Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Blended Learning notes from Glazer’s book

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Blended learning is one of the main things I work on, and I’ve started reading books on it, not limiting myself to articles and conference presentations (though that’s not really “limiting” since articles/conferences would always be more up to date than a book, but anyway…)

These are my notes from the concluding chapter (Ch 6) by Francine S. Glazer in the book she edited in 2011 entitled Blended Learning: Across the Disciplines, Across the Academy.

She starts out by talking about the versatility of the blended learning approach to fitting different teaching styles, and she says that common among successful implementations of blended learning are two things:
1. Increased active learning, or interaction between students/instructor
2. (Obviously) Increased use of technology

She refers to other advantages obviously like how online can create space for meeting different learning styles and afford different levels of accessibility.

One of the points she makes, and which I believe strongly in and like, is about how discussions in class and face to face help build learning community. I personally believe that online communication is really useful for this, because it’s not restricted by space/time and so helps connect students with each other when they’re not in class. This whole building a learning community is for me an essential component of a successful course, though I can understand that the importance of it varies by discipline.

For me, it’s important for various reasons, including (but not limited to):
1. Facilitating group work
2. Facilitating informal student support for each other
3. Reducing atmosphere of competition that is common in traditional education
4. Helping people critique each other more constructively: hopefully, they are more sensitive to not hurting each other because they’re part of a community, and yet they’d like to give honest feedback because they really want to help each other improve
5. More fun and engaging all around 🙂 Who doesn’t want to learn in the midst of a supportive community?

Moving back to Glazer’s chapter, she refers to front & back loading, depending on whether content is presented at home then activities in class (flipping?) or content presented in class, then work online. Big red flag for me: those two models existed well before online ever existed, if you just replace “online” by “at home”. It’s giving students readings to do before class (rather than videos) or homework after class (instead of online assignments). The major difference with online is the opportunities for interactive online work are easier to plan than they would be without the tech (but still possible).

She suggests a couple of things to consider before deciding to blend:

First, if the course is high demand and likely to be taught again. Here she gives i think an institutional strategic consideration (as we would to allocate resources) to ensure the effort in redesigning is useful more than just one or two times.
Second, she suggests a comparison of learning outcomes between f2f and blended sections of the same course. While this is a fair assessment plan, it has one major drawback: what if the innovative way of teaching the course enables students to do something more? Continuing to assess them similarly to others in more traditional course structures would not take account of that; and of course it is not fair to assess the traditional differently.

I like her reference later to institutional support, both for faculty to develop their courses, and also for students who have diff tech access and readiness. I am glad we are focused on both these aspects at my institution.

The chapter ends by asking faculty to consider how committing to blending will be perceived at their institution and they’re the same questions we have here: will it count towards tenure/promotion? Will it be supported by colleagues, praised for promoting student-centered pedagogy, or will it be challenged for rigor?

And guess what? That’s the end of the (all of 2 pages!) chapter! This is the last chapter of the eBook and it ends on page 128. At this rate, I should be able to finish it in a couple of days! Glad I found it.

So I went and read the wonderfully brief 3-page foreword (by James Rhem) which gives the history of why pedagogy and faculty development have become more relevant and prevalent recently, and I liked this simple yet effective sentence (p. xiii)

Every new idea requires translation and receives it in the hands of the next person to take it up and apply it in his or her own work.

Later he talks about faculty not needing to be given formulae, but to have opportunities to see ideas in context, and they can take it from there.

That’s the essence of qualitative case study work, to write a rich, “thick” description to better enable the reader to transfer what makes sense to their own context. I look forward to reading the case studies in the book.

I also had a peak at the intro chapter and I am glad that even though Glazer cites the research on how blended learning can be more effective than f2f, that she explicitly recognizes this is a function of how well designed the blend is, rather than anything inherent to blending itself.

Will come back with more notes soon

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