Blended Learning

The middle of the week is too crazy to get much reading done (I teach 9 class hours between 1 PM Wednesday and 4 PM Thursday), so just to get a post in, let me pick up a book that was helpful to me from earlier in the fall. At our school, there has been a lot of discussion about the need to use technology and an emphasis on the need to create “blended” courses (courses which combine traditional and distance type learning). The effort has stalled for several reasons: 1) some faculty are not that technologically literate, 2) we’ve had some difficulty getting sufficient training and support [in conjunction with the next issue], 3) timetables to get them planned have not always been calibrated, and 4) just some inertia, more than likely.

In efforts to prepare if I needed to have a course ready for Spring (thankfully, delayed for this semester!), I took it upon myself to read a bit and worked my way through D. Randy Garrison’s and Norman Vaughan’s Blended Learning in Higher Education. It’s one of those books that is both encouraging and challenging. First some positives:

  1. It articulates a clear rationale for blended learning, placing it within a larger educational framework and philosophy
  2. It clearly describes the strengths and weaknesses of blended learning, and of each of the components of blended models (facetime and distance)
  3. It provides clear guidance on how to think about course design, with examples and illustrations

In other words, it convinced me that blended learning could be effective, if well-designed, and caused me to think about ways I could adapt some of my courses to take advantage of these models. But, as might already be obvious, these points raise the flip side – areas of concern:

  1. The need for sufficient support, both technically (equipment and software, training in their use, and probably staff to assist faculty so as to not overburden them with administrative stuff)
  2. Pedagogical concerns, in particular, the need to rethink and redesign courses (and providing the time and expert assistance to help professors think about the redesign process). Blended courses can be effective, I believe, but they need to be complete course redesigns. Preferably, as I’ve thought about it, probably in connection with curricular design questions and efforts (another insomniac memo I need to write sometime).

So, while I have a more positive perspective toward the idea of blended learning conceptually, I’m deeply concerned that implementation may end up failing to take advantage of the possibilities and end up producing poorly done courses which lose the advantage of traditional pedagogy (personal mentoring and discipleship, in the Christian context) and instead substitute the least effective elements of distance pedagogy.

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