#Blendkit2012 week 4: Blended Content & Assignments

The first part of the reading for Blendkit week 4 reminds me of something I was told as a first-year graduate student  T.A. ten years ago: I was in the middle of teaching my first ENG 101 class (Composition I) at the University of Kentucky and one of my office-mates, another new T.A., told me about an article she read, which was focused on student comfort levels in the classroom. According to my colleague, students appreciate consistency from their instructors–no surprise there–but that consistency even extends to the instructor’s appearance. If a teacher changes his or her appearance drastically in the middle of a semester, according to my office-mate’s reading selection, it can mess with the rhythm of the entire course. It’s all about getting a class into sync in as many ways as possible–to create community, to collect and distribute information, to facilitate learning.

For the record, this same colleague cut off her long hair in favor of a pixie cut in the middle of the next semester. I never heard how her classes coped with the change.

I connected to the reading this week in other ways, too, most notably to the discussion of potential tools I might use to engage students online in different modalities. I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but I’ve been struggling with the way I structure class sessions lately. I feel like I’ve veered too far into Lecture-land (the anti-Disney World, as it were), when I’ve always prided myself on having a student-centered classroom. As Dr. Trista Merrill pointed out in the webinar this afternoon, sometimes lecture is necessary, but I really need to get back to the flipped classroom model I developed as a Ph.D. student at Miami U. Dr. Merrill also advocated the value of flexibility in her approach to blended courses in order to help students see the connection between the online and face-to-face components of her courses, which I appreciate and want to remember when I find myself listing back to Lecture-land.

Back to the reading, though: as I started to mention in the previous paragraph, I appreciated the short discussion of potential technologies to use in blended courses to convey information. I deal quite a bit with digital composing options in my composition courses, and I encourage students to create alternative texts rather than conventional essays in a few assignments. With that in mind, and as a way to keep me from returning to Lecture-land, I need to model to my students how these different technologies might be used. If I use alternative methods of delivering information to students, then they might also see the value in experimenting with these technologies for their own projects. What’s more, if things don’t go according to plan when I use the technologies (do they ever?), it also demonstrates for students the value of flexibility and having a plan B when working in a digital environment. Things rarely go according to plan, and students need to understand this, especially when it comes to dealing with technology. They have to learn flexibility and patience, and they need to be willing to take risks in a friendly learning environment in order to become more familiar with various technological options. In a way, I see these kinds of multimedia experiences/projects as a combination of the  “productive” and “experiential” learning activities described in the reading. When it comes to a composition class, at least, I think that these two learning activities can overlap in productive ways that allow for student engagement and reflection, with a particular focus on the ways in which what they’re learning/doing in my classes actually can be applied to other classes or (*gasp*) maybe even real-world situations.

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