Digital Natives, Disruptive Schooling and other Brainteasers

by: Dr. Maria  Avgerinou, Director of Educational Technology and e-Learning, ACS Athens

Ethos Magazine, Winter 2013, Vol 8, Issue 1

As Bob Pearlman, one of the key leaders in U.S. educational reform points out (2010), a casual walk into any new brick-and-mortar schools across the U.S., reveals that despite the elaborate architectural designs and the wiring for educational technology integration, classrooms remain designed for teachers to stand in front of the students, thus still reflecting schooling as invented in the 19th century. Since those bygone and distant past times however, the world has developed in such diverse directions and created new and particularly complex demands for citizenship, college and careers that it is no longer possible to be accommodated by old learning environments associated with old learning paradigms. Indeed, “we are on the threshold of a tipping point in public education,” (Kay, 2010, xiii). The Partnership for the 21st Century Skills (2009) emphasizes that in addition to core subject knowledge, such skills as information and communication, inter-personal and self-directional, as well as being well versed with the technologies of this millennium, both from the consumer and the creator’s standpoints, are critical in order to prepare students as life-long learners to deal successfully with the demands of the ever changing world of the post-industrial era of information revolution.

These learning outcomes not only necessitate schools to capitalize on the affordances of new technologies, but also to utilize more learner-centric pedagogies which focus on the newly emerged, idiosyncratic profile of the digital learner (Prensky, 2001). As a result, we have witnessed the unprecedented growth and firm establishment of online and blended learning at all levels of education, including various forms of Virtual Schooling in the K-12 sector (Davis & Niederhauser, 2007; Rice, 2012; Watson, Murin, et al., 2010). Indeed, online (and blended) learning has been saluted as the disruptive force that can transform the factory-like structure of today’s educational institutions. Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School Professor, who coined the term of art Disrupting Innovation, argues that by 2019 50% of all high school courses will be delivered online.

This projection may seem less bizarre upon close inspection of current facts and figures pertaining to online and blended learning in the U.S.:

  • the number of students taking at least one online course has now surpassed 6.7 million (, 2013)
  • by 2013 that number will increase to 18.65 million
  • Half of the 4,500 brick-and-mortar colleges in the U.S. offer their degree programs online
  • 96% of traditional universities offer at least one class in an online-only format
  • Open Course Ware offers 4,200 complete courses online for free
  • 1,689 of which are classes from MIT (source Classes And, 2013)
  • According to a 2009 study from the Department of Education: “Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.” Students who mix online learning with traditional coursework (i.e. blended learning) do even better (Internet Time Group Report, 2013).

21st-Century-Skills KALOi2Flex for Morfosis: A New Vehicle for a New Education Paradigm

At ACS Athens, we have followed closely the aforementioned global effort for educational reform. We are cognizant of the fact that traditional schooling is not the only avenue for learning. How could it be, since the reality is that students learn in different ways, via different modalities and styles, at a different pace in environments immersed in new technologies? We are also strong supporters of the notion of complete alignment among school learning outcomes, university and market needs. As a result, we have generated our own education paradigm named Morfosis and defined within the 21st century framework as a holistic, meaningful, and harmonious educational experience, guided by ethos. The vehicle to implement Morfosis, is the i2Flex, a non-formal education model of instruction organically developed by the ACS Athens community of learners, that integrates internet-based delivery of content and instruction with student independent learning, and some control over time, pace, place, or mode, in combination with guided, face-to-face classroom instruction aiming at developing higher order cognitive skills within a flexible learning design framework. Grounded on the concept of Morfosis, this type of learning that draws on practice and research on blended learning and the concept of “flipped classroom” in K-12 across the U.S. and beyond, is learner-centered and ultimately aims at developing students’ 21st century skills, while also helping them successfully prepare for their higher education studies (where a good deal of them are already offered online), and their future careers.

More specifically, this approach consists of a blend of face-to-face and web-based teaching and learning experiences. The web-based component may include both online synchronous and asynchronous teaching and learning experiences, structured for individual and collaborative interaction and guided by the teacher, as well as independent experiential and web-based learning, initiated and implemented by the student.  From a theoretical perspective, i2Flex is a form of blended learning which so far tends to gravitate toward six models, namely, face-to-face driver, rotation, flex, online lab, self-blend, and online driver (Hopper & Seaman, 2011). Each of these models comes with its own set of characteristics, but they all fall under the following umbrella definition for Blended Learning in the K-12: “Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick- and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace. (Clayton Christensen Institute, The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning: Profiles of Emerging Models, 2011, p. 5). Where i2Flex significantly diverts from the blended learning definition is at the component of independent inquiry. According to the i2Flex independent inquiry, albeit scaffolded and guided by faculty, is a required component of the learning experience. Another major point of our approach, refers to the superb learning opportunities for the development of Bloom’s Taxonomy highest cognitive skills (analysis, evaluation, and creation), that can be created by the integration of web-based activities where the student in preparation for face-to-face class meetings can interact with the content, the technology, peers and the teacher toward advancing the less demanding cognitive skills of knowledge acquisition, comprehension, and application.

Beginning from this Fall, many i2Flex classes are being piloted at the ACS Middle School and Academy, representing a rich variety of course subjects, teaching styles, and age groups, while at the same time reflecting different degrees of complexity regarding instructional design and technology integration. We are deeply aware that this form of learning that we are striving to implement requires substantial change in our school’s culture while at the same time generating shifts in teachers’, administrators’, and students’ roles. As a result, i2Flex pilot teachers participate in a series of individual consultations with the Director for Educational Technology and eLearning, in order to review their courses against the Quality Matters® research-based, national benchmarks for online course design, examine models and discuss issues of instructional design as they specifically apply to their class, and how the latter can be transformed into a successful technology enhanced and/or web-supported learning community. In turn, our faculty educates the students hands-on about the uses and benefits of technology for learning- as opposed to using technology for information, communication or entertainment per the digital natives’ daily routine outside the classroom! Our Administrators also have the opportunity to participate in formal and informal professional development sessions regarding the design, and implementation of i2Flex, while receiving frequent reports on the progress of the pilot classes.

Moving from the pilot to the next phase of this initiative, the vision of ACS Athens is to have all of our Middle School and Academy classes i2Flex-ed. We thrive on the tremendous possibilities that this new education paradigm can offer to our learning community. Davis et al. (2007) illustrate, among others, the development of new distribution methods to enable equity and access for all students; the provision of high quality content for all students; and, the fact that management structures can begin to shift to support performance-based approaches through data-driven decision-making. Therefore, if applied in a systematic, pedagogically sound way, i2Flex can serve as the vehicle for disruptive education in our school, can become the bridge between the four-walled, brick-and-mortar classroom and 21st century education, and can empower our students to transform the world as architects of their own learning by linking high quality teaching and high quality courses with the collaborative, networked, information-rich environments that are a hallmark of the information age (Davis, et al. 2007).

BlendedLearningContinuum_sm copyReferences

Allen, J.E., & Seaman, J. (2013). Changing course: Ten year of tracking online education in the United States. Sloan Consortium, Babson Survey Research Group, & Pearson Learning Solutions. Retrieved November 11, 2013 from

Christensen, Cl., Horn, M. B., & Johnson, C.W. (2011). Disrupting class: How disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Clayton Christensen Institute (2011). The rise of K-12 blended learning: Profiles of emerging models. Retrieved November 11, 2013, from

Davis, N.E. & Niederhauser, D.S. (2007, April). New roles and responsibilities for distance education in K-12 education. Learning and Leading.

Davis, N., Roblyer, M. D., Charania, A., Ferdig, R., Harms, C., Compton, L. K. L., et al. (2007). Illustrating the “virtual” in virtual schooling: Challenges and strategies for creating real tools to prepare virtual teachers. Internet and Higher Education, 10(1), 27-39.

Hopper, J., & Seaman, J. (2011). Transforming schools for the 21st century. Retrieved November 6, 203 from

Kay, K. (2010). Foreword: 21st Century skills: Why they matter, what they are, and how we get there. In J. Bellanca & R. Brandt (Eds.) 21st Century skills: Rethinking how students learn (pp. xiii-xxxi). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2009). Framework for 21st century learning. Retrieved November 7, 2013 from

Pearlman, B. (2010). Designing new learning environments to support 21st century skills. In J. Bellanca & R. Brandt (Eds.) 21st Century skills: Rethinking how students learn (pp. 117-147). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives; Digital immigrants. Retrieved November 11, 2013, from,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Rice, J.K. (2012). Review of “The costs of online learning.”Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center.Retrieved June 1, 2013, from

Watson, J., Murin, A., Vashaw, L., Gemin, B., & Rapp, C. (2010). Keeping pace with K-12 online learning: An annual review of state-level policy and practice. Vienna, VA: North American Council for Online Learning. Retrieved from