When working towards a true “blended learning” environment, it is common to see more of a “split learning” approach with very little “blend”. It’s easy to segregate the different learning environments in your mind. It’s also easy to assign differing importance to each element according to the environment in which you are delivering them. You can end up observing some or all the following attitudes:
- online activities = optional extras for the keen students
- online = a repository of resources for the module
- online = optional; face to face sessions = mandatory
These may be subconscious attitudes, but they are certainly attitudes that can be observed in a lot of staff and students. The reality is, learning is learning whether online or in the classroom, and each environment contributes unique learning opportunities that the other doesn’t offer, or offers poorly. A key skill of the 21st century educator is to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of the learning environments available to them, and create the most effective and holistic learning experience that they can. This is true blended learning.
If this post we will present a 5 practical steps we have found helpful in removing the division between online and offline learning.
1) Get students active on your VLE in the first week of term
Start your term as you mean to go on. This sets the pace for you as well as your students. In the first week, setup a simple icebreaker activity for them on your VLE. This ensures they know their username and password and are able to find your course material. Show them on the projector how to find the activity and explain clearly what you expect them to do.
2) Use the online environment as regularly as offline
For each face to face session, extend it into the online environment. For example, most teaching sessions will involve an element of dialogue, but in large classes you only have a very small percentage of students participating. Why not take a discussion point from the lesson and post it to your VLE in a discussion forum? Tell your students you expect to see a contribution from each of them before the next session. If you use Moodle you can use the reports tool to send a reminder later in the week to all who are yet to take part.
3) Allow online activities to feedback into offline sessions
In each face to face session, get the online activity from the previous week up on the screen before the session starts. Thank those who participated, draw some conclusions from the discussion and if applicable, adapt your teaching to address any misunderstandings found in the discussion. Or skip parts that are shown to be clearly understood through the activity. This way students will quickly realising that their involvement on the online activities is customising their learning experience. Those who are not yet participating will be encouraged to do so.
4) Make your VLE the de facto place for communicating with your students outside of the classroom.
Encourage your students to ask any course related questions on an open discussion board. Try to get back to them as quickly as possible. Once students are in the habit of doing this, you won’t be answering each student individually, but all students at once. If you receive a duplicate question by email or discussion board, don’t reply again – send them a link to your original reply.
5) Keep it up!
At this point, most readers will probably be nodding in tacit agreement, but thinking “my students just won’t bother unless it’s earning them credits!”. The only answer here is to keep at it! Keep setting online activities each week, keep getting them up on the screen in class, keep referring back to activities on the VLE. Make it clear from your teaching that your VLE is their learning hub – your face to face sessions are spokes. This takes a culture change on your part as well as theirs, but it has to start with you!
Finally, don’t talk about the activities as if they are optional, talk about them as if they are mandatory. Followup with non-participants midweek (Moodle makes this very easy through the reports feature). If your course has credit given for class participation, see if it’s possible to extend that to online participation.
What tips have you got to help close this unintentional gap?