Posted in Blended Learning Practice MOOC

Preparing for Blended Learning (Blended Learning Practice MOOC 2.1)

In week 2 of the Blended Learning Practice MOOC we are learning about designing personalized, accessible, and learner-centred courses using principles from instructional design.

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • outline principles for planning a blended learning course or programme,
  • describe how in-person and online activities can be combined to support social, cognitive, and teaching presence,
  • describe the adjustments students will have to make when moving to blended learning, and
  • outline key principles for effective teaching in a blended course.

The most effective blended learning design offers a learner-centred approach that is personalisable and accessible (Baldwin-Evans, 2006), with the best designs integrating a range of learning opportunities that allow learners more control over their formal and informal learning actions.

Guide to Blended Learning, page 20.

Process of Blending Learning (Beam, 2017)

  1. Focus on the pedagogy – what are the benefits to students? will it work in my situation?
  2. Choose technology carefully – comfort and competence before learning activities commence, flexible, activity monitoring, feedback, learner independence
  3. Remember the curriculum – what are the learning outcomes? program outcomes? hidden curriculum? would blended even work?
  4. Create a detailed syllabus – with learning outcomes, tech descriptions, delivery methods, engagement opportunities, assignments; have a colleague review

Instructional design considers the learner, learning outcomes, the content of what is to be learned, instructional strategies, and results of instructional interventions

McGee & Reis, 2012, p. 17

How to Blend a Course

  1. Write student-centred learning outcomes
  2. Create a syllabus with course schedule that communicates when and where students will engage with content and learning activities (developing self-directed learning and time-management skills in students)
  3. Consider what you will do, what students will do, when, and where
  4. Consider it as a complete, careful redesign, not just adding online activities (be careful of workload)
  5. Choose technology that fits best with tech expertise and supports course objectives

The table below lists the three presences in the Community of Inquiry framework and how elements of each work in the different modalities (bold = more suitable):

Image Source (Chapter 3, Figure 3.1)

The Guidebook authors state that students also need to be supported in adjusting to a new mode of learning, such as a blended course. Here are “five areas of adjustment” that novice students mentioned in a study by Cleveland-Innes, Garrison and Kinsel (2007):

  1. Different type of interaction or communication
  2. New role for the instructor
  3. New identity as a learner
  4. Challenges with the technology
  5. Unique design for learning

In the MOOC, the facilitators referenced these five areas into the three presences:

  1. Cognitive presence – how to contribute to discussion forums, lacking visual cues, fear of being misunderstood, assuming more responsibility for their understanding, relying on other students to help interpret the material, shyness in the forums
  2. Social presence – need time to get comfortable communicating via text, adjust to expressing emotion where no visual or non-text clues are available, difficulty in group work, being real and sharing ideas takes practice and support
  3. Teaching presence – have a visible teacher presence at the beginning of the course, instructor as facilitator, students feel more responsible for their own learning outcomes, students left to discuss content without as much intervention from the instructor.

Teaching Principles that Support Blended Learning

Blended learning is more than just a combination of delivery methods; it includes a new way of thinking about teaching and learning.

Guide to Blended Learning, page 24

The authors of the Guidebook state that new information and communications technology makes it easier to support student engagement and collaboration (ie: discussion forums, padlet, GDocs) and teaching presence is guided by principles of practice that include:

  1. Designing for open communication and trust – discussion forum rules, 1-1, and group discussions available
  2. Designing for critical reflection and discourse – students can identify their thoughts and feelings when responding, doing so with purpose and care, considering accuracy
  3. Creating and sustaining a sense of community – collaborative engagement between peers and with the teacher
  4. Supporting purposeful inquiry – starting with a question, issue, problem, or topic and contributing to something meaningful. Teacher as facilitator. Deep learning.
  5. Ensuring students sustain collaboration – project-based group work in-person and online
  6. Ensuring that inquiry moves to resolution – teacher moving students to complete or resolve their inquiry
  7. Ensuring assessment is congruent with intended learning outcomes – self-assessment, peer-assessment, and teacher assessment (bonus: mastery assessment such as feed-forward)

I agree with the authors here and believe this is also important for a fully face-to-face and fully online delivery as well. These are great guideposts to follow in all teaching modalities.

Reflecting on Preparing for Blended Learning

How would you define “learner-centred” for yourself? Is it the sort of learning you try to apply in your own teaching? Is it the sort of learning you had when you were a student?

I used to work at Health Sciences North (HSN) here in Sudbury, and a lot of our conversations were around “patient-centred health care”. This meant that the patient was at the centre of all our decision-making and was a part of the decision-making process. Similarly, I’ve heard the phrase “nothing about us, without us” in many contexts as well when it comes to decision-making involving stakeholders (especially those who are on the margins).

At HSN, patients were part of the Board of Governors, a Patent Advisory Committee, department advisory groups, volunteer projects, and more. In some of the rapid development decision-making sessions, patients would be invited in to be part of the whole process from start-to-finish.

I believe we need to take this approach in higher education, and I don’t see this happening enough. Learner-centred means having the learner at the centre of all our decision-making; just as the patient needs to be at the centre of health care decisions. Students should be invited and feel like they belong when it comes to our Strategic Plan, our Board composition, our committees, our program review cycles, and more. They are the reason we exist as an institution and we must respect their experiences and value their contributions.

As a student, this was not necessarily my experience, but in some ways, it was. I see this more as a mature student now, returning to studies to complete my Master’s Degree. Sometimes I feel like I am on the margins as a part-time student. I am not always kept in the loop – I sometimes find out late about important items when the full-time students already had face-to-face discussions in other classes about items that affect my class. I get that feeling of being left out and not prioritized. As an undergraduate student, I experiences this less so when I was seen as the priority in some cases. Our cohort was the priority of the faculty.

Think about your own students. What will your students need to know or to have in order to adapt successfully to blended learning? What steps will you need to take, in your unique setting, to prepare them for this new form of learning?

For the course I just taught this past fall, I supported the in-class learning with online activities but not necessarily a true course blend. In thinking of this experience, if I were to fully blend my course, I would ensure that from day one, the students had access to the technology they needed to be successful. This includes access to the Learning Management System, and the knowledge how to participate in discussions, access the materials, and upload content to the LMS.

I would include links to the IT Help Desk where they could get assistance with devices, or email for troubleshooting. I would also include a welcome video with instructions on how to use the technology. This can also be reiterated in class during the F2F portion. I would then have the students contribute to a small forum, find the materials on the LMS, and upload a file (as a small introductory assessment) to get started. Once I’ve noted that all students can accomplish these tasks, I would be consistent with the technology used and continue in this manner without introducing any new complexities.

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