In a post last week, I discussed starting UCF‘s MOOC on blended learning. In the first week, we looked at what our blend might be. This week, the focus is on how and when students will interact, with each other and with the instructor.
There are some things I like about this course and things that I do not. Before starting, let me first say that I commend Kelvin Thompson and his team for providing this free course and providing avenues for discussion about blended learning. My discomforts are not directed at them at all, but rather at my own questioning as to the evolution/revolution occurring online in higher education.
While taking this course, I am reading Steven Johnson‘s (2010) Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. Johnson argues that innovations do not simply emerge as sparks of brilliance, but rather percolate in the environment, building on lots of possibilities before emerging – sometimes in multiple ways. Johnson noted that we are often better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them, so the concept of an open course seems in line with this concept. I was therefore expecting a lot of innovation in this MOOC (or any MOOC), but what I have been finding instead is a nice packaging of traditional online options. I guess I should not be surprised…but I was. The BlendKit2012 course consists of:
- text heavy web pages
- short synchronous “lectures” with little interaction
- asynchronous individual tasks with Word templates
- online discussion boards
- Twitter / Hootcourse commentary
- blog journaling and commentary
In other words, a course precisely like many I have built! The only difference is that this course has over a hundred active participants, whereas my courses tended to have less than forty. But my very comfort with this layout is uncomfortable!
Part of what I am wrestling with is the notion of an online course and how it is morphing. For seventeen years, I have taught online – and my passion for online teaching emerged precisely because I found a richness and value in the close connections I made (and make) with my online students. I got to know my students very well, and they me. Now it seems that higher education is embracing the concept of online courses with large numbers of students. Back in August, I blogged about Daphne Koller’s TED Talk. She discussed Coursera and the core concepts behind providing massive courses for free to the world. She suggested that the focus had shifted from teaching to learning – with computer automation allowing for individualized and customized democratic learning for each participant.
Maybe…or maybe the focus has shifted from learning to data collection and data mining. That is what the cynic in me says. It certainly is unclear what entities like Coursera, Udacity, edX, and even UCF are doing with the data they are collecting.
But back to BlendKit2012.
One of the things that I think Kelvin has nailed is his choice of questions to ponder each week. This week, the questions (and my thoughts) are:
- Is there value in student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction in all courses regardless of discipline?
- The quick answer for me is YES. I have used the Community of Inquiry model in my past classes, where there is interaction between the student and myself, fellow students, and content. Terry Anderson expands on this concept in his ebook Theory and Practice of Online Learning. The types of interactions may change, but the need for interactions is there no matter the discipline.
- What role does interaction play in courses in which the emphasis is on declarative knowledge (e.g., introductory “survey” courses at the lower-division undergraduate level) or, similarly, in courses that cultivate procedural knowledge (e.g., technical courses requiring the working of problem sets)?
- To me, what differs is the scaffolding needed within differing levels of courses. Lower level or introductory courses need more scaffolding. Even in BlendKit2012, it is obvious that different people are connecting in different ways. A tweet mentioned to me yesterday that he did not realize there was a Canvas LMS course site in addition to the BlendKit website. I was aware of it, but have chosen to devote my time to the blog commentary and not the discussion board commentary. As this course is designed, that is fine, but I could see how that might be confusing in introductory classes (or even this one):
- As you consider designing a blended learning course, what kinds of interactions can you envision occurring face-to-face, and how might you use the online environment for interactions? What opportunities are there for you to explore different instructional strategies in the blended course than you have in the past?
- A great question. My litmus test is to think about what I could do online that I could not do face-to-face, and what I could do face-to-face that I could not do online. With all the great digital tools now available, the line between these two is blurring. In my blended course this past summer, I was struck by how some of the adult students wanted synchronous opportunities for interaction even though we met half the time (and they self-organized on Google + Hangout to meet this desired need).
- What factors might limit the feasibility of robust interaction face-to-face or online?
- Technology is still a limiting factor. I was web conferencing with a colleague this morning, who lives in rural Virginia and has satellite download / phone upload for internet. The quality of the conference was less than optimal. Kelvin had us read excerpts from Education for a Digital World, which considers student expression in face-to-face, synchronous, and asynchronous environments. I like this aspect of student voice, a term my colleague Mary Secret discusses often.
Next week, we get into assessment in blended classes. I look forward to continuing this course, even as I question just what “course” means (at least in October 2012). I would be interested in your reactions … particularly if you are taking BlendKit2012.