Potential for Blended Learning Designs

In our Open Networked Learning course, we are diving into Topic 4, where we focus on blending online learning activities with face-to-face interactions. One topic to write about was: “Reflect on your current practice and reason about possibilities for development of online and blended learning designs”

Quick Reflection of Possibilities

Step 1: Find a course that I’m allowed to teach

Step 2: Beat out all other candidates so that I get to teach that course

Step 3: Consider if I should take up a battle with the department head about having a more blended class

Step 4: Arrange a suitable meeting time with Dept. Head (plan ahead as they are often busy)

Step 5: Have the meeting and present your case in a logical and reasonable manner

It might not be hard to see why many people don’t use blended courses. In fact, it might be a lot easier to have a blended course if the course is already pre-created to function in that way. After all, after begging to teach a course, you kind of feel powerless to continue asking for further adjustments to the course.

However, if you get a chance to blend your course, I agree with Vaughan et al (2013) that simply having online components does not = a blended course. I’ve taken several courses where they say it’s blended, but what they really mean is that instead of mass emailing assignments, you should just log on to one particular website to find out the assignment.

Vaughan et al. defines a blended course as: “the organic integration of thoughtfully selected and complementary face-to-face and online approaches.” They go on to talk about using innovative approaches such as “rethinking and redesigning approaches to teaching and learning that fully engage learners.”

There are a lot of possibilities when changing teaching formats. When we go from lecture-based classrooms to student-learning activities, the whole class structure can change. When we go from face-to-face to online environments, again, the whole structure can change. In other words, I don’t think it’s too lofty to use words like “organic”, “thoughtful”, or “innovative” within this context.

But given that whenever I have a chance to teach, it’s to come to a classroom for 45 minutes to 1.5 hours, I see little in the way of being able to take on new initiatives, like blended learning. This concept seems to really derive from having your own class and seeing the students over prolonged periods of time.

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In looking at Moss, who really is describing work by Biggs, she notes that Biggs states that constructive alignment goes from figuring out who the smart and stupid students are to sorting through what you as a teacher are doing in the classroom to what focusing on what the student is doing in the classroom.

Within constructive alignment we go from 1) learning objectives, like “describe X” or “provide an illustration of Y” to 2) teaching & learning activities where students can focus on practicing and experiencing the learning objectives, and 3) assessment tasks revolves around the concept of how students will be evaluated (graded).

In blended courses, this can become quite burdensome, as students who are quite interactive face-to-face may take more backseat roles online. Similarly, those who are more shy face-to-face may also take more backseat roles onlines. In the former, it might be because they are camera shy or feel like they can’t express themselves in the same way as they can in person, while in the latter category, if it’s hard to speak up and have your opinions heard, that could be even harder online where everyone needs to consciously pause to let you speak. In other words, it’s hard to talk over someone online.

Then there are all of the other online distractions we have. So for example, if you’re having a webcam meeting with a small group, one or more of the members may be surfing the net rather than focusing solely on the group activity. In person, it’s easy to find this person–it’s the person on their phone. Online it’s harder, since you can’t see what they’re looking at (or if they’re just trying to be respectful by letting others talk).

Ergo, evaluations in blended courses will need specific, detailed explanations so students know how they’re judged.

1 thought on “Potential for Blended Learning Designs”

  1. Hi Michael, on the contrary I think your blog touches on the perennial question of when and how to blend in a way that actually adds real value and doesn’t just add to workload while paying lip-service to current academic fashions etc. I do agree that the answer may lie in accepting that this is an entirely different ball game: ‘When we go from lecture-based classrooms to student-learning activities, the whole class structure can change. When we go from face-to-face to online environments, again, the whole structure can change.”


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