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.
I was having this conversation with a composition professor yesterday. She was trying to decide where the line was between web enhancing her course (which she has done for ages), and blended learning. We settled on a simplistic answer – if as she has done for ages, she uses lots of digital tools but continues to meet with the students face-to-face for the majority of hours, then her course is web enhanced. If, as she is now considering, she reduces face-to-face hours, it moves into blended. The rub is that for good pedagogical reasons, she wants to meet face-to-face for the first few weeks, then cut back the hours mid course, but go back to meeting face-to-face for the last two weeks. That makes sense for learning, but it drives room schedulers crazy.
Yeah, I’m sure my university would not be happy if I moved to the meet–don’t meet–meet again model, though I love the concept. I also like to make decisions with the class as we go along regarding schedules and how we use class time, which could also affect meeting patterns in a blended course (and I think that’s a good thing). So much to consider. Thanks for the comment!
I would love to be in one of your classes. Your ideas just flow so effortlessly and I tend to hang on each line. Blended is reasonable but as you pointed out, can not overwhelm face-to-face as writing is such a personal experience and as an educator, I think, you are so much more able to feel the students position.
Aww, shucks. I think you’re required to say that. 🙂
Not at all. Ask Trey, lol.
I don’t think you went off topic, but actually added some additional ideas. I’m thinking specifically about the very personal connection of writing and the writer. I never really thought about that until recently and then again now as I write my own blog. I think there can be multiple ways for you to continue to develop connections with your students in a blended environment that could be more meaningful for the students; even the ones that you may not have to opportunity to connect with in a f2f environment. There are so many ways to connect in this environment. Just my two cents. I’m sure there will be much more to consider as we continue with #Blendkit2012.
I think you’re right; I’m looking forward to seeing how my ideas (and other people’s ideas) evolve during this course.