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Blended tech course combines classroom, independent study

GAVC seniors Nick Harri, Clayton Labaj and C.J. Luttrell spend only one day a week in their CMT II class, working the rest of the week online from home or other off-site location.
GAVC seniors Nick Harri, Clayton Labaj and C.J. Luttrell spend only one day a week in their CMT II class, working the rest of the week online from home or other off-site location.

MORRIS – Leanne Dammann’s computer maintenance technology classes at the Grundy Area Vocational Center have been popular for years, with instruction in understanding computers, printers, cellphones, switches, routers and more.

But seniors trying to enroll in the second year of the series – CMT II – were having difficulty fitting the class into their schedules.

Advanced placement classes in particular interfered with scheduling, but other classes did, too, and many students who had an interest in technology found they couldn’t make room in their schedules for the class or had conflicts with the time slot.

So, three years ago, Dammann began thinking outside the box. “Blended” classes were becoming popular in schools across the country, with students spending some of their time in the actual classroom and the rest of their time at home, in the library or study hall learning the material online.

With permission from the participating high schools, Dammann experimented with a blended approach by allowing her CMT II students to not come to class for one week. They still had assignments, and they still had to learn the material and prove to her they understood it. The trial run worked, and Dammann was able to start offering her CMT II course as a blended class beginning with the 2012-13 school year.

This year, she has 15 students in the class. They said so far they have managed to keep up by finding time during their daytime schedules to study.

C.J. Luttrell said the freedom of being able to take the class online makes it easier to get assignments in earlier. Nick Harri uses his lunch period to do his CMT assignments. Clayton Labaj finishes his high school classes early and goes to the CMT classroom to do them. Ein Estes does his work in the library right after the CMT class, and D.J. Layne does his homework whenever he has free time or in his free period.

Chris Cassidy took the class last year. He’s working on a computer or network security degree at college and works part time as the technology director at a special education cooperative.

“Typically, I was able to keep the discipline of getting the work done,” he said. “It was challenging, but rewarding. I was a little worried at the beginning about it being online, but I talked to another student who had taken it, and he said do everything that is assigned, read the chapters and keep up with the homework. ... I really buckled down and finished with an A.”

Cassidy said he set aside his study hall time for the class, as well as spent some home time on it. It was nice to have the flexibility, he said, and it prepared him better for college, where he knew he would have to learn more independently than in high school.

“I think it taught me how to be really responsible with my time and deadlines and making sure I was keeping on top of things,” he said.

Dammann said the enrollment in the class has doubled since she began offering it online. To make it work, she records her lectures along with the same PowerPoint presentation she used to give to her in-class students.

“What they see online is exactly what they would see here,” she said.

Her students still have to come to class once a week before school where they work with real equipment.

Dammann said she has learned that parent/student/teacher communication is even more important with the blended class, and when she sees a student start falling behind, he or she will have to start coming in to class every day until they catch up.

“When I see a pattern emerging,” she said, “I don’t let it go. It’s a difficult concept for them, and there is a lot of open communication between the students and the parents and me.”

Dammann also recommends her students don’t have a full high school schedule at the same time as the CMT II class. They need to have a free block sometime during their days, she said.

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