March 16, 2017
Paul Fradale, Director of Innovation and Blended Learning in A-JIS
What are your responsibilities as the Director of Innovation and Blended Learning in A-JIS?
I am responsible for leading the team charged with the development, execution and evaluation of the Blended Learning program at our school together with BBT (Business Breakthrough Technology), our parent company, and Southern Cross University, New South Wales, Australia. Our goal is to make a Blended Learning platform that will allow us to leverage technology to maximize face to face learning.
How long have you been working in A-JIS and what is the project you are most proud of?
I joined A-JIS last year; this is my second year with the school. Last year I was the MYP (Middle Years Programme) coordinator and my job was to lead the team to achieve authorization as an IB World School for the MYP. We were able to achieve authorisation within a year even though many people, including our MYP consultant, did not think it was possible. I am very proud of the great work the secondary teachers did to achieve that goal.
What is Blended Learning?
I think most people understand traditional learning, both children and teachers in a classroom, working on a subject together.. They are also probably familiar with the idea of online learning: everything is done on a computer so you never have to meet the teacher in person. Blended Learning is simply something in between those two models and it seeks to get the best from each model and bring them together.
What does a Blended Learning classroom look like?
There is no one way. Essentially you will have (1) situations when the teacher chooses to work face to face with the children, (2) situations where a portion of the class is working independently while the teacher works face to face with the other group and (3) situations when all the children go online to collaborate with each other and do the work. The idea is to use the power of ICT to maximize the face to face time that they have. For example, you could have all the children practicing multiplication over and over again in the classroom but, is that a good use of time when you are with the children? With Blended Learning you can have the children doing their skill learning independently and applying the knowledge in class rather than gaining it.
How do IB and Blended Learning work together?
Some of our DP (Diploma Programme) students already use Pamoja, the IB-approved online course provider. They do not offer all the IB courses but they offer some so our 11 and 12th graders already have a blended approach to the IB. Some of their courses are online, some with teachers. Some teachers use already ICT in the course of what they do from the PYP through to the DP. What we are trying to do is to make it more consistent among all the teachers and also expand how it is used.
Since when are you introducing Blended Learning in A-JIS?
We started at the beginning of this school year. It’s the beginning of an 3-year project with Southern Cross University and at the end of 3 years we expect to have our platform built. Currently we have the conceptual model complete: we have one or two sample modules to show the kind of tools teachers could use. Also, the action plan, budget, the whole planning is in place. That is our achievement in half a year.
Do teachers have a training in Blended Learning?
The teachers will undergo regular PD. Currently they are doing a program called Teacher as Researcher: they are investigating problems in their classrooms and seeking ICT-related solutions for what they do. This is the first of four courses they will take. We are developing three other university-level courses as a custom set together with the Southern Cross University as part of what we are doing. It will be a mix of online and in-person settings.
Will you keep track of outcomes?
The entire project is data driven. We are collecting baseline data now and we are going to do comparative studies every year. I don’t expect the 3-year project to be the end, but the real beginning.
What are the benefits of introducing Blended Learning in the school?
I expect that our teacher’s skills and effectiveness will increase. I also expect higher student achievement because I believe that we will allow the children some control over three main variables: (1) pace, (2) place and (3) path.
(1) In a traditional school, the children must go through the material basically at the same pace. What we are hoping is, by using the power of ICT, (a) children who grasp something quickly can move much faster, (b) children that move at an average pace can just move through and (c) children who need extra time and help can get that.
(2) In terms of place, we want to use ICT to allow learning to happen anywhere, not just in the classroom. I am originally from the countryside, and yes, now I am in this giant city. Particularly in Japan we see that the young people are leaving their hometowns to come to the city. As a result, the hometowns are slowly dying. What I want to see is an opportunity for the children in the countryside to be able to learn with us without having to live in Tokyo. If with blended learning we can do that, I will feel very successful.
(3) The trickiest is path. Currently, if I am a math teacher and I want the children to do multiplication, I usually have one or two ways for the children to learn that I can apply, practically. It can be difficult to differentiate enough for all the students in the class. If the children match the styles I can offer, that is great, but what about the children who don’t? Our hope is that by allowing the children having different paths to learn materials, ideas, skills… we will have greater success for more of the children. Let’s think about Google Maps: if you want to move from A to B, google maps give you at least four different paths you can take, and then as a traveller you can choose your path. I think this will take us more time to develop.
What is your experience with Blended Learning?
I have always been involved with technology. I have been technology coordinator and a Lead IT teacher. Therefore, I personally have been involved with Blended Learning by allowing children different digital tools in the learning process. This is the first school that I have worked in making such a radical change: doing such a large initiative in terms of an organization.
Do you know if other schools are introducing Blended Learning as A-JIS do?
Schools must innovate or die. We are always looking to improve outcomes and this is one more approach to try. I believe the most international schools are experimenting with Blended Learning. I don’t know if our competitors are committed as we are to develop a full platform, however..
What is a particular aspect of Blended Learning you want to highlight and share with the parents?
Individualization. When a family choose to send a child to an International School, they are looking for value that exceed being only internationally minded. What I hope to see with Blended Learning is increased individualization: where instead of the average being acceptable, each child has a higher opportunity to grow more. We can also make learning more flexible: many of our families come and go throughout the year so their children’s education may suffer. Blended Learning will allow education to be unbroken, and that means more flexibility for our families. In Japan, there is a phenomenon called Hikikomori (引き籠り), children who don’t want to leave the house. Through Blended Learning we have the opportunity to reach out these children who even having difficulty attending a physical school, and they may be able to continue their education as they are learning to deal with the situation. Our board chair, Shibata-san wants to change how the Japanese are educated to when an emergency like 3/11 happens, they respond as a society in a different way, perhaps with better outcomes.