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BlendKit Week 2 Reading Reaction

Ahh…Expression.

In my teaching experience at a community college and at my current institution, I’ve taught both online and face-to-face.  I’ve never taught an academic blended course (although I’ve facilitated a sort-of-blended training course).

I’m really interested in student interaction.  This semester, in my traditional course, we’ve had several classes where the students had very strong feelings on the topics and in several cases, some excellent (and civil) arguments occurred, where I had the opportunity to simply play referee when needed.  The students, after a month together, now felt comfortable with each other – and me – to engage each other in a vigorous debate.  But they kept it civil, which to me (other than staying on topic) was the most critical part.

Of course, this was, as defined, face-to-face synchronous expression. Otherwise known as a conversation.  An argument. A discussion.  An element where the students can’t hide behind a screen, with their non-verbal expressions out there for everyone to see.  Their body language, tones of voice, rolling of eyes.  No ability to scrub out the unfortunate reactions. No ability to quickly stop the conversation from going off into the ether quickly if the students choose to drive the conversation off into the abyss.

via GIPHY

However, there’s a value in this in my opinion.  There’s a certain organic feel that I don’t feel can be replicated in an asynchronous conversation.  In the online courses I’ve taught, asynchronous conversations take place in the impersonal comfort of a graded discussion forum where it was required for students to post an original thought and two responses to fellow students.  Students are expected to keep the conversation civil and it’s written down as a rule of conversation, and to stay on topic.  This is not to say there can’t be strong debates in an asynchronous environment, but a lack of non-verbal communication may not make readers of another student’s post fully aware of that student’s passion for or against the topic of the day.

Do I feel there is a value in asynchronous conversation?  Yes, but it is lacking.  As an instructor I feel I have to control the topic(s) for discussion, as I have to trigger the discussion.  If I don’t require student-student interaction in an online course, will the students interact?  I hate to say this, but I’m not confident they would.  Sure, some students might interact through discussions if I allow them to have an open discussion forum, but if I don’t provide the medium for them, would they reach out to each other?

I could break out WebEx or another web conferencing tool for students to have live interaction with me and/or each other, but there is still the ability for students to simply lurk and not interact with each other.

There’s also the question now of time.  Providing meaningful feedback during a synchronous face-to-face conversation is easy.  I can do this through my non-verbals, encouraging statements, or my work on bringing the conversation back to the topic – this feedback is immediate and takes very little time.  Asynchronous feedback takes much more time – I have to read the statements by students, reflect, and then write back an appropriate response.

Perhaps in a blended course where F2F and online interaction is split, the synchronous and asynchronous expression by students can take on a different feel – where the synchronous expressions in the classroom can also carry on to the asynchronous discussions in the LMS.  In the end I think the trick is trying to find a balance.

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Teaching Stuff

BlendKit Week 1 Reading Reaction

BlendKit Week 1 Reading Reaction

So I’m attempting BlendKit again – it’s not my first trip through the course, and last year I was pretty upset when life caught up and kept me from finishing the class.  Oh well, that’s life…right?

So as I read the chapter I get hit several times with some realities that I think get forgotten in the development of blended learning courses.  The chapter states,

Blended learning is not simply adding an online component to a face-to-face course. Technology in a course should be used wisely – to facilitate student learning.

I think sometimes it’s misunderstood why technology is added to a course. I’ve gotten faculty who’ve wanted to add classroom response systems. When I delve into why – well, they want to replace their bubblesheet attendance system with something different.  Sure, they give a quiz with the bubblesheets, but they’re not adding the response system to get real time feedback from students, they’re wanting to just make it easier to take attendance.  That’s not a good reason to use a system and force students to incur a $20-50 cost to obtain a clicker, or download an app to their smartphone.

Nor do I see blended learning as a way to maybe take a day of the week out of the classroom – this should not be seen as an opportunity to simply require students to do online activities in lieu of attending class on Friday.  Although students might love that idea, that’s not the purpose of adding blended learning.

I think what I get from this is that blended learning requires us to discard most of what we know about traditional in-class learning. We have to approach our course design from the point of view that our engagement with students will be in multiple dimensions – we’ll be engaging with the students face-to-face and in synchronous and/or asynchronous online communication.  We can’t stick to the idea that you can only email the instructor or visit only during office hours.  If we want to be more flexibility in our instruction we have to be more flexible in how students approach us.

We also can’t lecture on-the-fly anymore.  I teach a face-to-face course with the only online materials being readings, quizzes, and assignment submission dropboxes.  But if I’m not 100% prepared for my lecture, can I simply twist my class to add more group discussion?  Sure!  However, with a blended course, I have to be purposeful in my design and actions.  There’s no excuse for being less-than-adequately prepared. I feel that misuse of technology will only amplify my lack of purpose and direction if I don’t plan appropriately

I think if you do teach a blended learning course, from day 1 if there are expectations for students to participate in synchronous activities outside of normal class times, that must be disclosed immediately. Students who work or have other activities outside of class time may not be able to attend synchronous sessions; this is fair to the student so they can determine if they can continue to attend my course or if they need to enroll in an alternative section.  Like online courses, blended learning may not be an appropriate avenue for all students, and they should know from Day 1 what they are getting into.

So these are my initial reactions to the reading.  I’m ready to move forward.