ELI Focus on Blended Learning

Here are my reflections from the Educause Blended Learning conference.

There are two ways that blended learning has been used in education: a transformative approach and an add on approach.  The key to effective blended learning is finding the right amount of f2f and online instruction.  Also key to successful blended learning is making sure there is a teacher presence.  There sometimes is a tendency to skip the teaching part of an online course because the content is readily available to students.  The content cannot drive the instruction, the teacher must drive the instruction.

An interesting observation while looking at the conference as a whole is that there isn’t an agreed upon definition of blended learning.  However, if you take all the different variations of blended learning together you are able to create your own definition of blended learning, which in my opinion is what counts the most.  The model for blended learning a teacher uses for their classes needs to work for them and might not transcribe to a definition of a colleague or leader in the field.  What really matters are the features of blended learning that are integrated into the course.

Garrison explained seven principles for blended learning, which include: design for open communication and trust, design for critical reflection and discourse, create and sustain sense of community, support purposeful inquiry, ensure students sustain collaboration, ensure that inquiry moves to resolution, and ensure assessment is congruent with intended learning outcomes.  These seven principles do make a nice foundation to start from as we begin to create a blended course, because it forces us to focus on how we need to change our pedagogy to create an enriching learning environment for students.

Just like in a f2f classroom, teachers need to keep students actively engaged in the content, which can be a bit different in an online environment.  This is why teaching presence is important for a blended course.  Students need to know that the instructor is present in the online environment as well as in the f2f environment.  What this means for teachers is that they need to nudge students along and model the type of behavior expected in a blended learning environment.  This has to be an attitudinal change in how we look at blended learning/online education.  Cannot expect students to know what to do.  We must prepare them for a different learning environment than what they are used to.

Dzubian says that students are taking a blended course for three reasons: convenience, convenience, convenience.  There are a variety of reasons why a student may choose to take a blended course, but they ultimately come as a convenience over traditional f2f courses.  The course takes place on their terms, which works well for students with certain personalities and also for students that physically are in a distant location from the f2f classroom.  However, what’s important to remember with blended learning is that “you can lead a student to a webcast or the online learning environment, but you cannot make them think” (Dzubian, Educause Blended Learning Conference).  This is a powerful statement because ultimately, it is up to the student to manage their own learning.

As we begin to look at the creation of a blended course, we need to make decisions based on pedagogical decisions about what parts of the class will work best online and which will work best in a f2f classroom.  Teachers need to look at every aspect of the course, because you may now how to teach in an online course as well as a f2f course, but that doesn’t mean you know how to teach in a blended course.  The environment is different in blended courses, but it does have the potential to be the richest learning environment (Ragan, Educause Blended Learning Conference).

Ragan discussed seven main categories of online teaching competencies with active learning and administration/management being the top two desired components by students.  Students crave engagement, so the learning environment needs to be designed to promote active learning.  Administration/management is also craved by students.  Administration/management is defined by Ragan as the management or administration of the course and learning environment.  Just like all courses, students desire structure and organization, and unsurprisingly, students continue to desire the same in an online environment.  Failure to manage the course in a blended environment will lead to student failure to learn the content.

One of the best ways to prepare faculty for teaching in a blended learning environment is to have them take a course in a blended environment.  This will give them the student experience and model best practices.  Another one of the seven principles that Ragan discussed was that teachers need to set realistic expectations.  It may be easy to become trapped by all the possibilities of blended learning, but it is essential to first survive before you can grow.

You can find all my notes from the conference on my Twitter page at twitter.com/dmourlam.  See everyone’s tweets by searching for #elifocus in Twitter.

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