Myths and promises of blended learning


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Myths and promises of blended learning

While lots of people write about blended learning, it isn’t always clear what is meant, or whether people are writing about the same thing. The purpose of this talk is to identify some assumptions and common assertions made about blended learning, so that these “myths” – claims that seem natural, because their historical and constructed status has been hidden rhetorically – can be explored and challenged. Such myths include the existence of purely online and purely face-to-face learning that can then be blended, ignoring the complex ways in which students learn; the idea that we should incorporate new technology because it is demanded by a new generation of students, ignoring the diversity of students’ experiences and evidence that technology use is not ‘generational’; and the claim that we can turn courses into learning communities through blended learning. Based on this critique, a more complicated picture emerges, highlighting the importance of learners’ purposes, choices and contexts. Throughout, I will argue that a body of work has developed that takes account of this messier, less controllable situation, and that we need to turn to this to as a basis for developing our thinking about blended learning.

- Keynote, 5th International Blended Learning Conference

- Note: sources, licensing information etc given in slide note. That means no re-using or editing of the image from World of Warcraft.

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  • Myths and promises of blended learning

    1. 1. Myths and promises of blended learning Martin Oliver London Knowledge Lab Institute of Education
    2. 2. <ul><li>What kind of talk is this? (What tradition of work is it part of?) </li></ul>
    3. 3. <ul><li>The starting point of these reflections was usually a feeling of impatience at the sight of the ‘naturalness’ with which newspapers, art and common sense constantly dress up a reality which, even though it is the one we live in, is undoubtedly determined by history. […] I resented seeing Nature and History confused at every turn, and I wanted to track down […] the ideological abuse which, in my view, is hidden there. </li></ul>
    4. 4. <ul><li>Myth is constituted by the loss of the historical quality of things: in it, things lose the memory that they once were made. The world enters language as a dialectical relation between activities, between human actions; it comes out of myth as a harmonious display of essences. A conjuring trick has taken place. </li></ul>
    5. 5. <ul><li>… not seeking to reveal some claims and ideas in e-learning as being simply or positively “false” or “untruthful”. The purpose here, rather, is to undertake a kind of “ground-clearing” exercise in order to call into question ways of talking about and justifying e-learning that obscure a more complicated reality. </li></ul>
    6. 6. <ul><li>The myth of blending </li></ul>
    7. 7.
    8. 8. <ul><li>If someone is learning in a way that uses information and communication technologies ICTs, they are using e-learning. They could be a pre-school child playing an interactive game; they could be a group of pupils collaborating on a history project with pupils in another country via the Internet; they could be geography students watching an animated diagram of a volcanic eruption their lecturer has just downloaded; they could be a nurse taking her driving theory test online with a reading aid to help her dyslexia – it all counts as e-learning . </li></ul>
    9. 9. And face-to-face learning…? <ul><li>The descriptive process also highlighted differences in teaching style . For example, one participant characterised their lectures as involving a high degree of activity and discussion for students; this contrasted with the two lecturers who both taught as part of one course team, for whom lectures were primarily a means of disseminating information to students. Similarly, all three had differing views about what constituted a tutorial . </li></ul>
    10. 10. <ul><li>“ Blended learning” is a mix of two kinds of teaching that don’t really exist </li></ul><ul><li>(…maybe we can say some interesting things if we focus on variety of learner experience…) </li></ul>
    11. 11.
    12. 12. Cloudworks pre-conference discussion <ul><li>The term is commonly associated with the introduction of online media into a course or programme, whilst at the same time recognising that there is merit in retaining face-to-face contact and other traditional approaches to supporting students. It is also used where asynchronous media such as email, forums, blogs or wikis are deployed in conjunction with synchronous technologies, commonly text chat or audio. </li></ul>
    13. 13. Cloudworks pre-conference discussion <ul><li>The key assumptions of blended learning design are: thoughtfully integrating face-to-face and online learning, fundamentally rethinking the course design to optimize student engagement. </li></ul>
    14. 14. Cloudworks pre-conference discussion <ul><li>Educational provision where high quality e-learning opportunities and excellent campus based learning are combined or blended in coherent, reflective and innovative ways so that learning is enhanced and choice is increased </li></ul>
    15. 15. <ul><li>In my own institution, we talk about blended education rather than blended learning, which involves  purposefully integrating different learning resources, environments and delivery modes to provide an exceptional and distinctive experience for all learners. Technology is not explicit in this definition and it deliberately recognises the importance of student supports and services along with the interactions (content, learners and teachers) that take place in formal and informal educational contexts . </li></ul>
    16. 16. <ul><li>It’s about good, thoughtful design, not mixing archetypal forms </li></ul><ul><li>Jon Alltree’s talk: Blended Learning’s longitudinal and traversal links </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Continuity across contexts </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Making the “backchat” public </li></ul></ul><ul><li>All of this has promise (but is “blended learning” the best term for this?) </li></ul>
    17. 17. <ul><li>The myth of the categorically knowable </li></ul><ul><li>student </li></ul>
    18. 18. <ul><li>We know what are students are like, and they’re not like us </li></ul><ul><li>So say Oblinger & Oblinger, Tapscott (Net Generation), Prensky (Digital Natives), Howe & Straus (New Millenials), McCrindle (Generation Y), etc. </li></ul>
    19. 19. <ul><li>Grand claims are being made about the nature of this generational change and about the urgent necessity for educational reform in response. A sense of impending crisis pervades this debate. However, the actual situation is far from clear. […] We argue that rather than being empirically and theoretically informed, the debate can be likened to an academic form of a ‘moral panic’ . We propose that a more measured and disinterested approach is now required to investigate ‘digital natives’ and their implications for education. </li></ul>
    20. 20.
    21. 21. <ul><li>Debbie had students who: </li></ul><ul><li>use their boss’ computer to study after working in a bar </li></ul><ul><li>trained using cardboard cut-outs instead of real computers </li></ul><ul><li>bought a computer with their first paycheque and then had to draw up a rota within their family to access it </li></ul>
    22. 22. <ul><li>… the ‘ incorporeal fallacy ’ of assuming that cyberlearning is, indeed, disembodied </li></ul><ul><li>Even in cyberspace environments, as Stone (1991:117) has famously remarked, there is always ‘a body attached’ . Cyberspace could well be a non-space, but the subjects who inhabit it always remain embodied. </li></ul>
    23. 23. <ul><li>There is a tremendous temptation to think of those networks as complete worlds unto themselves in which anybody can assume any identity, everybody can play any role, any information is available, you can do anything. However the connection, the interface to the other world, our physical existence , the fact that we have to eat and walk and live with real people oftentimes tends to be suspended or nearly excluded . </li></ul>
    24. 24. <ul><li>So why is this such a pervasive, powerful myth? </li></ul>
    25. 25. <ul><li>Of course the notion of a “generation gap” has been around for decades, if not centuries. It typically emerges as a consequence of adults’ fears about the escalating pace of social change and their anxieties about the loss of continuity with the past. The idea of a digital generation merely connects these fears and anxieties to technology. </li></ul>
    26. 26. <ul><li>The media industries are also busily defining and reconfiguring generational categories for the purposes of maximising profit. Thus, it is possible to trace the historical emergence of age-based categories within marketing discourse and practice. </li></ul>
    27. 27. <ul><li>But it’s not all one-way </li></ul><ul><ul><li>People use these categories to position themselves, too </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Age, gender, interests/friendship groups </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>…and (of course) what people say isn’t always the same as what they do… </li></ul></ul>
    28. 28. Buy Blackboard! <ul><li>“ At Blackboard®, we’re focused on helping institutions at all levels drive learner achievement by creating personalized and engaging learning experiences, the kind that when achieved on a wide scale can bring about big and measurable change in learning outcomes .” </li></ul><ul><li>Solutions by Market </li></ul><ul><ul><li>K-12: “ Close the gap between the way students live and the way they learn ” </li></ul></ul>
    29. 29. WimbaPRONTO promotional materials <ul><li>“ Imagine you are a college student during the first week of school. Your General Chemistry class has 150 students. The first assignment requires you to find study partners. No problem.” </li></ul><ul><li>… because shyness, problems with registry, dyslexia, work and family commitments don’t count…? </li></ul>
    30. 30. The cake is a lie The cake is a lie The cake is a lie The cake
    31. 31. <ul><li>Yes, we need to know our learners… </li></ul><ul><li>… just don’t trust the neat boxes </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Lumping them all together in clumsy categories is a bad basis for design </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>It’s a way of avoiding the real complexity </li></ul></ul>
    32. 32. <ul><li>The myth of the course as community </li></ul>
    33. 33. <ul><li>Community of Inquiry </li></ul><ul><ul><li>An educational community of inquiry is a group of individuals who collaboratively engage in purposeful critical discourse and reflection to construct personal meaning and confirm mutual understanding </li></ul></ul>
    34. 34. <ul><li>Community of practice </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Mutual engagement, joint enterprise, shared repertoire, accountability </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Trajectories can be inward-bound, outward-bound, peripheral </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Communities of pratice </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Constellations of practice, nexus of multi-membership and identity as reconciliation </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Claims processors and outsider identities defined by exclusion </li></ul>
    35. 35. One community to rule them all…? <ul><li>“ swimmers, wavers and drowners” </li></ul><ul><li>The Drowners: Around 30 trainees found it extremely difficult to log in to the system, and those who did eventually arrive found it very difficult to cope with the large numbers of previously posted messages. Only a minority of these successfully completed the training . </li></ul><ul><li>(“yes, we’re a community – anyone who didn’t fit has been pushed out”) </li></ul>
    36. 36.
    37. 37. <ul><ul><li>“ What is not a good idea is to take &quot;learning community&quot; as new knowledgable-sounding jargon for &quot;a cohort of students&quot;, plus a cozy view of them as &quot;a community&quot;. This is neither warranted nor likely to improve learning.” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ignores negative aspects of community: control, exclusion, policing, hostility </li></ul></ul>
    38. 38. <ul><li>You can learn a lot from someone you don’t like. </li></ul>
    39. 39. <ul><li>The aspects of community that have a positive effect on learning may not be about being accepting, or respecting privacy and individual choice . Just as real communities are by no means uniformly benign, and perhaps could never be if they are to maintain cohesion and discipline, so learning communities are not entertainment services, whose only purpose is to give pleasure, comfort and a feeling of consumer control . The ways in which learners are aided by other people are extremely diverse, and uncritical acceptance and lack of challenge are not always best for learning . </li></ul>
    40. 40. <ul><li>So why communities? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>They’re not as fluffy as the name suggests </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Is it the best way to help these students learn? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>One community per course, or many? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A single, dominant course may be neither realistic nor desirable </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Learners already have to juggle several – why add to this? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>More thorough exclusion than if there’s fragmentation anyhow </li></ul></ul>
    41. 41. Where does this leave us? <ul><li>“ Remember: the reason we’re here is to improve the students’ learning experience” (Peter Bullen, yesterday) </li></ul><ul><li>Yes! But to do this we need to ‘clear the ground’ to see what we’re really doing and why </li></ul>
    42. 42. Where does this leave us? <ul><li>In terms of designing learning, teaching and assessment: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Thinking about learners first, purposes second and forms third </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Others’ designs & content: adapting, taking inspiration, but rarely (never?) just reusing </li></ul></ul>
    43. 43. Where does this leave us? <ul><li>Designing for students we know: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Listen and learn, don’t assume </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reasonable anticipation, reasonable adjustments (cf. SENDA) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Work with them, not just for them, when designing! </li></ul></ul>
    44. 44. Where does this leave us? <ul><li>Tolerant of difference and dissonance </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Communities are plural </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Hegemony may not be compatible with inclusivity </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>When they’ve served their purpose, let them die! </li></ul></ul>
    45. 45. <ul><li>fin. </li></ul>