Rocketship tightens the link between classrooms and blended learning labs

At Rocketship Education, we view the key to our blended learning model as tight alignment between classroom instruction and online learning.  But we’ve long faced technical hurdles in providing meaningful and actionable data from our learning lab –  a space staffed by non-credentialed teachers where students work online and in small group tutoring sessions – to our classroom teachers.

To ensure students have access to the range of individualized and personalized content they need in the learning lab, we utilize multiple online software programs from different content providers. What we’ve lacked historically is an infrastructure that could integrate our programs and rationalize the data they generate.

Building a better infrastructure

Last year, with support from the Gates Foundation, we tackled this problem by developing a technical infrastructure that could integrate our multiple learning lab programs into one system. This effort allowed us to pull specific metrics from individual programs and combine them into universal reports to give our teachers access to integrated and actionable data. It also began to enable “goal directed assignability” in the learning lab, ensuring better alignment of online content with what students were learning in the classroom.

The build-out of the technical infrastructure has been truly exciting. It has allowed us to more tightly integrate our classrooms and our learning lab with a more truly blended, two-way learning model in which timely data inform classroom instruction while classroom instruction directly influences online content. This year, we’re further enhancing our technical infrastructure to tighten the link between classroom and learning lab.  We have also partnered with a company called Junyo, which strives to provide teachers with even more advanced analytics and provide recommendations for what students should learn next.  Providing teachers more frequent and robust data will further elevate their ability to individualize learning for all their students.

Testing our hypothesis

Perhaps even more exciting, however, is the fact that the work we’ve done on the build-out has allowed us to begin testing the long-standing hypothesis that underpins our all our work:

If the online content our students interact with in our learning labs is closely aligned with classroom instruction, students will achieve greater and more rapid mastery of skills.

The case study being released today offers an anecdotal and reportorial view of our efforts to date. We also participated, with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation’s support, in a forthcoming, evidence-based SRI study designed to test the results of that complementary relationship between the classroom and the learning lab.

Driving sectorwide progress

We’re excited to see the results. We believe that understanding and enhancing the alignment between online and live instruction – and understanding how it affects student outcomes – will determine more than the success of our students and our school. It will influence the success of the blended learning movement as a whole. The example of a truly integrated system that delivers goal-directed content to students and actionable insights to teachers will encourage buy-in sectorwide – from teachers, school administrators, parents and industry stakeholders.

Moreover, the insights we derive will inform the quality and effectiveness of the online content that vendors provide – a critical lynch pin in the effort to use technology to improve students’ outcomes.

What we’ve learned in the past year is that, especially in terms of technological infrastructure, schools that undertake the move to blended learning mustn’t underestimate the scope of work they face. The transition will be – as it has been at Rocketship – a multiyear, iterative process. But given the scale of the challenges confronting our public school systems, I remain convinced that the effort is both worthwhile and necessary.

Charlie Bufalino is the National Development Associate and a former Online Learning Specialist at Rocketship Education. Rocketship has pioneered the transformative Rocketship Model, which combines teacher development, parent empowerment and individualized learning to improve student achievement. Rocketship’s goal is to eliminate the achievement gap between low- and high-income communities across the country, allowing Rocketeers to succeed alongside their more affluent peers. Rocketship currently serves over 3,700 students, of whom nearly 90 percent are low-income, through seven charter schools in San Jose.