Blended and distance learning

Image showng the University of Hull Venn Building with students in the forefront

The LTE Summer Programme (June 2018) included two days of LTE workshops. I took the opportunity to present an introduction to blended and distance learning. This post offers an introduction to the topic for anyone unable to be there.* 

Making the digital shift from traditional face-to-face, on-campus courses to blended or fully distance modes may feel like a challenge but when done well, it can offer exciting and motivational student experiences. Tearning and teaching in 21st century offers potential 24/7 access at a time, place and device of student choice. However, in many cases this transformative potential remains untapped. The lecture continues to be the primary form of content delivery. A consequence of this is similar didactic pedagogic models being transferred to virtual envrionments, and presented as online learning. VLE resembling repositories of files, frequently fail to become the centres of interactivity they have the potential to be. Successful bended and distance eduation requires digital shifts in teaching and learning practice. The tips on these pages cover some of the key changes in attitudes and pratice which need to be made.

Quotes have been taken from an online teacher education course where particpants were encouraged to keep a reflective journal. Here they wrote about the transfer of new learning to their own practice. Journal entries have been used with permission.

Tip 1: busting myths of digital confidence

Remember: When it comes to digital technologies colleagues/students might be less confident than you think but disguise it well. This quote shows blended learning

requires more than technical competence, there are social and emotional challenges too. Avoid making assumptions, the majority of students are NOT Digital Natives and nearly all need to develop critical as well as effective digital literacies.

Recommend: build in time for an online course induction with activities for sharing aims and feelings. It’s helpful for e-learners and e-teachers too know others might share similar hopes and fears.

Tip 2: be aware of the risks text mis-communication

Remember: the absence of face-to-face clues makes it easy to misinterpret messages. These quotes remind us online communication can be challenging. Prepare for silence! Reluctance to engage and mixed messages can affect retention.

Recommends: discuss the advantages of digital text e.g. pre-practice, reflect, edit, spellcheck then paste into the Text Editor when ready. Provide practice spaces. Have a ‘good manners’ guide, either prep-prepared or constructed during induction. Include CAPITAL LETTERS are like SHOUTING, use emoticons to help avoid misunderstanding   , don’t be rude or offensive – if you wouldn’t say it face-to-face, don’t say it online.

Tip 3: expect identity blur

Remember: e-teachers are tutors, moderators, facilitators, instructors but called rarely e-lecturers. Teaching online requires digital communication skills while e-teachers have to shift identities from ‘Sage on the Stage’ to the less visible and more silent ‘Guide on the Side’, a loss of visible status which can take some adjusting to.

Recommends: e-teaching can be complex and challenging but gets easier the more you do and when done well, it’s a powerful tool for widening participation and enhancing the student experience. Whether the course is fully online or blended the affordances of 24/7 access at a time, place and device of student choice means it’s well worth it!

Tip 4: adopt activity based content (ABC) designs

Remember: Online resources have guide, motivate and enthuse as well as retain students to the end of the course. Blended learning design follows socio-constructivist principles for example interaction, communication and collaboration

Recommends: create online groups with their own forums and a choice of activities based on key texts or themes. Agree tutor response times.  Ask students to share understanding of core ideas through posters, mindmaps, presentations, audio or video. Set up peer review with feedback summaries.  Avoid 50 minutes of talking heads with audience coughs and sneezes. Chunk lecture content into smaller pieces interspersed with formative assessment opportunities. Be inclusive and provide multimedia transcripts or text equivalents to suit diverse students cohorts.

Tip 5: effective signposting

Remember: online is a different experience to f2f seminars and lectures. Learners are often isolated and VLE look strange to new users. Without physical support, it’s easy to misread instructions or get lost so effective signposting is essential.

Recommends: ask critical friends to review your resources and give constructive feedback. Be clear about learning outcomes and their assessment. Be sure students know what is expected and  if interaction is assessed. Arrange synchronous meet-ups or activities. Give reasons for accessing links and directions for reading. Keep everything within two clicks from the Home page. Check links aren’t broken. Post weekly summaries looking back and forward.

Tip 6: do a MOOC

 

Remember: Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) offer free opportunities to get ideas designing content and enabling communication as well as experience learning Tip 7: Pedagogy of Uncertainty online. Open Educational Resources (OER) offer free resources through a Creative Commons licence support reuse and repurposing.

Recommends: in the UK FutureLearn, a consortium of UK universities, and the OU Open Learn offer free online courses. Visit Coursera, Khan Academy or Udacity. Look up Creative Commons licences https://creativecommons.org/licenses/ for more information about copyright free materials.

Tip 7: Pedagogy of Uncertainty

Remember: sometimes e-teaching can feel like communication with a big black hole. A major challenge is not knowing what to expect. You don’t know who your learners are or if they’re going to engage in your activities. Silence may be a sign students have got lost or lost interest through miscommunication or misunderstanding. Following these tips will help avoid common errors.

Recommends: online teaching and learning is not an easy option but done well, the advantages outweigh the negatives. VLE offer inclusive opportunities to widen participation in higher education. They can enhance on-campus experiences through encouraging independent learning.  The future of higher education will be increasingly digital and e-teaching/e-learning an essential craft.

For further information please get in touch Sue Watling


* See https://libguides.hull.ac.uk/ltesummer/conference for Workshop Abstract


 

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