Blended learning specialist helps teachers rethink education

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Roshni Lakhi wants teachers to know that blended learning isn’t a fad.

As the blended learning specialist for the Highlander Institute, an education nonprofit based in Rhode Island, Lakhi helps teachers incorporate technology and software programs into their lessons and, more importantly, change their mindsets about how to approach teaching.

“It’s about having access to technology and thinking about how you redesign your classroom so it’s focused on the learner’s needs as opposed to having them mold to this traditional classroom-led model,” Lakhi, 27, said in an interview.

She is one of five NextGeneration Leaders honored in a competition sponsored by CoSN and EdScoop and supported by Microsoft recognizing visionary leaders who are showing how edtech, when used effectively, can have a positive impact on classrooms.

Lakhi started out as an eighth-grade math teacher in the Teach for America program, but she said she wanted to make a bigger impact on kids beyond her classroom. So she joined the Highlander Institute in 2014, and contracts with about 10 to 15 schools at a time, identifying teachers who are amenable to a shift in pedagogy.

Read more of our coverage of CoSN’s annual conference.

“I have seen the power of what blended learning could look like,” said Lakhi, who was influenced by watching her students use iPads in while she was a teacher.

“Teachers have been teaching the same way for 20 years, and you have to shift away from that,” she added. “If I’m teaching my kids the same way as when I was taught, I’m doing something wrong. You just have to open your mind to it.”

Lakhi also started the state’s first Girls Who Code club for urban middle school students, and she is also working on an initiative called “EdTechRI,” hosting meet-up groups for edtech developers to pilot their products, and teachers who could use them.

“Teachers may not know a lot about products that are out there, and developers might not know what the teachers’ needs are,” she said. “It’s bridging these two worlds together.”

Each month, about five developers, ranging from early-stage to fully-launched companies, come to pitch their wares, and about 50 to 60 teachers join.

Challenges to edtech adoption can include leadership resistance or unfamiliarity, technical or infrastructure problems, and the mindset shift for teachers.

But that hasn’t stopped teachers from reaching out to the institute – in fact, the organization is growing across New England and even reaching to New York.

“Blended learning is not just a fad,” said Lakhi. “It really is a new way of teaching, so I think the more schools that buy into it, the better. Even just thinking about how to redesign schools, I think that’s the ultimate goal.”

Lakhi was one of 29 national finalists nominated by fellow education professionals from across the country and selected as a NextGeneration Leader honoree based on a nationwide vote in February organized by EdScoop.

Reach the reporter at corinne.lestch@edscoop.com and follow her on Twitter @clestch and @edscoop_news.

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