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FAMU program blends traditional, online learning

Project aims to bring 'blended' teaching to K-12 schools

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida A&M University officials on Tuesday showcased a project aimed at bringing "blended" teaching to K-12 schools where students can learn through traditional classrooms and online resources.

The public-private partnership involves Florida A&M's Developmental Research School, or DRS, the University of Phoenix and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

"This is about building a virtual capacity at the DRS to help our faculty educate the next set of thought leaders, science leaders and economic leaders coming out of the (school)," said Timothy Moore, the university's vice president for research.

FAMU has one of three developmental research schools in the state, serving some 575 students in grades from kindergarten through high school on a campus adjacent to the main university.

The blended teaching program, which is designed to help more students successfully complete college-preparatory courses, was announced in 2015, with the first 75 students participating in the program beginning in January, said Sheila LaBissiere, who is coordinating the program.

She said initial classes are being offered in algebra, Spanish and American government, involving middle-school and high-school students.

LaBissiere said a strength of the program is combining student access to an in-class teacher with a variety of online resources.

"We are able to tailor our programs to fit our students," LaBissiere said. "We understand the needs of our students."

Ashton Edmunds, a senior who is taking an American government class through the program. said he likes the "hands on" nature of the teaching.

"I'm a visual learner,” said Edmunds, who is applying to three colleges this year, including FAMU and Bethune-Cookman University. "The different tutorials and the different notes that they teach us before we take the test (online) are very helpful."

FAMU interim President Larry Robinson said the aim of the program is to start at the Developmental Research School, which is designed as a laboratory for teaching innovations, and then spread the program across the state and potentially the nation.

"Taking what we learn here and spreading that knowledge," Robinson said.

"Forget the box, we're going into a whole different perspective," said Matthew Carter, a member of the FAMU Board of Trustees. "That means we can try anything, creative things, and that can be a national model."

The project at the FAMU school is an outgrowth of an alliance between the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the University of Phoenix to bring online learning and teaching methods to Historically Black College and Universities.

The University of Phoenix experts worked with the DRS faculty to design the courses and offer advice. The Arizona-based, for-profit school also is providing access to its comprehensive learning platform with online math tutoring, workshops, a library and other resources.