Blended Learning

Using robots, two-way mirrors and more in blended learning

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Last week I interviewed a teacher who spoke to me through the body of a robot.

It was part of a whirlwind six days of travel that took me and my rental car through Ohio and Pennsylvania, exploring blended learning. I talked to teachers using a two-way mirror as a tool to train educators. I watched kindergarteners tap through personalized lessons on tablets. I saw a Speak and Spell on display in a timeline about the history of games.

And, yeah, about that robot: It’s used in a Columbus, Ohio, charter school. They use it to give virtual teachers a “body” to zip around the school from room to room and communicate with the students and staff of Nexus Academy of Columbus.

“I was excited about it,” said Thomas Fech, a social studies teacher told me, speaking through the telepresence robot while I sat in a chair in school. “I was so far away, but with the help of this body I could walk around the building.”

Stay tuned to The Hechinger Report for a story about what I saw on my road trip.  And, until we meet again here next week in the newsletter, here are some stories that are on my radar.

1. Net neutrality: Last week the Federal Communications Commission approved rules that will change the way the Internet is regulated. Some say the policy changes will usher in greater access to the Internet – especially for disadvantaged communities and startup organizations with little money. Others, however, say these policy changes will stymie innovation and lead to higher costs. What will it mean for education? The American Library Association cheered the ruling, in a statement, saying it will bring better services to students. But there has been radio silence from other education organizations. The Alliance for Excellent Education, which has been a major voice in the debate about greater Internet access for schools, and typically very willing to offer commentary on education technology, said “no comment” in an email when I asked a spokesman for their take on the Net Neutrality ruling. The Consortium for School Networking, a membership organization for education technology professionals, told me they didn’t have a position when I asked for comment on the recent F.C.C. ruling. So, what’s next? The full text of the ruling from the F.C.C. should be published in the next few days. Those technical details might seem like ho-hum, but they are very important, and smart educators will be scrutinizing them.

2. Schools left behind? A first-person story in Wired, with the not-so-subtle headline “Your Kid’s School is Missing the Tech Revolution and It’s All Your Fault,” generated a bit of chatter on social media this week. The author of the story suggests that parents and educators have been too cautious about experimenting with new technology tools. A technology startup’s CEO, Yogesh Sharma, quoted in the story, had this to say: “There’s all these stakeholders—the principals, the PTA, the teachers—and then there’s the district that has their own way of doing things. You’re in the middle of this crossfire, and the ball doesn’t move because nobody has the ability to make a quick decision.” On that topic, last week the U.S. Department of Education released new tools, including a video, that officials say will help educators vet learning technology for student privacy protections.

3. Free college textbooks: Did you know there are some college textbooks available for professors and students to use for free? If professors adopted these open-source materials, students would save nearly $130 per course, according to a new report from Student Public Interest Research Groups, an organization that promotes use of these kinds of open-source materials. These textbooks are written by faculty and peer-reviewed, according to the report. Many professors are not aware of the existence of alternatives that could save students a lot of money, David Ernst, the creator of the Open Textbook Library, said in a recent interview with The New York Times: “They’re the ones who decide what books to use. It’s about awareness.”

4. Cool graphic: The Economist has a nifty graphic that shows the growing use of smartphones, especially by younger people. “Earth is rapidly becoming a planet of the phones,” it says. You should check it out. And ICYMI, don’t forget to read my recent story about regional summits designed to help school leaders make smart plans before they buy technology.

5. Hello, world: Quite a few new people signed up to the newsletter since the last edition. Welcome. You join a list of active readers who are interested in tracking the latest on blended learning. I would like to learn more about you. Are you involved in education? What questions do you have about blended learning? Send me an email at or chirp at me on social media @NicholeDobo and @HechingerReport. I am totally biased, but I recommend bookmarking the homepage of The Hechinger Report and our blended learning section.

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Nichole Dobo

Nichole Dobo writes about blended learning. Most of her 10-year career as a reporter has focused on education. She has also covered stories about government,… See Archive