Blended Learning for Supporting Student Learning

#BLENDKIT2016 This blog post summarizes my reactions and realizations after reading the required material for Week 1 of the BlendKit course.

There are several definitions of blended learning but the common factor is to facilitate learning via combination of face-to-face and online interactions. The roles and contributions of the online and F2F components vary depending on the situation. However, it is very clear that teachers must prioritize pedagogy over technology regardless of the situation.

Photos: my students doing a computer assisted quiz by pair. Currently, I am able to incorporate few laboratory sessions and off-campus online activities in my classes. In a way, i’m blending lectures with computer-assisted assessment. I am using technology and other “online opportunities” to drive better face-to-face interactions and to make more self-motivated learners. 

My Right Kind of Blend

Based on personal circumstance, I think “my right kind of blend” is a model where the online environment supports or supplements the face-to-face environment. This is mainly because of the nature of courses I teach. I teach undergraduate level Statistics courses. I have been experimenting on web-supported activities in my classes, but certain “traditional activities” are simply “irreplaceable”.

Several effective assessment activities (e.g. proving exercises) and core topics (e.g. college level probability theory, and parametric inference) are difficult to deliver in an online environment. Introduction of these topics are best delivered in a face-to-face setting. On the other hand, the current difficulty may be associated with our lack of training on blended design.

Nevertheless, observing critical thinking may be too “complex” or “dynamic” for a dominantly online class. In an online environment, teachers lose their “personal touch or control” and unprepared students tend to be confused on their own. In addition, my students said that they have better understanding of lessons in an active (“hands-on”) classroom setting. I guess this is the part where pedagogy comes before technology.

On the other hand, I still believe that we are missing several perks of online learning. I saw some learning opportunities with our university LMS. So, what I did is to design virtual learning environments that will help retain “lower order thinking skills”, while I use face-to-face interactions in molding my learners’ “higher order thinking skills”. It was my starting point for blended learning. There are times that I use the online environment to “warm up” the learning process, which will further “ignite” during our face-to-face sessions. Within few iterations, experience and student feedback gave me ideas on how I can rethink and redo our traditionally F2F courses. Every class has their own story, and, slow by slow, I am able to realize the “control” needed in designing.

Having said that, the online component is mainly for reviewing concepts and perquisites, assessing some basic skills (remembering, understanding, or applying  a topic), asynchronous consultations, record keeping, delivering of course notes, and posting supplementary content (e.g. videos, educational webpages, sample exams), while the F2F component is dedicated to deeper discussions, comprehensive assessments, and integration of lessons.

Advancing Blended Learning for Students

Why do blended learning design? I say that effective (and well-planned) blended learning design will benefit our learners. I think it is best to advocate blended learning as a means to help our learners.

For our context, I think that a better and more rigorous blended learning definition is the use of online learning tools to positively affect instruction and to provide “flexible” learning process in a face-to-face setting. Moreover, students today love the internet and social media. It is likely that they will be able to appreciate well-crafted online learning spaces.

A good blended learning design encourages personalized learning spaces. Through the online environment, it is possible to break the “one size fits all” approach of class lectures by providing supplementary materials of different forms (narrative, interactive, visual, textual etc.). Also, flexibility is achieved by including web-supported activities that allow flexibility in attempts, pace and place. In this set-up, the student is given an upper hand in his/her learning endeavor.

Moreover, the online environment supplements the intervention process. Student attempts, logs and scores on online quizzes provides data helpful for intervention. It makes you “see” what your students are learning (i.e. in a quantifiable sense) and may help teachers customize their approach to different students.

Aside from better instruction and personalization, online learning teaches independence. I think that inclusion of online components molds students to be independent and self-motivated learners. Since the status quo is dominated by lectures, most students are highly dependent on what the teacher provides. To a certain extent, some students lack self-motivation, and some sense of responsibility. The extent of “isolation” in an online environment requires student to “own” the learning process – to connect and make discussions. Moreover, teacher presence is not fully diminished in blended classes, because there are times for face-to-face interactions. This only shows that the success of blended learning depends on how students, teachers, and learning environments interplay, and successful interaction of these things may lead to not only better learning but also better learners.

Conclusion

Given our university context, I think it is best that we advocate blended learning as a supplementing but game-changing strategy of teaching. We should be highlighting its potential benefits to our learner, while it is best for us to start with blended learning designs that drive fruitful and interactive face-to-face sessions.

 

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