This morning, several colleagues and I had the opportunity to visit a Chicago school that is working diligently to offer their students a unique and meaningful learning experience. Virtual Opportunities Inside a School Environment Academy High School (VOISE) is located about five miles west of downtown Chicago in the Austin neighborhood. VOISE Academy utilizes a hybrid educational environment to meet the needs of approximately 350 students in one of Chicago’s largest urban neighborhoods. As a 1:1 laptop school, VOISE ensures that all students have access to technology, even providing each student with a refurbished computer for use at home.
After a tour of the school (provided by three exceptional VOISE students), we had a chance to sit down and visit with school administration–Principal Todd Yarch and Assistant Principal Dr. Tiffany Allison. They talked with us about the challenges of beginning, sustaining and expanding a hybrid school program–of which there are many. The visit was extremely helpful, and our hosts gracious. I am not a proponent of a “one-size-fits-all” answer to educational reform–different situations call for different solutions. That being said, there were three very salient points that I took from the students, teachers and administrators at VOICE academy.
1. Keep Students Central – as advocates of educational technology, we must always remember our purpose and keep students at the center of our decision-making. If a program, policy, or piece of technology is not good for kids, it requires no further consideration.
2. Support Teachers – give teachers the means to effectively implement the curriculum–including professional development. If we expect our staff members to engage students in the effective, and meaningful utilization of technologies, we must provide them with appropriate tools and training. As has been a popular topic of discussion through social media streams, educators must collaborate–not only in their own schools, but worldwide–to share ideas, practices and solutions to the complex issues of an ever evolving educational system.
3. Reflect, Refine, Maintain Focus – the use of technology in education is a fluid situation, one that is constantly changing. 21st century educators must continually reflect on their practices, refine instructional methods and maintain focus on what is working.
These focal points were given with regard to establishing a successful hybrid educational program, however, it certainly seems like sage advice, central to any successful educational environment. Hybrid, blended, traditional, virtual–all just adjectives used to describe educational practices. Truth is, regardless of the term we use to describe our practice, the system will only work if the well-being of students remains central to our decision-making process.