Flexible education examines the convergence of face to face and online in both school and system settings. In a school setting we can explore how taking learning online challenges our physical, structural and dispositional boundaries.

It also raises significant questions on how we best use our physical environment and our online environment. It allows consideration of a far more fluid, and open educational environment, where home, school and anything else converge.

In simple terms, if I took my NetNZ Philosophy course into a face to face setting what are the implications? Well, first we only meet ‘live’ face to face once a week. The rest of our time is spent an asynchronous online environment that acts as an online community. There are high levels of ongoing connection. Learners aren’t just left to work independently using google docs, while being fed a steady flow of resources through Google Classroom. There is an intent to connect, to work together to enable an agentic environment which learners have strong ownership of. 

Our live ‘face to face’ is used to make the best use of that time. We discuss live. We share. We do the immediate. We work off each other quickly. I remember when I took my first steps into this current space I work in, the then MoE lead Chris Allott Mcphee talked about how she approached her courses at Oxford Area School. Which was the same way she took her then online / VC course. One face to face session doing lots of stuff together. The rest of the week students worked away on set tasks.

I wouldn’t do it this way now, but it shows how twenty years ago it changed one teachers whole approach.

How would I do it?

  • I would plan in blocks not lesson by lesson. Generally of two weeks. However, I would also use longer inquiry or project blocks. These might run close to a term (which is what I do online currently). This creates clarity and flexibility over that period of time. Learners are able to work at their own pace, but within an identified period of time.
  • Each block is a module of learning that clearly outlines the tasks for the week or fortnight. Exactly as I am doing this year which you can see here. 
  • This is co-constructed with learners and based on emerging needs. Only one module is released at a time. Modules are not planned weeks in advance. They need to adapt to the needs of the group. It is what we call emergent design.
  • There would be an online hub that acts as a central space for learners to gather online. It would centralise all learning, but also activity, and the community of people. I would use something like Discord or Mattermost. A place that connects people, not something that designs beautiful content.
  • Our physical space would be similar. We would have a physical hub that brings us together face to face at certain times. We would use this to do the things that face to face best enables. To create immediacy. Easy collaboration. To talk and discuss live as physical beings. To brainstorm. Use sticky notes, and post it boards. To move around. To stand. Lie down. Maybe we would exercise!
  • Much of the work would occur using online tools such as google docs, padlet and knowledge forum.
  • There would be other physical spaces where learners could work in groups or independently online. Learners who consistently engage would be able to work from anywhere including home if that was supported by whanau.
  • We would also use paper and physical copies of books where necessary. Pen and paper is great for mind mapping, quick notes taking, diagrams. It is not great for extended writing, essays, reports etc.
  • How many times a week would we gather together to do face to face work? Once a week? Twice a week? Well, it would depend on what we were doing and what was needed. At least once a week would be a general rule of thumb. How would this work with school timetables though? Well, it could all be timetabled in, but having to physically get together every one of those times wouldn’t be necessary. If every course operated this way, then a timetable would like quite different. Perhaps it would be much easier to just focus on single day or half day? Implications to consider for another day perhaps.

Some might call this blended learning. Others hybrid. I’m calling it Flexible and Open.

What’s interesting is I have actually done this in a school. I taught a ‘blended’ class at Darfield for a year as a favour. I came in twice a week. The rest of the time was online. And of course, it worked well.

What about the ‘Open’ bit of this. Well, that is coming…