The BLENDI project (Blended Learning for Inclusion) aims to combat the inequalities in access to digital technologies that students from disadvantaged backgrounds often face. In addition, it aims to promote students’ social inclusion in the digital era by developing teachers’ and students’ digital competence through blended learning. The BLENDI Guidelines were developed in order to present teachers and other interested stakeholders with the theoretical and practical framework for blended learning and inclusive education as this is implemented through the BLENDI approach in the context of the BLENDI project.
In order to understand the BLENDI approach, the BLENDI Guidelines include a presentation of the main theoretical concepts and ideas related to digital technologies and inclusion such as the notion of the digital divide, social and educational inclusion, digital inclusion, digital competence, and co-design, as well as the frameworks that comprise the BLENDI approach, which focus on children’s participation in education. The BLENDI Guidelines also discuss the three axes on which the BLENDI approach is based:
1) learning for all, by considering the principles of Universal Design for ALL (UDL);
2) teachers’ training for technology integration, adopting, and adapting the framework of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK);
3) the importance of students’ voice for pedagogy and learning design.
In addition, the Guidelines offer information to teachers about the BLENDI platform and toolkit.
The BLENDI Moodle training package (pdf) constitutes the basic tool for the training of teachers and educators in the implementation of the BLENDI approach. It includes all the relevant educational materials to be used by teachers and their trainers for the delivery of the blended training course for teachers. Currently, the Moodle training package contains the initial Master Training Course in English, which could be easily used and replicated by any interested school across Europe, as well as a number of replications of the initial Master Training Course, in Greek, Spanish and Catalan.
The Master Training Course in the training package as well as its multilingual replications can be used by teachers who wish to develop skills and knowledge on the basic concepts of the project. The course also includes information, guidelines and support on the practical aspects of applying the BLENDI approach in their classrooms, such as the creation of the Dialectical Synergic Blended Lesson Plans (DSBLP).
The general structure of the Master Training Course and its national replications is: a. Introduction, b. The BLENDI Guidelines, c. The seven learning modules, and d. The Final Quiz. The seven (7) distinct Modules address different elements of the BLENDI approach and its implementation in schools. They contain all the necessary teaching and learning materials to support the learning experience of teachers who participate in the course. Each Module contains educational materials, links to articles and reports, informative videos, quizzes and presentations, divided in and labeled as pre-training activities, face-to-face activities, post- training activities and a final reflection activity.
Trainers who will undertake the course can add extra materials to suit their individual needs and the needs of their trainees. Additional materials can be added based on the profile, and existing knowledge and skills of trainees, and their educational needs.
The BLENDI approach uses self-evaluation, student feedback for BLENDI teachers and the measurement of students’ and teachers’ digital competences through the use of surveys and interviews. Teachers’ and students’ input is used to provide insight into the effects of the BLENDI approach. The BLENDI approach also used the SELFIE tool (Self-reflection on Effective Learning by fostering the use of Innovative Educational Technologies) as a form of needs assessment prior to designing the project’s platform and toolkit. The SELFIE is a free and openly accessible tool designed to help schools embed digital technologies in teaching, learning and student assessment. It gathers the views of students, teachers, and school leaders on the use of technology in their school, by using short statements and questions and a simple 1-5 agreement scale.
Teachers and students were involved in needs assessment right from the start when they undertook a SELFIE of their digital skills in their schools. This was the basis for creating the Blendi Platform. When the Platform was created, we looked at providing 3 main areas of work to create a digital inclusive tool that would help teachers and students to collaborate and make the most of their digital learning.
The 3 main areas in the Platform are:
Tool and Tips
Explore the following digital tools and learn practical tips about their use in blended learning environments to include all students.
Collaborative Lesson Plans
Use of Blendi Platform for creating collaborative lesson plans.
Students´ Feedback App
A space where students can provide reviews and feedback concerning activities and tools.
The BETA testing began as soon as lesson plans were able to be uploaded on the platform. The teachers and students in all schools have been collaborating and coming up with interesting lesson plans which they are able to share on the platform. The innovative side of the platform was completed with the possibility of students to provide feedback on the lesson plans so they could be modified and improved. The final version incorporates extensive feedback from all schools and mainstreams the platform for public use.
The BLENDI toolkit has been conceived as a user-friendly application with various resources for teachers and students. It provides teachers with practical tips about the use of blended learning to include all students, helping them decide on the various tools used in inclusive blended learning environments. The toolkit contains the following categories of tools: Wikis, Blogs, Discussion Forums, Webcasting, E-Portfolios, Online surveys and Quizzes, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Other Web 2.0 technologies.
Each category provides teachers and students with:
- A list of suggested tools.
- Instructions on how to create the tools.
- Guidelines on how to use them.
- Tips on how to make them more accessible to students.
- Additional literature.
The BLENDI platform can be used to codesign collaborative lesson plans between teachers and students. Teachers need to sign in with the platform with a Google account and create a lesson plan. The lesson plan template is composed of three main sections: (1) Learning objectives; (2) Activities and tools; and (3) Reflection and Assessment. For each section, the teacher can configure specific codesign questions to use with their students using the codesign blue buttons on the right. For each group of codesign questions the system allows teachers to generate a unique code. Students will then access the Feedback App and use the code provided by the teacher to see and answer the codesign questions individually and anonymously from any device (e.g. smartphone, laptop, tablet…).
The BLENDI platform is also a community platform. Teachers can share their collaborative lesson plans with the other teachers in the online community, duplicate and give feedback to others’s lesson plans. The platform provides a gamification feature that engages teachers with the codesign process, allowing them to track number of likes, views, comments received for each lesson plan created and an indicator of the number of times a lesson plan has been codesigned with students.
Teachers have implemented the BLENDI approach in their schools during the piloting phase of the BLENDI Project.
The implementation of the BLENDI approach was accompanied by a localization process that began during the design phase as well as carried through the piloting phase. As a matter of principle the BLENDI approach sought to involve all stakeholders (teachers, educational experts, and students) in the design and of the material and project results in an effort to be as participatory, inclusive, and relevant as possible. This process of local adaptation operated on multiple levels and during multiple phases.
It firstly involved a needs-based and evidence-based approach in the development of the project outputs from the phase of inception as teachers and students provided information through interviews and surveys on their local needs. Upon the initial development of the project outputs, local adaptation was sought through the Teacher Advisory Board and the teacher trainers who provided feedback on the project outputs such as the BLENDI Guidelines, the training material, the BLENDI platform and Toolkit based on their expertise as well as their local circumstances. In addition, the implementation of the BETA testing allowed for the emergence of any challenges on the local level in relation to, for example, availability of technical equipment, support and internet connection, which could then be dealt with accordingly and in the local context with the support of the local BLENDI team. The organization of multiplier events was also used as a means of local adaptation as teachers who participated in the multiplier events were asked to work with project material that was locally adapted by workshop facilitators, were invited to try it out in their own settings and were also asked to provide feedback.
Finally, localization was also supported through the piloting phase of BLENDI where teacher and student participants in the project in each school collaboratively developed and implemented lesson plans based on their local/national curricula as well as based on the students’ interests and the technical infrastructure available in each educational setting. Feedback on the piloting was also acquired through the final evaluation phase of the project where teachers, teacher trainers and students were asked to reflect on their local experiences through surveys and interviews. This feedback was utilized in the finalization of all project results.
This process of localization was an iterative process as feedback was given in different phases, as explained above, and informed the finalization of each project result as well as was fed into the development of subsequent phases and results of the project.
Teachers in BLENDI pilot schools have pondered the added value of the BLENDI Approach. They find that the inclusive pedagogical use of digital technology brings following benefits to their schoolwork and students’ learning:
- New perspectives, new tips for Teachers
- Digital skills improved
- ‘Wisdom of Crowd’ when student participation increases
- More positive atmosphere in the classroom
- Student’s voice is heard better
- Learning to Learn improves
- Collaboration skills improve
- Possibility to try new ways of learning in and out of school
The pedagogical use of digital technology should be part of school culture, which means it needs to be included in strategic planning. For a successful implementation in schools, there needs to be a commitment on behalf of school leaders which entails investment in communication, as well as optimal leadership and management.
The BLENDI project has developed a localization kit to anyone or any school interested in adapting the project’s results. This includes tips on the steps to follow, lesson plan templates, feedback collection tools, and resources that can be consulted.
The BLENDI platform is available online (following a SaaS approach) and maintained by UPF. The registration is open, with easy access to any interested person. The platform is multilingual, and can already be used in the five languages of the BLENDI consortium. Moreover, further translations could be configured under demand. The platform generates files for translation with tools such as Poedit that can be shared with countries interested in translations to new languages.
Localization steps and tips
- Conduct a needs assessment to assess teachers’ and students’ digital skills, the school’s infrastructure capacity, and local educational needs in relation to blended learning
- Consult with local experts: teachers, teacher trainers, academics, policy makers, students
- Consult local educational curricula and guidelines
- Browse BLENDI platform, lesson plan database and toolkit and adopt and adapt in accordance with local needs as well as local standards identified through previous steps
- Conduct smaller-scale pilot implementation
- Collect feedback from teachers and students involved through surveys and/or interviews
- Up-scale the implementation as desired.
The experiences from the implementation of the BLENDI approach are valuable for future use of it in new schools. During the project, teachers expressed their satisfaction with the BLENDI approach, particularly in succeeding with one of its main goals: giving voice to all students regardless of their cultural background, socioeconomic background, school performance and/or disability.
Participating teachers were positive towards their training in terms of learning new theories. However, teachers found it difficult to put all they learned to practice. The Moodle course environment provided useful information and direction on what, when and how to train other teachers in their schools. A suggestion they had was to enhance the evaluation on the Moodle learning platform.
Teachers seemed to be satisfied and even excited with the use of the BLENDI platform and the toolkit. However, in future the platforms should always be more finalized in advance so that they demonstrate better the whole approach. The teachers hoped that authentication would have been integrated to normal user accounts at their school and this caused one barrier for a wider BLENDI platform use. Teachers’ main concern on the BLENDI approach was the aspect of time: it took more time to prepare the lesson plan, more time to research and conclude on specific tools, more time to implement the lesson plans than they expected.
For students, the overall benefits of blended learning connected with students being more engaged and more active when blended learning was used. Co-creation of lesson plans and having students to comment on the learning objectives proved to be beneficial for classes. One suggestion was that feedback could have been seeked only when the lesson plan hasd been applied in the class. In teachers’ opinion the whole process was beneficial for their students and for themselves since it provided them with an opportunity to develop professionally.
Because the organization and implementation of a focus group discussion with students was not feasible, conclusions on their views can be drawn from the students’ survey and from the comments made by teachers on the reaction and feedback they received from their students.
In both cases the feedback was very positive. Students enjoyed this new method of participating in their lesson, during its early stage, its design. It was the first time that such possibility was provided to them and they felt that they express their opinions freely and that their voices were heard. Students also enjoyed the collaboration which was initiated by the BLENDI approach. They collaborated with their classmates to form opinions and ideas on the lesson’s objectives and activities, and they collaborated with their teachers to finalize the lesson, the activities, the sequence and the assessment. They felt that they could take control of their learning experience and to recommend new things in an open and friendly environment. They also pointed out that they learnt more during the lesson which was produced by the co-design process and that their learning was facilitated with the use of new tools and innovative activities. They also appreciated the efforts of their teachers to include all students in the process, without leaving anyone behind. Finally, they mentioned that they would like to use this approach more often, with more teachers and for more classes. Overall, it was an inspiring experience for them.
In summary, it seems that students found the BLENDI approach useful and enjoyable in many aspects (autonomy, participation, learning the value of sharing ideas). One of the most important lessons learned based on their feedback is that students value their teachers’ asking them to participate in the co-design of the lesson plans. All of them pointed out that they would like to continue to collaborate with their teachers since this makes the lesson more engaging and interesting, and more aligned with their own interests. From a technical perspective, students provided valuable feedback regarding improvements to the platform (e.g., autosaving, easier passwords, having their typing deleted on tablet). Furthermore, as it is apparent based on the focus groups findings that the implementation of the BLENDI approach was useful in helping students to develop their digital skills.
In the three schools students recognize that the topic of ICT (to support their learning) is present in their conversations with teachers. They are also aware that they have technical support available in their school when they face problems with technology. Students from two (out of the three) schools rated highly their happiness with, usefulness and applicability of the platform. These students also think that designing lesson plans with their teachers helped them to learn. Yet, the school with a higher percentage of students from economically disadvantaged homes are less positive with the platform and the approach. The results from teachers’ views provide some hints about why this is the case and how the approach and its practical implementation could be extended to be able to address diverse contexts and further appropriation better.
The features of the platform that students liked the most were: being able to express their opinion (anonymously) (and learn from it), using a rating format using stars, sharing designs with a wider community, the method, aspects of similarity with other tools, and the opportunity to learn new technologies. Some students suggested that aspects for improvement include the use of the language, the usability of some features, the organization of resources, and more similarities with the tools they normally use.
The BLENDI toolkit and platform was in low use in Finland and students did not have that much experience from the technical side of the BLENDI approach. However, the students were active in inclusion, feedback and increasing the use of many kinds of technical tools and environments in their learning.
There were a lot of positives to take away from using devices and technology in a classroom environment, but also a lot of areas that needed improvement or developing. Like teachers, the weakest areas were collaboration and assessment.
Students would like better feedback on their work and more self-reflection on learning. There was an issue and a desire to better tailoring of lessons to their needs. Ways to battle online learnings’ boring nature needs to be addressed – perhaps more interactive or including of more games could be solutions.
I & F Education and Development
Mr Joe Cabello, Educational Researcher, Project Coordinator
+353 1 5488166
European University Cyprus
Dr Katerina Mavrou, Associate Professor,
Department of Education Sciences
+357 22 559 485
Athens Lifelong Learning Institute
Tel. +30 211 0138 400
Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona
Dr Davinia Hernández-Leo
Full Professor, TIDE learning technologies research group
+34 93 542 1428
Diaconia University of Applied Sciences
Dr Olli Vesterinen, Expert in Teacher Training
+358 40 590 5949