12.com/wp-content/uploads/KeepingPaceK12_2010.pdf

*This article is a reprint from the ACS Athens ETHOS magazine.

What Makes Us Human? *

By: Kathleen Jasonides, Janet Karvouniaris and Amalia Zavacopoulou

What makes us human? Is it our creativity, our intelligence, our dreams? Or is it our ability to directly influence and shape our future? Focusing on this essential question, the Honors Humanities course encourages students to exercise their critical thinking skills as they tackle complex ideas through an interdisciplinary approach. Emphasis is placed on independent learning tasks, innovative assignments and creative use of 21st century technology. As this instructional model has much in common with the innovative web-facilitated i2 Flex design, it comes as no surprise that Honors Humanities is one of the first i2 Flex courses being offered at ACS Athens.

A “modern classic,” the Honors Humanities program was created 40 years ago as an innovative, interdisciplinary, team-taught course that examines essential questions through literature, visual and performing arts, philosophy and history. From the beginning, Humanities field study trips in Greece and Europe have encouraged students to become independent learners, while also developing their critical thinking skills and cultural awareness. Visiting the museums and monuments, experiencing the artifacts up close and exploring the masterpieces studied in class, these experiences provide students with opportunities to think, imagine, conceptualize and create. Humanities students are guided by their teachers to develop the tools to envisage the future through the study of human civilization; the tools to build the future as “Architects of their own Learning.”

From its inception the ACS Athens Honors Humanities program has developed and adapted without sacrificing the four attributes which made the prototype unique. Above all, it offers a student-centered, authentic, interdisciplinary and flexible educational experience to ACS Athens students. These attributes have contributed to a smooth transition in the journey from a traditional face-to-face course to the i2 Flex model. The diagram below shows how the integrity of the core attributes have been enhanced by the i2 Flex model.

Traditional Face to Face Humanities course

The i2 Flex model

Student Centered – Students find their own way into the course. Assessment is diverse to address a variety of individual learning styles and each student brings a unique approach to the field study component.

Independent investigation in flex-time gives students some control over time, place, pace and mode of learning.

Authentic –The Honors Humanities course is an original ACS Athens course, which was designed specifically for our international student body.

i2 Flex is another authentic ACS Athens innovation geared towards improving teaching and learning.

Interdisciplinary –The team-taught and completely integrated interdisciplinary approach develops high-order critical thinking skills.

The i2 Flex model opens up a wider range of multimedia resources across the disciplines and develops high-order critical thinking in the online environment.

Flexible – The Humanities program has not only evolved to meet the needs of 21st century learners, but also offers opportunities for greater personalization of the learning experiences.

The i2 Flex model provides a framework for continuous improvement of teaching and learning which includes an ongoing process of reflection and revision of the web-based flextime modules.

Significant benchmarks on the journey toward the i2Flex model were the development of two on-line courses with field study components in Europe: “Classical Humanism in the Italian Renaissance” and “Classicism and Romanticism in French Art and Thought.” Another milestone will be the inauguration in February of a new on-line course, “Reason and Faith: Classical Humanism and Byzantine Spirituality.” This course aims to bring students from Greece and abroad together, first digitally through online activities, discussion forums and independent research, then in person through an extensive field-study trip within Greece, where students will visit sites of cultural and historical importance.

At each stage of the journey, the goal has been to create and enhance courses that challenge students academically while utilizing the best existing resources and taking advantage of new technology. The i2Flex approach provides students with the flexibility, skills and tools to tailor their future according to their needs, interests and skills. In the new i2Flex paradigm, Honors Humanities is becoming a “modern digital classic.”

So, what is it that makes us human? Perhaps it’s our ability to imagine the possibilities of a better future and gain knowledge and skills to adapt to the unknown. Models like i2Flex enable teachers and students at ACS Athens to do just that.

*This article is a reprint from the ACS Athens ETHOS magazine.