MET:Blended Learning in a Post-Secondary English Classroom
Blended Learning in a Post-Secondary English Classroom
by Sheila Hancock, Spring, 2011
Blended Learning is ideal for a post-secondary environment since it accommodates students' needs for flexibility and a rich learning experience, while allowing them to retain a close connection with the professor both in the classroom and online. Because of the online component of the blended environment, students also have greater opportunities for meaningful interconnection with peers. More particularly, blended learning is a perfect vehicle for post-secondary academic writing and literature classes since students can receive more individual feedback from their peers and the instructor throughout the writing-and-revision process than they would in a fully online or fully face-to-face environment. Recent research indicates that students in post-secondary English courses offered in a blended environment have a better chance of achieving course objectives than those in fully face-to-face or online sections of the same course (Waddoups, Hatch, & Butterworth, 2003). In particular, some researchers argue that blended learning offers a greater opportunity for deeper student learning, and because of the emphasis on reading and writing, also invariably improves student composition skills (Brunner, 2006). Many English faculty report that in a blended environment, students appear more engaged in the classroom and better prepared for each face-to-face lesson. Finally, student surveys indicate that students overwhelmingly agree. Typical comments indicate that the environment offers “the best of both worlds” and that students feel they “learned a little more” than they would have in a fully face-to-face or online version of the class.
- Greater Opportunities for Writing Occasions
Typically, academic writing is fraught for most students because they know they will be graded not only on content, but also on expression. As such, they are often inhibited by the process, and their anxiety often distorts both their expression and content. Yet in order to become better writers, they must write a great deal more than they do for a handful of required graded assignments--indeed, much more than their professors can possibly offer feedback on. Research indicates a connection between increased technology use and improved writing skills since any increase in writing will invariably improve student composition skills (Manzo, 2008). Further, some researchers suggest that, because of access to technology, students tend to write more than they did in the past, but in less conventional ways (Smith, 2008). The result is an indirect acquisition of skills without the intimidating factor of the formal writing process.
- Access to Audience for Writing
This necessary increase in writing cannot be done in a vacuum: audience is essential to students' development as writers. The online portion of a blended course involves interactive writing in the form of discussion forums, synchronous and asynchronous chats, wikis, blogs, tweets, and more. Engagement with a "live" audience invariably improves the skill of the student writer.
- Students not Writing to Avoid Errors
Errors are part of the writing process, yet students tend to focus on avoiding errors in their academic writing courses, rather than learning through the errors. Indeed, research indicates that when students write simply to avoid errors, they fail to improve. In an interactive blended environment, students write to construct and clarify meaning for their peers, rather than to avoid errors, so their writing has a greater likelihood of improvement (Smith, 2008).
- Creation of Community for Knowledge Construction and Academic Discourse
Finally, this type of engagement through online writing in a blended environment contributes to the creation of an academic community, which is important in introducing students to knowledge construction and the conventions of academic discourse (Williams & Jacobs, 2004).
Constructivism in the Post-Secondary Blended Classroom
In a well-designed blended learning environment, the post-secondary instructor is more facilitator than “professor” and is better able to exploit the principles of constructivism than in other learning environments. Constructivism reflects
- highly interactive conversation
- individualized learning style or individualized attention
- adaptation to students’ current needs
- creativity (construction, discovery)
- focus on problem solving, rather than memorization
- high interactivity
- internal motivation
- a focus on peer learning in small groups (Bork, 2000)
While a number of these elements may be achieved in a fully face-to-face model, and others in a fully online model, all can easily be achieved in a blended version of a post-secondary classroom. For example, since class time is limited in a post-secondary environment, "highly interactive conversation" may fall by the wayside in the interest of covering important lecture material; however, a complementary online forum or live chat allows students to engage in asynchronous or synchronous interactive discussions of material presented during class time.
Well-designed blended, post-secondary English classes using a student-friendly, intuitive LMS, such as Moodle, Blackboard, or D2L, can fully exploit the elements of a constructivist learning environment with the following sample interactivities:
- Highly interactive conversation:
- Online: asynchronous discussion forums, synchronous live chats of f2f class material
- F2F: small- and large-group class discussions of online material
- Individualized learning style or individualized attention:
- Online: e-mail and messaging between instructor and student; timely responses; virtual office hours with Skype or instant messaging
- F2F: individual meetings with students; weekly office hours
- Adaptation to students’ current needs:
- Online: course materials always available online; timely response to student inquiries through course website and e-mail
- F2F: use of clickers; teaching methods can be adjusted based on immediate responses from students
- Creativity (construction, discovery):
- Online: creation of online presentations with wikis and blogs; creation of projects with online tools, such as Xtranormal, videos on Youtube, Prezi: created online, but presented f2f
- F2F: creation of class presentations with videos, Prezi, Powerpoint
- Focus on problem solving (textual analysis):
- Online: assignment of individual questions for textual analysis shared online with class to create a full discussion and analysis of text: jigsaw method of textual analysis
- F2F: small-group analysis of elements of text to be shared in presentation to larger class: jigsaw method of textual analysis
- High interactivity:
- Online: online textbooks or companion sites with interactivities, online quizzes, videos, demonstrations, discussion forums, live chats, messaging, group projects
- F2F: videos, quizzes, clickers, small- and large-group discussions, group projects
- Internal motivation:
- Online: graded weekly online tasks, such as forum discussions and grammar quizzes, to direct students back to the website
- F2F: weekly reading quizzes on online material
- Focus on peer learning in small groups:
- Online: graded group projects or presentations created on-line or face-to-face using tools, such as Googledocs, Skype, Googlewave, to create wikis, blogs, prezis, videos, audioclips, etc.
- F2F: graded group projects or presentations created face-to-face or on-line: videos, prezis, Powerpoint, etc.
Below is an example of a group project created by students to reflect their interpretation of "The Story of an Hour" using Halo characters to modernize Kate Chopin's 1894 short story:
While well-designed blended environments can offer students the best of both worlds, poorly designed environments can offer the worst of each. Course designers and faculty must ensure that the course is truly blended—that an integration and interactivity exists between the online and face-to-face components of the course. While pedagogically sound, this integration and interactivity also ensures that students do not “forget” about--or ignore--either the online or face-to-face component of the course. Further, the online component must be more than simply the posting of course handouts and written lectures; rather, it must be constructed with a consciousness of constructivist values and a focus on interactivity. Course designers and faculty must also be conscious of not overburdening students by creating blended courses that are twice the work of their fully online or face-to-face counterparts. Finally, both faculty and students must understand that in a blended learning environment, boundaries between school and home are necessarily blurred, and the expectation for timely responses to inquiries, forum postings, announcements, and assignments is greatly increased.
Blended Learning, Theory of Online Learning, Educational Blogging, Sociocultural-Constructivist, Constructivism, Constructivist Learning Environments, Collaborative Learning, Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication:Tools for Collaboration, Wikis in Education, Authentic Learning Environments, Computer-Assisted Language Learning, Integrating Technology to Enhance Classroom Instruction: Ideas for Projects and Activities,
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Bork, A. (2000). Learning technology. EDUCAUSE Review, January/February, 74-85.
Brunner, D. (2006). The potential of the hybrid course vis-a-vis online and traditional courses. Teaching Theology & Religion, 9(4), 229-235. Retrieved from ERIC database.
Gouge, C. (2009). Conversation at a crucial moment: hybrid courses and the future of writing programs. College English, 71(4), 338-362. Retrieved from ERIC database.
Kim, K., & Bonk, C. (2006). The future of online teaching and learning in higher education: the survey says…. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 29(4), 22-30. Retrieved from ERIC database.
Manzo, K. (2008). More students master "basics" on writing NAEP. Education Week, 27(32). Retrieved from ERIC database.
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Palloff, Rena M., and Pratt, Keith (1999). Defining and redefining community. Building learning communities in cyberspace: Effective strategies for the online classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Smith, C. (2008). Technologies for transcending a focus on error: blogs and democratic aspirations in first-year composition. Journal of Basic Writing (CUNY), 27(1), 35-60. Retrieved from ERIC database.
Tapscott, Don (2004). The net generation and the school. The Milken Family Foundation: Education Technology. January 5. Retrieved from http://www.mff.org/edtech/article.taf?_function=detail&Content_uid1=109
Waddoups, G., Hatch, G., & Butterworth, S. (2003). Case 5: blended teaching and learning in a first-year composition course. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 4(3), 271-78. Retrieved from ERIC database.
Williams, Jeremy B. and Jacobs, Joanne (2004). Exploring the use of blogs as learning spaces in the higher education sector. Australasian Journal of Education. 20(2), 232-247.
Best Practices in Online Learning: Pulling it All Together: http://cnx.org/content/m15048/latest/
Constructivism and Technology in Education: http://cnx.org/content/m36359/latest/
Reasons Why Blended Learning Makes Sense: http://edtechdigest.wordpress.com/2010/12/08/7-reasons-why-blended-learning-makes-sense/
Strategies for Teaching Blended Learning Courses--Maybe You and Your Students Can have it All: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/distance-learning/strategies-for-teaching-blended-learning-courses-maybe-you-and-your-students-can-have-it-all/
Student Blogging in the English Classroom: http://cnx.org/content/m18050/latest/
Using Wikis in the Classroom: http://www.suite101.com/content/using-wikis-in-the-classroom-a184656