BlendEd Courses: Classrooms of the Future?

For Aden Misra Siebel ‘17, it’s time for class. He sits down at the table, opens his computer, and gets ready for this week’s discussion. The teacher enters the classroom as Misra Siebel exchanges pleasantries with his peers.

The class—called “Web Development and Design”—discusses the homework from the previous week. They talk about their progress on codeacademy. com (a website that teaches coding for free), they ask and answer questions, and they share the headway they have made on their final projects: websites that serve as spaces to demonstrate their mastery of the skills they learn over the course of the semester. The whole meeting only lasts half an hour.

The difference between Misra Siebel’s classroom experience and any other is that it is Saturday night and Misra Siebel is sitting at home, using a Skype-like online tool to engage with his teacher and classmates. Misra Siebel’s desk is his own, but he can also participate in the class meeting from his bed, a café…anywhere he’d like. His teacher does not teach at Lick-Wilmerding, but at the College Preparatory School in Oakland; his classmates are not only in San Francisco, but in Marin and the East Bay as well. The classroom spans across the entire Bay Area.

It is only fitting for a course whose subject is how to take advantage of online activity to take place nearly entirely online.

Misra Siebel’s course is just one of a series of new courses offered by Lick that aims to hold classes based online. These digital courses, called the BlendEd classes, are a series of electives available for sophomores, juniors and seniors. Each semester, five classes are offered on an array of fascinating and unusual subjects, such as “Literature of the Golden Gate,” “Field Study Photography and Bay Area History” and “Molecular Architecture.” These courses aim to take advantage of a flexible online platform while still maintaining a rigorous classroom environment. The BlendEd website explains that the courses are “a set of blended classes combining face-to-face and online instruction.”

Lick-Wilmerding is a member school of the Bay Area BlendEd Consortium, along with Athenian, Urban, College Prep, and Marin Academy. Each semester, each one of these schools offers a BlendEd course, which can be taken by students at that school or at any of the other consortium schools. One course is offered by a professor at each one of the five schools per semester. The BlendEd courses offered by Lick professors are, “Race, Place & Toxics” (taught by Don Rizzi), and “Bay Area Cinema,” taught by Lydia Greer.

Where BlendEd courses shine is in their broad diversity of subjects. Because students are not confined to only taking courses at their own school, they are able to advance their interests past the limits of their school. For example, Lick does not offer mathematics courses more advanced than calculus, which could pose a problem to Lick students who want to pursue higher levels of math. With BlendEd, those students can enroll in “Multivariable Calculus,” which is taught by a professor at Urban.

The benefits of BlendEd courses exist not only in their content, but also in their structure. According to Rizzi, the greatest advantage of having these courses is their “flexibility.” The format of these classes is fairly similar to taking any other elective at Lick. Though BlendEd courses technically occupy a block in a student’s schedule, the student is free to use the time to do as they please. Students taking the classes typically meet online for scheduled sessions in the evenings, but otherwise, the student has complete agency to structure their work time.

This program, now in its second year, has generally been a success so far. Ten courses were offered this year (five per semester, one from each consortium member school). The most popular courses so far have been “Web Design and Development” (taught by Lori Hébert at College Prep) and “Beats, Rhymes and Life,” a course that explores the intersections of hip-hop music with race, politics and American culture (taught by Kalyan Balaven at Athenian).

However on the other hand, the flexibility and opportunity of the BlendEd courses can cause a disconnect between teachers and students and between students and their peers.

“For me, I’m not a fan of the fact that there’s not a lot of chances to interact with other people…I don’t know a lot of people in my class,” says Misra Siebel. “You only meet once a week, so there’s not a lot of opportunity for interaction.”

Trent Hommeyer ‘16, who took Web Design and Development last year, also believed that some important aspects of the standard physical classroom environment were lost in the BlendEd courses, for better or for worse. “It’s really hard to stay disciplined… you’re never reminded to do assignments, so you really have to be on top of it.” Hommeyer also echoed a similar sentiment to Misra Siebel, acknowledging the lack of interaction.

However, according to Hommeyer, the flexibility of the BlendEd schedule and the meetups were “cool.”

“If you’re driven and you’re really interested in [the course subject], it makes it worthwhile, he says. “BlendEd is for people who are really passionate about what they are learning about.”

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