To start off, I am going to post some reflections to the Week 1 readings that are available on the BlendKit site at: http://blended.online.ucf.edu/blendkit-course-blendkit-reader-chapter-1/. Although I am a bit wary, I am somewhat less concerned about the technology than about the vocabulary of pedagogy that frankly seems rather alien to the discourse of historians. The language of Eastern markets—“banyan,” “comprador,” “laq”—seems more accessible than the vocabulary of “outcomes,” “emergence,” or “course delivery.” Of course, in my doctoral program, the emphasis was on acquiring knowledge and mastering analysis and synthesis; we weren’t taught how to teach, except through the “deep-end-of-the-pool experience” of teaching discussion sections and giving occasional lectures. Here we go:
In reflecting on the reading for Week 1 of BlendKit 2012, both potential benefits and clear challenges present themselves to the course designer. I certainly appreciated the tone of contingency, flexibility, and incremental development that the readings stressed. And, I appreciated how the readings complemented my own classroom experiences, recognizing the opportunities that blended learning offers for addressing each student’s individual learning styles and life circumstances and relaxing the “one best way” approach that seeks to standardize classroom instruction.
Identify the general benefits of blended learning
Certainly, a blended approach offers more convenience and flexibility for both students and instructor, but I was more interested in the idea that it offers “a method to infuse new engagement opportunities into established courses or, for some, provide a transitional opportunity between fully face-to-face and fully online instruction.” I have dabbled in blended learning (not always cognizant that that is what I was doing) in a US History course, last year receiving brief papers online and this year adding an asynchronous discussion component. Although I am at a loss to explain it, the quality of the writing in the brief papers was significantly higher than anything I had seen before. In the asynchronous online discussions this year, again, the quality of conversation has been remarkably sophisticated. This experience bears out the U.S. Department of Education’s (2010) “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies,” particularly in its finding, “Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction” (p. xv). In this case, I believe it does so because of the flexibility that the blended approach offers to a variety of student personalities and learning styles. It enables students who feel constrained by a 75-minute period to ask all their questions and offer all their reflections. It enables, as well, the less articulate student and the reticent personality an opportunity to “speak” in a more comfortable environment. The prompt questions that I offer allow for a range of responses, from the strictly historical (description and analysis) to the more personal and reflective. For both, ironically, the technology in this case fosters a personal connection that the constraints of the classroom limit.
Recognize a range of implementation options possible in developing blended learning courses
Here, I have much to learn. I don’t consider myself a technological adept, and, honestly, would rather spend my time reading to develop my knowledge than develop new skills in delivering that knowledge. So, I was relieved to see blended learning described as a “controlled process,” and especially, to learn that one begins from a position that “We as teachers usually establish on paper the "ideal" learning experience when you work under a more familiar, traditional style of teaching,” and then proceeds incrementally to design in the technological elements that may foster optimal learning experiences for the range of students in a class. And, I particularly appreciated
George Siemens’s observation, “By recognizing learning as a messy, nebulous, informal, chaotic process, we need to rethink how we design our instruction.”
There is another element to this: The tools that I may incorporate will have to reflect my own personality and teaching style. At this early stage, synchronous events seem a bit daunting, and I am wary of effectively monitoring collaborative exercises. But, self-paced learning, narrative feedback, the inclusion of complementary support materials should be consistent with my teaching.
Articulate design plans for “blending” one of the courses you teach
Here, the Course Blueprint was quite useful (although it took some time to learn the techniques of moving boxes around and the result is not aesthetically beautiful). My goal is to take a favorite course that I have taught in the past—The Old China Trade, 1784-1844—and transform it into a hybrid or blended course. At this point, it is decidedly an “emergent process.” But, there are already areas in which I can see opportunities to incorporate the technology to make the history more vicarious and experiential, enhancing the relevance of the episode for my students. The chart (Fig. 31.3) in Case Study 2 was especially useful for organizing my thoughts, and I will continue to refer back to it throughout the weeks (and years) ahead, and I look forward to developing my design for the course.