In his spring 2021 book The Essential Blended Learning PD Planner: Where Classroom Practice Meets Distance Learning, Stepan Mekhitarian Ed.D. ’16 offers a roadmap for a transition back to in-class instruction that capitalizes on the skills that educators have built during the COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, Mekhitarian, the interim director of innovation, instruction, assessment and accountability for the Glendale Unified School District, drew on his doctoral research at the LMU School of Education, which focused on the skills and training needed to effectively implement blended learning across schools and systems. Mekhitarian, who previously served as coordinator of data and blended learning for the Los Angeles Unified School District, spoke about the book and the role of blended learning in the year ahead.
What compelled you to write this book?
When we transitioned to distance learning at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, I was one of the district leaders tapped to oversee the logistics, professional development, and support because of my professional background. As you can imagine, it was uncharted territory. But I also knew we were going to head back to in-person instruction at some point, at least for part of the time. And I wanted to make sure that transition isn’t as jarring and unplanned as the one brought on by the pandemic. So I started doing some research and wrote the book with the intent of helping districts plan for this transition.
With the return of in-person instruction still planned for many schools and districts around the country, do you expect technology to play a greater role than it did in the classroom prior to the pandemic?
Blended learning has been around for a decade, but now that so many teachers have seen how instructional technology can impact learning, they’re going to want to incorporate the things they’ve learned and some of the tools they’ve used. By combining what they did during the height of the pandemic with their experiences before full-time distance learning was in place, they can develop so-called blended classrooms in which students learn partly using technology and partly through in-person instruction, with each enriching the other.
How will the past year-plus of every educator’s experience guide professional development efforts for blended learning?
Everyone went through something like an instructional technology boot camp when we all had to immediately adopt distance learning in 2020. Now that this “hurry up and figure it out” phase is behind us, teachers have this newfound strength and skill set. The question is how it’s going to be used with students who are back in classrooms. It’s important to have really thoughtful training and planning on the role of technology going forward. Last year, its main purpose was offering students access to their education. Moving forward, the focus should be on using technology and distance-learning techniques to enhance learning and to make sure that teachers and others working in school settings have the right training to deliver instruction and services using these methods.