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chris_sutton

blended learning - solution or cop-out?

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Guest ChristineS

I tend to think of blended learning as mostly class activities with e-learning activities integrated into that and your replies are making me adjust my viewpoint a little. I have to say that I am wary of mainly on-line courses - too much like distance learning, which is subtly different to blended learning to my mind. I still want a higher proportion of class and teacher-based teaching. At least, certainly in the lower school. The jury is out as to the proportion I would like with Sixth Form.

I do accept that a higher proportion of the learning experience can be - and perhaps ought to be - e-learning for older students (because they are more intellectually mature than younger students).

However, I cannot see that e-learning schemes of that nature would work so well for students in the lower school who would need a much more hands-on and constant drip-feed type of feedback in order to shape their learning and application of new skills meaningfully.

I also feel that on-line quizzes etc, whilst excellent and helpful, are not really blended; they seem more like add-ons. Valuable and enhancing, but they would still not be missed if they were not used.

I would like to actually integrate e-learning activities into schemes so that all teachers had to deliver them to deliver the scheme and curriculum objective.

I believe that e-learning should not just be seen as almost a 'different' way of teaching, or even as enhancing activities (as they still are by most teachers for reasons outlines elsewhere) ; they should be real learning experiences that are as inseparable from our teaching as any other of the methods we use.

Like most of us, when I teach a new skill/ topic to a class, I use a variety of learning activities targeted at different learning styles and different aspects or skills. Like layers of an onion they build into a whole learning experience. Take one layer away and the other layers become less effective, or in some cases, meaningless. They are interrelated and interdependent activities. I would like to see e-learning activities integrated into the teaching and learning process with lower school students in exactly the same way, so that the join was seamless and it took its place as part of a whole, integrated process for the student.

Another aspect I have thought about is that if e-learning should ever become more commonplace in schools, there may also be some way in which more integrated learning across subjects could be promoted, with different subjects agreeing integrated cross-curricular e-learning experiences or approaches or skills that would help students in the lower school transfer their learning experiences from one subject to another (something they sadly rarely do at the moment).

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I do accept that a higher proportion of the learning experience can be - and perhaps ought to be - e-learning for older students (because they are more intellectually mature than younger students). 

However, I cannot see that e-learning schemes of that nature would work so well for students in the lower school who would need a much more hands-on and constant drip-feed type of feedback in order to shape their learning and application of new skills meaningfully.

I tend to agree with this :rolleyes:

The early secondary years should be about gradually empowering students to access a hypertext curriculum. I think however that with good writing we may be surprised at how quickly the students develop the necessary skills and confidence <_< .

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Coming back to what I wrote earlier about e-learning and foreign language learning, blended learning is essential in subject areas that are both skill-based and knowledge-based. Skill-based subjects can only be taught efficiently in a face-to-face situation. I recently contributed to a report entitled "The Impact of Information and Communications Technologies on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and on the Role of Teachers of Foreign Languages". This is a comprehensive report commissioned by the EC Directorate General of Education and Culture, which can be downloaded in PDF or Word format from the ICC website: http://www.icc-europe.com - click on "Report on ICT in FLL".

In the Executive Summary we wrote:

"One important fact that has emerged from this study is that Foreign Languages as a subject area is 'different' from most other subject areas in the curriculum, namely that it is skill-based as well as knowledge-based, and in this respect it has more in common with Music than, say, History or Geography. This has implications both for the types of hardware and software that are used in FLT & FLL, but also for FLT pedagogy and methodology."

The issue of e-learning and foreign languages has been thoroughly aired in EUROCALL conferences over the last 10 years (http://www.eurocall-languages.org) and in recent published works:

Felix U. (2001) Beyond Babel: language learning online, Melbourne, Language Australia. Reviewed at: http://www.camsoftpartners.co.uk/felixreview.htm

2002: My article entitled "ICT and modern foreign languages: learning opportunities and training needs", published in Scottish Languages Review 8, June 2003, Scottish CILT: http://www.scilt.stir.ac.uk/SLR/index.htm

Felix U. (2003) (ed.) Language learning online: towards best practice, Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger.

There is a substantial body of diagnostic language tests relating to the Council of Europe's six-point scale at http://www.dialang.org

Significantly. the tests only cover three out of the four discrete skills: Reading, Writing, Listening. Speaking is conspicuously absent and Writing is restricted to basic gap-filling activities not essay-writing, for example.

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We've often faced this problem of defining what we're doing where I work in Sweden. At once stage the Swedish Net University was fairly fundamentalist in its definition: if you met the students at all face-to-face (f2f), you weren't doing IT-based distance education.

Fortunately, reality came knocking on the door. In my (fairly limited) experience, most of the 'fundamentalists' are characterised by rarely, if ever, having actually run an on-line course.

Our problem was to make sense of the confusing array of practices and technology which we had before us. What follows is our best shot so far.

Our starting point was this quotation:

“For the moment, let us accept that the amount

of bandwidth is a measure of the amount of information

that can be transmitted at a given time by a channel …

“The irony of the current situation is that the classroom is a broadband environment and can be used to transmit as much information as the senses can absorb. Yet we mainly use it for learning with words which require little bandwidth.”

Tiffin, J & Rajasingham L, In Search of the Virtual Class, London, Routledge, 1995

So we started playing around with the idea that 'bandwidth' could be a common denominator for assessing what kinds of learning environments we wanted to create and what kinds of inputs you could put in them.

If you imagine that f2f involves maximum bandwidth, then ISDN-based video conferencing requires a little less, e-mail a little less, whilst the minimum is probably the amount used by the printer to print out the paper originals of your study guides, etc.

Thus we're able to make a connection from our work in the classroom, through the various web and media links, right to the paper copies we use. The questions then are of the type "How do we distribute our resources between the various types of bandwidth we're using?" and "Are we using this particular bandwidth in the best way?"

If you put the circles representing the different bandwidths together, you get something which we call "The Cone of Teacher/Tutor Input". In other words, if we teachers are going to make an input, this is where it's going to happen.

The students' learning, however, is the cylinder, formed by extending the maximum amount of bandwidth all the way through the course. The challenge to us as teachers is to provide inputs via narrow bandwidths (which are also cheaper) to create learning experiences for students which make use of as much of the rest of the bandwidth which is available.

To give you one example: someone I know was once running a course in local history in a part of Sweden called Hälsingland. One early summer's evening, as he was being driven home from a course meeting, he took a digital photo of a local beauty spot out of the car window. When he got home, he posted the blurry photo on the web server, with the question "Is this the soul of Hälsingland?" Within 24 hours every single student on the course had responded with stories, anecdotes, reminiscences, etc, and had started responding to each other's responses. This is what I call a good use of bandwidth: the teacher used relatively little, but the students' learning experiences used up a lot.

So, for me, the question "to blend or not to blend" betrays a misunderstanding of the nature of the activity we're all engaged in. The question is "what are we trying to do?" If we know that, then we can make an informed judgement about how we're going to use the bandwidth available to get there.

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Guest ChristineS
So, for me, the question "to blend or not to blend" betrays a misunderstanding of the nature of the activity we're all engaged in. The question is "what are we trying to do?" If we know that, then we can make an informed judgement about how we're going to use the bandwidth available to get there.

Absolutely!

The question IS 'what are we trying to do?'

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The answer for me is simple: "Blend!"

Actually, the term "blended learning" irritates me. It's just a new addition to the plethora of new terms with which we are constantly confronted that seek to dress up an old idea in new clothing. In Modern Languages we have always made use of so-called blended learning, drawing on a variety of resources: human, audio technology, video technology, overhead projector slides, books, blackboards etc. ICT is just another tool in the teacher's armoury. I have been working in ICT since 1976 and it has long since ceased to be exciting for me. E-learning has a few useful features that I can take or leave.

Furthermore, concrete evidence regarding the impact of ICT in education is difficult to obtain, although a report on a research study conducted by BECTA, ImpaCT2, has produced some significant data: http://www.becta.org.uk/research/impact2

The ImpaCT2 study seems to indicate that schools using ICT in the classroom get better results than those that do not, and there is a correlation between the use of ICT and good examination results in some subject areas, but it depends how you read the data and there is a huge cost factor to be taken nto account. Case still not proven.

Angela McFarlane, Professor of Education and Director of Learning Technology, Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, writes:

What we do know, whether from personal experience as teacher or learner, or as the result of 20 years of research into the question, is that ICT has an impact on learning, for some learners, under some conditions, and that it cannot replace a teacher. We know that a key factor in impact at school level is and remains the teacher, whose role in managing and integrating the ICT-based experiences learners have with the rest of the curriculum and culture is vital and probably always will be.
Times Educational Supplement, ICT in Education Online, 26 April 2002, p. 17.

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I agree, Graham, 'blended learning' is not a term I like at all. I'm glad this has turned into such a healthy debate, because it really is about asking 'what are we trying to do?' and 'what do we want to achieve?"

To me it's about choice - student choice. Now, as ChristineS pointed out it would be very hard for students in the lower grades [primary school ] to make these sorts of choices but the students in secondary school , a higher education and vocational education the ability to choose how, when, and where they learn is one of the basic tenets of today's education .

In our vocational education system in Australia there are many second chance learners to find it very difficult to attend classes . Giving them the choice of learning online , by videoconference , by correspondence or from other electronic media for at least part of a course do some more access to this type of study that they want to undertake .

This is the best feature of blended learning . Let's keep the debate going it's a great one !

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My students, in the natural learning concept , are already "blending" . It is the most logic way to go I think. For them it is not a matter different education, it is just everyday school. They choose themselves when they want to use a computer ,when to make a film etc etc etc

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I've just put a post in the E-learning debate, where I describe the 'blended learning' course I'm working on right now.

I take an Orwellian view of all these terms! In my career we've gone through DE, DL, O/DL, OL, CL … and now we're on to BL! However, the actual activity has only changed as new technology and financial conditions have changed … and those changes have tended to be cosmetic, rather than conceptual.

If we can't quite work out what we mean by this term 'blended learning', perhaps that's an indication that we don't actually know what it is. And if we don't know what it is, how can we know whether we're doing it 'right' or not?

I come down on the side of the argument that says that there's no such thing as a specific, discrete set of IT-based teaching skills. In my view, if you're a good teacher f2f, you'll be a good IT-based teacher too.

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David I absolutely agree. In some sectors of education herein lies the problem. Many teachers in Higher Education and Vocational Education and Training have had little or no teacher training and their teaching and learning background is very small.

One of the professional development issues that Australia and the UK share is how to prepare teachers for teaching with ICT in HE and VET. We need to start right back at the basics of teaching and learning practice before we even think about blending f2f with ICT enhanced teaching.

At least in Primary and Secondary schooling you have a base of teacher training to work with. We are starting right at the beginning.

Anyway - how do you describe 'good teaching'? What makes a good teacher today? When I was at school the sign of a good teacher was a quiet classroom and everyone knowing their times table!!!

Any takers on this question?

What makes a 'good teacher'?

What makes a 'good' teacher in an online or ICT enhanced classroom?

Edited by chris_sutton

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Anyway - how do you describe 'good teaching'?  What makes a good teacher today?  When I was at school the sign of a good teacher was a quiet classroom and everyone knowing their times table!!!

Any takers on this question? 

What makes a 'good teacher'?

What makes a 'good' teacher in an online or ICT enhanced classroom?

John Mayo posted this on another thread in the Forum.

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=205

It is based on research with students.

http://www.gillmacmillan.ie/ECom/Library3....c7?OpenDocument

Students' perceptions of 'good' teachers

'Good' teachers

Get angry sometimes, when there is a reason

Listen to all sides

Stick to the rules

Treat all the children fairly

Say sorry when they have done something wrong

Give interesting lessons

Always have things for the pupils to do

Always mark classwork and homework

Ask the children what they think

Are on time for lessons

Stop children behaving badly

Deal with bad behaviour quietly (do not shout)

Are the same way every day

Try to make children understand

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It can be a cop out. I think we've all seen examples of truly awful content which has been ill conceived, rushed or simply pays lip service to blended learning. Graham is right of course, we don't want to use computers at the expense of everything else and I think there are times when we should actually ban pupils from using computers for certain tasks.

The best kind of blended learning is not when the teacher is simply replaced by a machine, but when computers can consolidate the kind of face to face interaction that we human beings need.

I've created a series of Flash lessons for music harmony. Pupils work with me while I go through the points on a whiteboard (not an interactive one!) then they can go through the lessons again at home or in the school library.

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My own feeling is that computers are simply the latest tool or technique we have in the eternal striving to let our pupils/students free, so that they can learn.

We know that knowledge is something that each creates within themselves. The challenge for teachers is always to create the environment where learners have personal 'tools', access to information, physical surrounding, etc in order to create knowledge.

In my view, in so far as computers allow this to happen, they have a useful educational function. My explanation for why this type of opinion is so unpopular with purveyors of computer equipment and programmes is that it re-establishes a vital role for the teacher. She can't be sidelined or replaced by a machine, since the creation of these 'safe and empowering learning environments' is something that seems to be a quintessentially human activity - well, at least at the present level of technical development!

(BTW in the absence of an impersonal pronoun in English to use instead of 'he' and 'she', I have chosen to use 'she'.)

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David Richardson writes:

My own feeling is that computers are simply the latest tool or technique we have in the eternal striving to let our pupils/students free, so that they can learn.

We know that knowledge is something that each creates within themselves. The challenge for teachers is always to create the environment where learners have personal 'tools', access to information, physical surrounding, etc in order to create knowledge.

I absolutely agree. In my subject area, namely Modern Foreign Languages, we have been using various forms of techology ever since I first entered teaching in the 1960s. The language lab was hailed as the panacea, but it failed to make much of an impact on learning outcomes - not because the technology was at fault; it simply was not implemented effectively. Going back even further, we can see examples of all kinds of promises having been made about the latest technology: radio, cinema, the tape recorder, video etc. The boom period in ICT began in the early 1980s with the advent of the microcomputer, which opened up an exciting new range of learning opportunities for students of languages. The computer was hailed by enthusiasts as the panacea, but in the meantime many language teachers have become disappointed with what ICT (more recently in the guise of the Web) can offer. Oppenheimer sums it up:

"In 1922 Thomas Edison predicted that 'the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our educational system and [...] in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks.' Twenty-three years later, in 1945, William Levenson, the director of the Cleveland public schools' radio station, claimed that 'the time may come when a portable radio receiver will be as common in the classroom as is the blackboard.' Forty years after that the noted psychologist B.F. Skinner, referring to the first days of his 'teaching machines,' in the late 1950s and early 1960s, wrote, 'I was soon saying that, with the help of teaching machines and programmed instruction, students could learn twice as much in the same time and with the same effort as in a standard classroom.'"

Oppenheimer T. (1997) "The Computer Delusion", The Atlantic Monthly 280, 1 (July 1997): 45-62: http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/97jul/computer.htm

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