I am participating in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) out of the University of Central Florida for the next 5 weeks: the course is Blendkit2012, and the focus is blended learning. (This is actually the second MOOC I’ve participated in, the first being a “Power Searching With Google” course I completed this past summer). I’m participating due to my interest in computers and composition, but I’m also acting as a representative for my department (Language & Literature) and college (Arts & Sciences) from a regional university in a rural part of western Oklahoma (Southwestern Oklahoma State University, or SWOSU for short). My dean strongly encouraged department chairs within our unit to publicize the course to faculty, due in part to a university-wide push to develop more online and hybrid course options for students, and I decided to jump on the opportunity (it’s what good tenure-track faculty members do, right? ;-)).
So what is blended learning, exactly? That’s the focus of the course readings for this week. At its most basic, a blended/hybrid course combines online instruction with face-to-face meeting time. The key here, in my estimation, is that the online component replaces some face-to-face time, rather than serving as an extra resource outside of class. I point this out for my own benefit: I have long relied on digital technologies to supplement the course and act as resources for and communication tools with students (blogs, wikis, tools available in whatever LMS I have access to…). I have yet to teach a course that relies on online tools to replace some components of a more traditional face-to-face scenario. And despite my interest in and willingness to use digital technologies in my classes, I’m a little scared.
I’m in the field of rhetoric and composition, and I teach writing (in many different forms). It’s what I do, and I love it. I’ve been interested in the intersections between writing courses and online spaces since 2006 or so, when it was introduced to me as a young PhD student at Miami University (Ohio) by Heidi McKee. That being said, a large part of how I teach relies on individual conferences with students (something influenced by another research interest–Writing Centers), and lots of face-to-face interaction. Writing is intensely personal; even when the topic being written about is not personal to the student (like, say, a research-based essay over alternative energy sources), the act of writing makes the written product feel much closer to the student. Because of this, I must develop relationships with students: they trust that I know what I’m talking about and that I have their best interest in mind as writers, and I trust that they are capable of deciding whether or not to take the advice/suggestions/guidance I offer. It’s an ongoing process every semester, and I know that I cannot (have not) developed that relationship with every student. But I still make an effort. And now I must take into account the ways in which this development will change with more online interaction replacing (maybe enhancing is a better word?) the f2f moments of communication.
And this leads to one of the “questions to ponder” from the reading this week: Is it most helpful to think of blended learning as an online enhancement to a face-to-face learning environment, a face-to-face enhancement to an online learning environment, or as something else entirely? I’m not quite sure yet, though I’m leaning toward option 3–something else entirely. I think that the face-to-face and online components can serve to enhance one another, which makes for a more symbiotic relationship in the course. Each part must have equal weight (even if the meeting time percentages aren’t equal) and be taken seriously in equal measure by both students and instructors. But I’m still working this one out…and it strikes me that I might have just created my own slogan/way of thinking of Blendkit: I’m working this one out.
Let’s see what happens next.