Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 37 seconds

Reflections on understanding blended learning #blendkit2014

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 37 seconds

I joined the #Blendkit2014 MOOC because I had browsed the self-paced content previously and liked its pedagogical focus.

As someone involved in designing a blended learning course that will provide professional development about blended learning, I expect to learn a lot from the format of the facilitated version of the course.

This is the first week’s reading material , which encourages us to ponder the following questions (I like the format of asking these before presenting the material itself):

1. Is it most helpful to think of blended learning as an online enhancement to a face-to-face learning environment, a face-to-face enhancement to an online learning environment, or as something else entirely?

2. In what ways can blended learning courses be considered the “best of both worlds” (i.e., face-to-face and online)? What could make blended learning the “worst of both worlds?”

3. As you consider designing a blended learning course, what course components are you open to implementing differently than you have in the past? How will you decide which components will occur online and which will take place face-to-face? How will you manage the relationship between these two modalities?

4. How often will you meet with students face-to-face? How many hours per week will students be engaged online, and how many hours per week will students meet face-to-face? Is the amount of student time commitment consistent with the total time commitment of comparable courses taught in other modalities (e.g., face-to-face)?

And so here are my initial responses

1. I think of blending in this digital age as possibly something else entirely. I done well, It is not an enhancement of one mode with another, but rather, a “doing what is best pedagogically with the best mode/strategy” – but this is quite complex because it depends on a combination of things: learning goals and outcomes, discipline, type of course, teaching philosophy, student characteristics, feasibility, technical knowledge and facilities for both students and teacher. I think in future, the term blended learning might disappear as it becomes a seamless thing to integrate technology in learning. I say this, but with two caveats:
A. I come from Egypt. Many people in my country cannot read/write, let alone have internet access. And having internet access does not equal info literacy. So even though my institution (the American University in Cairo) has the facilities and the privileged students and faculty who can use technology, others in public education do not always have the same opportunities. Even the privileged here have to deal with electrical cuts occasionally which make synchronicity problematic.
B. My institution defines blended learning specifically as replacing some f2f time with online, not just using online to supplement. We’re currently working around the 30/70 split because we are still piloting (so within the latest Sloan-C definition).

2. Blending can be “best of both worlds” when it meets logistical and pedagogical needs of learners and teacher; particularly when it is used to enhance interaction beyond limited classroom time. It can be “worst of both worlds” if it results in alienation or distancing between the community of people in the class. The problem is that I think how this pans out is very dependent upon the actual learners and unique dynamics of each class. You cannot know it all in advance, you may need to adjust. That is why I like the idea of “emergent” or flexible design mentioned in the reading – it is more responsive to the unique context of each class. To quote the article:

An environment that is good for learning cannot be fully prepackaged and defined

What is important for me as someone supporting others is to help them both meet institutional requirements for clear detailed outcomes and assessments, but then to also feel comfortable with flexibility and responsiveness to the learners and context. People have varying levels of comfort with this. I have written more about my views against pre-defined learning outcomes, etc., and the philosophy behind it, which relates to curriculum theoyhere. There are also two great articles on Hybrid Pedagogy worth reading: Beyond Rigor and this recent one against the discourse of best practices. Both highly recommended, or at least, they represent mevery well 🙂 For a flavor,here is a quote from Beyond Rigor:

“Play, experimentation, and collaboration can all lead to important discoveries and deep intellectual inquiry. Yet the results of play are often overlooked because the process leading to them can’t be evaluated within traditional academic models for assessment”.

3. As someone who was an instructional technologist and who teaches educational technology, I am comfortable experimenting with different modalities of online components of my classes. For a long time, I loved using online discussions but this semester I used blogs instead and changed the kinds of interactions we were having in class. I am willing to consider all manner of things and it is risky. The only thing I am less willing to do is to incorporate extensive audiovisual synchronous components, given the logistical difficulties. In a recent article, I argue that this is a pre-pedagogical consideration. The important part for me, though, as a designer of a course about blended learning for faculty, is that this particular course contains opportunities for participants to personally try out various pedagogies/technologies during my course to help them decide what would work best for their own courses they are designing.

4. I find it difficult to decide on how much time to meet f2f vs online in advance but I understand that in some contexts this is an important one to answer even before you actually start brainstorming the design of the course. For the particular course I am designing, I don’t want people to need to meet f2f more than 4-5 times, but these can be full days. Those f2f meetings need to be mainly about group interaction and some hands-on support, and very little about info delivery. I hope the online components, though, will also be interactive, and provide opportunities for participants to try different pedagogies and technologies for both online interaction and expression, so they can have experience with a pool of options to consider with their own students.

Finally, after my wonderful experience with Dave Cormier’s Rhizomatic Learning open course (#rhizo14 – search the hashtag on my blog if you want to learn more about this fantastic experience) I hope to be able to foster community in the course such that participants choose to continue engaging after the course is over. With Dave’s course, i believe social media helped maintain that: blogs, facebook, twitter but especially facebook. I wonder, though, if some people might be uncomfortable with facebooking professionally and would prefer google+ (not my favorite thing in the world). We’ll see…

I will write again soon

Got any comments?

6 thoughts on “Reflections on understanding blended learning #blendkit2014

  1. Hi Maha, my wife Leslie, and I are taking the blended course together. Leslie’s intention, like yours, is to provide an introduction to staff (though that may change). My interest is in providing a door the “the outside” for students to sample different approaches to class content–something I provided in the past. “Optional Resources” is what I called them and will pick them like I did for my apprentices in the past.

    Advanced Education ministry here has mandated blended formats for all subjects here but there seems to be minimal appreciation of the advantages. What can grow from having both the freedom of the net and the advice of an instructor? (Yes, students are expected to stay focused but since they won’t, they may just as well benefit from their own findings). As a believer in wandering and discovery aided by discipline and a critical eye, no reason blended can’t be a little messy.

    Good to see you in class!

    1. Hey Scott, say hi to Leslie (I hope I get to e-meet her?) and I do remember you mentioned she might be joining this MOOC 🙂 glad you both made it! I envy folks who have spouses interested in the same field (my husband is an academic surgeon but more surgeon than academic/educator/researcher).
      But yes: agree with you on providing opportunities for students to discover (they will anyway, so might as well help guide/critique/reflect about it in class as well). I also agree blending can be messy (in a good way) but tell that to the institutional assessment structures and accreditation… Well and also some faculty who like neatness. I have nothing against neatness if it works for someone… I just don’t imagine it actually works very well for education in most circumstances 🙂

  2. Thanks for the useful post Maha (as always!!) – I am jealous of you and Scott and his wife!
    I have shared it with my staff group in our Facilitating Online Learning and Collaboration module – as with you, I want to learn about facilitating positive staff use of blended learning by engaging in/with it.
    And somehow managed to Tweet this out – but still cannot access my own Twitter account 🙁

  3. Hi Everyone, with me not working it makes sense to take the blended course and Leslie’s also interested though her employer could probably care less. After years of feeding things into the vacuum we are both thinking of this as an opportunity to be of service at some OTHER place of employment and will be doing the course on our own time.

    My experience working with “older” teachers (mentally that is, I’m 65) is the resistance to change. On one side I understand this after changing careers and realizing how much of my “expertise” was just habitual activity repeated with assurance and no thought. On the other hand I have no patience for whiny old stuck-in-place people because I know them and their silly excuses.

    As for the romantic aspect of having similar interests, fighting over things we agree about provides unending entertainment. I’ve even tried being wrong (if you can imagine that) and it doesn’t work:-)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.