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chris_sutton

blended learning - solution or cop-out?

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I've often thought that language teachers who once used language labs are particularly immune to the blandishments of IT gurus! In Kuwait, for example, we had a 104 booth language lab, with around 10 technicians working full time keeping around 80% of them working (on any given day). It looked very impressive to the casual visitor … but the educational value of them was very limited.

The problem was that the content had so little attention paid to it, compared with the technology. Of course, we teachers *could* write and record better material … but in comparison to all the other things we could do to make our teaching better, the language lab always lost out.

I ran into the same syndrome a couple of years ago here in Sweden at a demonstration of the latest computerised business English course. The programming was really something, with artificial intelligence being used to generate 'random' conversations. The problem was with the inputs. I got a strong impression of a bunch of underpaid EFL teachers getting their revenge. For example, take the scenario of a businessman coming through customs.

Customs Officer: Could you come over here please, sir.

Businessman: Are you talking to me?

All the EFL teachers in the room burst out laughing and starting producing their favourite Robert de Niro impression (I don't see anyone else here. You must be talking to me!).

The poor salesman had never heard of Monty Python's Hungarian phrasebook!

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I share the viewpoint of Rob Jones Essentially the learning process "face to face" or "person to person (s)" that is "human being to human being" cannot be undervaluated if we still believe that the emotions and the dialogue are worth.

To answer to John about " Good Teachers": Of the several points he suggests,I certainly choose:

Give Interesting Lessons

Ask the children (students) what they think

Are on time for lessons

Try (the best) to make children(students) understand

Try no to shout.

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David Richardson writes:

I've often thought that language teachers who once used language labs are particularly immune to the blandishments of IT gurus!

Dead right! Once bitten… I must say, however, that in my experience as a language teacher at Ealing College we used labs successfully from the 1960s right up until I retired in the 1990s. It was all down to good content and using the lab appropriately, e.g. for training in simultaneous interpreting rather than just as a drill-and-practice machine. The serious work was done in face-to-face classes, and the lab was used for reinforcement under teacher supervision and for self-access – which is more or less how we used the computer labs that arrived in the 1980s.

The poor salesman had never heard of Monty Python's Hungarian phrasebook!

I love that sketch! I worked on a project in Hungary from 1991 to 1996. We showed a video of the phrasebook sketch to Hungarian students and they could see the funny side of it too. I learned some interesting Hungarian phrases from them too! We also used the dead parrot sketch, e.g. getting the students to note down how many different ways there are of saying “dead” in English: "late", "kicked the bucket", "deceased", "shuffled off this mortal coil", etc...

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Why all the sudden interest in blending learning - surely most of us have been doing this for more years than we can to consider :D

Providing opportunities for learning through flexible means is what we are really talking about - whatever the means.

Let's demystify the whole thing about elearning and take it away from technology-push merchants who believe they have the answer.

So what is special about blending? Isn't it the blender?

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Karl Donert writes

Why all the sudden interest in blending learning - surely most of us have been doing this for more years than we can to consider

Of course! But if you describe an old idea with a new term, people will think that you have actually invented something new - except those of us who are not so easily fooled :D

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As has been said, others may already see e-learning as that - and our political masters do talk about 'freeing' up teachers so that they can do their marking (and reporting, I assume) with classroom assistants.  That is not something I like at all since the physical process of teaching is why I do this job, and do it well.  Wouldn't it be awful if enough fools assumed e-learning would 'free' us in like manner?

Interesting to consider that elearning frees time - based on research we have been doing - many teachers suggest that they would be interested in developing elearning and it was something they would be keen to be involved in - but so few are prepared to move beyond their comfort zone to experience it, let alone do it.

Surely the point has to be that elearning hprovides something different and we have to make this clear to those who make decisions. The biggest problem is that we end up on an elearning/blended learning bandwagon - where those concerned don't realise the real opportunity that there is to bring learning to the learner.... and to make it really high in quality. To provide real learning support to the learners. So we need to focus on the support and pedagogies involved - too much is spent on technological 'solutions' - just wait and see the bigger and netter BETT show

The teachers perspective of "well I teach and they listen - sorry learn " :D is a major barrier... so we need a changed mindset if we are going to make any progress with this. Who is important here - the teacher or the learner?

So, I ask how can we change the teacher's mindset?

Well what about insisting teachers experience elearning themselves to reflect on the value.

We need to make is relevant and certificated and part of developing a profession which remains in need of re-professioalisation!

What else? Any ideas?

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I feel that the way to get teachers interested in e-learning is much the same as the way you get them interested in any pedagogical development - through peer example and slow, patient work.

I'm a great supporter of teacher conservatism - dedicated teachers are interested in creating environments where their students can learn, and this process is difficult and extremely complicated. It's also idiosyncratic, since the interaction between people is one of the most important factors in it, and combinations of people change all the time. When, then, someone from outside this highly complex environment comes along with 'revolutionary new' solutions, which, incidentally, involve breaking a few eggs first … with the promise of a virtual omelette a long way down the line … it's perfectly understandable (to me, anyway) that teachers aren't interested.

When it comes to e-learning, I feel that we've been concentrating on the wrong letters in the abbreviation ICT. We stress 'information' and 'technology', but we almost ignore 'communication'. I joined a team of around 10 teachers here in Kalmar about four years ago. At that time, I was the only person using ICT in teaching (apart from surfing the Internet to find information for lectures). Now we all are.

The way we got to where we are was by looking at computers as ways of improving communication between teachers, students and outside experts. Sometimes this means bringing in Internet tutors from around the world (which takes the load off campus-based teachers, whilst giving an incredible amount of added value to the students). Sometimes it means bringing in experts in various fields via Internet (because we can't afford the air fares - and, anyway, it would be a waste of resources doing that). Sometimes it means setting up partnerships between groups of students who have mutual interests, even if they're studying different courses (co-researching essay questions, for example).

The bottom line has always been that you do e-learning because a) it's fun; and :blink: it's easier than not doing it.

One consequence of this approach is to develop skills in seeing the supposed benefits, rather than just the features of the latest piece of technology that's being peddled. The pedlars, incidentally, have almost never thought of their product as having benefits - just features. If you do it this way, you quickly realise that it's very unlikely that one product or one method will provide what everyone's looking for. On a very banal level, for example, chemists need primary colour and non-ASCII characters; biologists need very sophisticated colour; physicists need computing power; and language teachers need audio and video. I haven't seen a technical solution yet which treats each of these as equally important … so you need more than one technical system.

I'm a great believer in the 'apprentice' system for developing e-learning courses, rather than the 'send them on a course' system. The reason things developed here was firstly because there was a need. Then we had the technology … and finally, there were individuals you could have a cup of coffee with who seemed to be doing it, without developing scabs or collapsing through over-work.

As I've mentioned in another post today, managers hate this kind of development because they don't control it. What we need, for example, is an absence of management, once the basic environment has been created (both in terms of technology and working practices). We also need a system of remuneration which allows us to 'spend' our assets on apparently unproductive things, like group building, at the beginning of the process, so that we can reap the benefits at the end. The problem for the managers is that they have to just take our word for it that there will be some benefits somewhere down the line!

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