Quality Assurance in Blended Courses – BlendKit2014

 

Once a course is designed and implemented, there is a need to ensure it meets a criteria of quality. But where to find this criteria? And will every check-list make sense for every blended course?

Despite the need for quality assurance, the answer is no, not all criteria can be easily applied to every blended course. Nevertheless, I think that by starting with best practices will definitely help towards ensuring a course’s quality. For instance, I tend to perceive authentic learning tasks as a corner stone to online learning (as well as to any kind of learning context).

Another element which is essential for online courses, is a space for community building. Nevertheless, the question still remains – who determines the quality, value of the course and how?

There may be matrixes and course standards to follow, but in the end, it will be the students who feel whether they have learnt something or not. In other words, it is whether course participants perceive the value and quality of what they have learnt and how the course was processed. A key element in blended courses is how the F2F context and online context is connected – as this will certainly be a major item of evaluation.

Course assessments are never easy, especially when an instructor can spend so much time and effort in setting up a well thought of course. One approach to ensuring quality of a course is to ensure that quality rubrics are aligned to learning outcomes. Much like other teaching contexts, quality rubrics should be clearly linked to the learning objectives that students need to achieve and in turn, these need to be shown to students. In other words, students need to be told what the learning objectives are and what and how they need to do in order to achieve them. This last aspect ties in well with what BlendKit’s chapter on quality assurance points out, namely that if quality assurance relies only on rubrics which don’t take into account the “lived in experience of students and teachers”, and their interactions in the teaching/learning process, then there is something definitely missing.

Besides weekly benchmarking for instructors on how a course is proceeding, regular feedback from students, whether in form of a survey, a journal prompt, student-reflection or even a simple sentence, are activities which help in maintaining course quality.

References:

BlendKit Chapter 5 – Quality Assurance in Blended Learning

Ragan, L., 2007, Best Practices in Online Teaching

Wilcoxon, K., 2011, Building an Online Learning Community

Types of Assignments for Blended Learning – BlendKit2014

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 One of the challenges of BlendKit2014, was to take time and consider what types of assignments and tasks could be integrated in a F2F context and which would be online. Between the two contexts, there should be some form of integration – neither should only be a supplement of the other, but rather function smoothly integrated. Therefore, there needs to be learning activities which may be carried out online, as well as activities in the F2F context.

Condie & Livingston (2007) observe how with digital technology, there has been a shift of focus from teachers teaching to students learning, and how learners today are creators of their own knowledge. In other words, with the wide variety of digital tools available, it is possible for assignments which reflect learning to be created online and equally submitted online. With this shift, it also means that learners need to be more autonomous in their learning. Nevertheless, as in all learning contexts, I think there needs to be clear guidance as to the nature of tasks, how they should be done, and what the expected learning outcomes should be.

One key to successful approach to integration is what Sands, (2002) refers to as “interactivity rather than delivery”, highlighting how,

“While information-transfer may be more effective online, simply putting materials up on the web will not guarantee that students engage with and learn from them. For that, you need activities that require students to perform basic academic tasks, such as summary and analysis, and that place them in conversation with each other, such as through responses to each others’ summaries and analyses. For every student who says in my course evaluations that they enjoyed or learned from lectures, there are scores who report higher engagement because of interactions with each other as well as the teacher.”

Aycock et al (2002) also stress the need to place pedagogy before technology when designing blended courses, explaining how merely transferring course content onto the web will not provide a satisfactory learning experience. In fact, in my view, it is the social nature of learning which will enhance the learning experience, particularly in regard to online tasks. Lynch et al (2009) point out how many faculty members found that “online discussions result in more and better interaction compared to face-to-face courses. In contrast, undergraduate faculty found online courses as having decreased interaction and quality of interaction compared to face-to-face courses. “

 Singh, (2003)  suggests different kinds of activities as exemplified in the table below:

This example was from 2003; every year there appears more and different kinds of digital tools which online learners can use, and these changes may aid further learners’ creation of assignments. For example, conference calls can be easily put into practice today with Google Hangouts – both between the teacher and students as well as among students.

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One important aspect, which I think cannot be understated, is the need that learners are aware that it is expected that they become self-regulated learners, and are able to demonstrate a degree of learning maturity. By having a space on the course where interaction among participants can flow both freely and in a structured form (i.e. related to the specific task and topic), this would greatly help the sense of isolation that may occur when studying online. It also gives learners who tend to be quieter in a F2F context, an opening for them to connect and interact with others.

Other tasks could include debates, fishbowl activities (i.e when learners are assigned into separate groups and have to work cooperatively), case-studies and digital storytelling as well as group projects. These are all learning activities which can then be continued and integrated  in the F2F context.

 

References:

Aycock, A., Carla Garnham, Robert Kaleta, 2002, Lessons Learned from the Hybrid Course Project

BendKit Reader – Chapter 4 

Condie, R. and Kay Livingston, 2007, Blending online learning with traditional approaches: changing practices,British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 38 No 2 2

Lynch, D., G. Kearsley, K. Thompson, 2009, Faculty Use of Asynchronous Discussions in Online Learning

Sands, P., 2002, Inside Outside, Upside Downside – Strategies for Connecting Online and Face-to-Face Instruction in Hybrid Courses

Singh, H., 2003,  Building Effective Blended Learning Programs, Educational Technology, Vol 43, No 6

Wegmann, S. , K. Thompson, 2014,  SCOPe-ing Out Interactions in Blended Environments, in Research Perspectives in Blended Learning: Research Perspectives, Volume 2 (preview of book)

Blending Assessment – BlendKit2014

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Blended courses need to consider not only what kind of assessment will take place, but also how much assessment will be online and how much will be in a F2F context. In other words, will there be a balance between the two contexts or will one weigh more heavily than the other and if so, which assessment tasks will bear more weight?

Depending on the course subject and the time dedicated to both teaching contexts (i.e. online and F2F), assessment tasks may include  multiple choice, essay type assignments, in-class discussions and presentations as well as a reflection log. I think it is important to also have a balanced assessment plan with both F2F assessment (which may hopefully avoid online cheating issues) but also assignments with the use of technology, thus making good use of students already using digital technology to access the course. An example could be creating a video or other multi-media products and then uploading to the student’s or class blog, or if being used, the course LMS.

As in courses held F2F, there should also be an inclusion of formal and informal assessment. If, on the one hand, formal assessment gives both the instructor and students, feedback on their progress in terms of mastering content (e.g. a mid-term or final exam), informal assessment gives students the chance for them to test their own knowledge.

Equally important is how the assessment tasks will be evaluated. Once established what the students need to be assessed on and how (i.e. online or in the F2F context), and after the assessment tool and task has been designed, then it is time to consider the assessment criteria, in terms of how the student met the learning outcomes. Both quantitative and qualitative rubrics may be considered and these should be available to students before the assessments, very much like in other courses, whether F2F or online.

References:

10 Examples of Question Improvement – Centre for Distributed Learning, UCF

Blended Learning ToolKit

Rubric for Online Instruction

Teaching Online – Effective Online Assessment, UCF

 

Blended Interactions – BlendKit2014

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One main questions which called my attention during the 2nd week of BlendKit2014 was,

Is there value in student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction in all courses regardless of discipline?

I think that there always needs to be some form of interaction among students as well as between students and instructor. Just because part of the course happens to take place online, does not mean (to me) that the instructor “disappears”, letting attached content and required readings take his/her place.  The challenge is to find an appropriate balance in the scaffolding – too much, the instructor may become a “helicopter teacher”, preventing learners to explore on their own. On the other hand, too little may leave even the most motivated student feel lost/disengaged within a course.

Whether a course is wholly based on distance learning or whether it is blended, it should have the following:

* Clear instructions and expectations

* Supporting reference materials

* A suggestion of tools which enable synchronous conferencing/communication

* A project/s in which participants contribute to

It is in the last area, which contributes to community building among participants, that a great part of the interaction may occur. It is also where the interaction among learners, instructor and content may take place. In other words, it is in the building of a learning community where there is interaction among participants that learning may take place. Rather than focusing on the technology (i.e. be it a moodle or wiki or blog), there needs to be a space where ideas and discussions may engage and connect the participants on a course. Learning is the focus and purpose – not the technology. However, the choice of technology should be user-friendly for students, especially those who are beginning to learn online, whether on a blended or full-time distance course. Hence, clear instructions, not only for tasks and expectations, but also on how to use the technology should be provided.

Some projects may be individual or designed for pairs/small groups.

For individual tasks, students should be encouraged to give feedback, and adding what they think would further enrich the task; peer evaluation should be encouraged.

Fink, (2003) points out how  active learning through debates, simulations, guided design, small group problem solving,
case studies, help to involve the learner.  Active learning also includes reflection and dialogue, the space where learners, instructor and content meet; i.e. the learning community which is enabled with technology, is where these learning reflections and dialogue take place. 

Lastly, blended also includes a blend of learning spaces;  there should be spaces which are private for learning and students’ communities (just as off-line) and public spaces, where informal learning takes place.  Below is an example of the varied environments may occur (Milne).

However, it is important to bear in mind that as so much keeps changing in the online world,  virtual spaces  too will change depending on participants’ choices, course objectives and how participants wish to build their learning community (i.e. references in the image below may not be so popular today as there are other virtual spaces to communicate and create communities).

References:

Fink., L.D., 2003, A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning

Lavin, R. et al, Engagement and Communication 

MIlne, A., Designing Blended Learning Space to the Student Experience

Initial Thoughts on Blended Learning – BlendKit2014

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Online education may be an umbrella term for  different learning formats and blended learning is one of them. Being interested in online and distance education, I signed up to  BlendedKit 2014 MOOC, so that I could learn  more about course design and characteristics of what makes a blended learning course successful.

Two main questions to take into consideration are:

1- Which course components will take place online and which F2F (e.g. what is best for F2F and what may be better in discussions groups), and how the course tutor will manage the relation between the two modalities;

2 – How often will students meet F2F?

 Blended learning (also referred to as hybrid, or mixed), are courses where  learning takes both online and F2F, with the fundamental question being, of how much of the course will take place online and how much F2F. Because blended learning may be understood to have 30% to 70% of the course taking place online, this has implications for course design and delivery, as well as assessment. On the other hand, McGee & Reis (2012) argue that it is not the time in either setting which defines blended learning, but rather “Blended course designs involve instructor and learners working together in mixed delivery modes, typically face-to-face and technology mediated, to accomplish learning outcomes that are pedagogically supported through assignments, activities, and assessments as appropriate for a given mode and which bridge course environments in a manner meaningful to the learner.”

Blended learning courses may also follow different models as shown in the diagram below:

(Blended Learning Definitions and Models)

A key focus for any blended course will be on designing course activities, assignments and assessments and how they will be bridged online and F2F. Also highlighted in this initial chapter is the role of the teacher/course tutor – will be it one of directing or facilitating learning? The learner’s role is equally relevant as online learning tends to require a more self-directed learning approach and being able to collaborate with other learners.

Carman (2005) points out 5 main elements which should be incorporated into blended courses: Live events, Online Content, Collaboration, Assessment and Reference Materials. Currently, I am quite interested in the different aspects of online community building and think that the space for collaboration and building a learning community is of major importance for both distance and blended learning courses. As in online distance learning, I think that it is the collaboration space which will add the necessary  transformation approach  to online learning, in the sense that it is by contributing, sharing, and learning collaboratively, that knowledge is distributed and main sense of.

Setting course objectives will definitely help towards the design of the course, the principle being what is better for F2F contexts and what works better online. If this is not addressed, both the course tutor and learners may find themselves overwhelmed with tasks and assignments. Course design plays a significant role, with Instructional Design being understood as “a system or process of organising learning resources to ensure learners achieve established learning outcomes. As such, it is essentially a framework for learning. From a designers perspective, various models can be followed in the instructional design process. It is important to note that, at best, a model is a representation of actual occurrences and, as such, should be utilized only to the extent that it is manageable for the particular situation or task. Put another way, perhaps one model is more effective for designing a math course, and another model is more effective for designing soft skill courses (like managing people, customer service, etc.” (Siemens, 2002)

With all the changes happening in education, blended learning makes a lot of sense for both institutions and students. However, as in other contexts, the emphasis is on the learning and not on the technology, with course design playing a key role in the success of a blended course.

References:

Blended Learning – Definitions and Models

Carman, J., 2005, Blended Learning Design: Five Key Ingredients

Instructional Design Models

McGee, P. & A. Reis, 2012, Blended Course Design: A Synthesis of Best Practices

Siemens, G., 2002, Instructional Design in Elearning

Siemens, G., 2004, Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age

Transformative Bytes

Never have educators had so many choices for professional development as today. Never have educators had so many choices of networks and professional communities to join and participate in. And yet…

There are those who still fear the internet and its power to erode local cultural morals. There are those who still add further brick walls to their already existing technical constraints in classrooms by burying any possible digital engagement under dull carpets of excuses.

Culture is not something static, neat and tidy that one keeps in a locked up box. Culture is alive, transformative in its nature of being alive and adapting to change. Clinging to the notion of culture as static, is denying what culture really is about. Defining culture today also implies reflecting on the global impact of globalisation – this is not only the “eroding” of local cultures, but adaptation and development. Whether one agrees of not, it will not stop as younger generations grow up in a post-Google world. And yes, there are dark, dangerous places online. Just as there are dark, dirty channels on satelite TV – yet, even in the most conservative of societies, these eyesores are a constant fixture on the housing landscape. Perhaps, precisely because of these dark spaces, it is worth integrating digital practices in classrooms, teaching learners how to keep safe, how to develop a positive digital footprint and how no, whatever they post online will not go away. Ever. Being a responsible educator today also means to guide students’ online profile.

Digital technology alone will not transform education. Referring to Excel sheets and teaching how to use PowerPoint is also not what I would refer to as ICT. Using an iBook as one would use a traditional course-book, is another fallacy which is easy to fall into.

Additionally, no imposed professionally training will actually make teachers become more receptive to implementing change in their classrooms. The will has to come from understanding the possibilities of engagement which digital technologies offer to learners and teachers alike. This will to learn, to adapt to today’s world, to today’s educational possibilities,  is the individual teacher’s responsibility. This shift of values has to occur from within. Whether it is focusing on digital citizenship, cyber-bullying, using a digital platform to create a movie,  or even how to find the best work-flow when using iPads in classrooms, individuals need to find a need, which will lead them to learning. Only then will educators really understand how digital technologies may bring about classroom engagement and educational value today.

Transformation will come about. Whether in small bytes by individuals driving change or even by students themselves, though in my experience, if a teacher is open to using digital tools/platforms in a classroom, students will more readily add their preferences as well.

Informal learning is becoming increasingly common practice. Whether through Social Media or other sources (e.g. online communities, MOOCs, open courses etc), worlds of learning are available to all. And yes, even in conservative societies, students are aware of these platforms. All it takes is the will power to guide learners how to take advantage of all this possibilities for their own learning. And no. Learning will not end nor will we be able to say “I know everything now!”. The speed of change is too great for such self-deluding discourse.

There are no miracles in the process of change.

There are individuals who engage, who seek learning. Learning comes from practice, from failing and not fearing to try again.

Transforming education was never a simple task. Education depends on individuals and not merely on communities and networks who are interested in change.

Most critically, students depend on education to prepare them for the changes that lie ahead of them.

How can educators ignore that change is indeed an essential part of education?

References:

Asfar, V. 2013, Our Educational Leaders Must Get Aggressive with Technology

Chad, E., 2013, Technology is not a Magic Bullet

The Question of When

In a thought provoking post, George Couros raises the question of “What if…?” – timely questions for all educators and educational managers. My question is when?

When will educators make the effort to be fearless?

When will educators make the effort to connect with others without judgement but sharing resources, ideas, visions, trials, errors and successes?

When will educators accept that today’s learners do have digital lives, even if they may not be familiar with how to use digital technology for learning and so need to learn how to make the best use of digital tech for their academic lives and futures unknown?

When will educators, who often have digital resources at the tips of their fingers, be brave enough to accept that making mistakes, asking for help, failing, is all part of learning and that they too are learners?

When will educators realize that it is through networks and connections that ideas thrive, and new forms of knowledge may develop?

caras-7When will educators acknowledge that their world is open, if only they let it be and that professional development/training is an on-going conversation and not an end in itself?

When will educators accept that without their passion, without their individual efforts, without their positive, constructive action towards change, not much may make a difference in their practices?

However, change WILL happen. With, or without them.

Change is challenging, change may even be painful. But life IS all about change. Holding on to educational paradigms which were designed for the Industrial Age will simply no longer work. Classrooms of disengaged learners, longing to get back online, where there is interaction and engagement, is heart wrenching for all involved in classrooms. Bringing the world of digital spaces and digital learning  to the world of learning is necessary.

A change of perspective is urgent. And the first step is for teachers themselves to get involved. Regardless of how many training sessions teachers must attend, if they are not involved in connecting, in participating in a networked world, if they are not active in the giving and sharing, then many of those training sessions will have little positive outcomes. I am not making a case that Social Media is the only way to learn – by no means. I am making the case that yes, participating in Social Media is one way for teachers to keep themselves updated and involved in the process of changeS that are happening all around.

Learning is not about leading.

Learning is about the will to participate, the will to negotiate meaning, the will to implement the necessary changes for one’s changing context. Learning how to make sense of one’s changing, global, networked world requires elements of fearlessness.

 

When… ?

the connection - Seth Godin

Further references:

Bryant, P., 2013, The Logical Impossibility of Status Quo: Six Disconnects that Demand a Digital Pedagogy

Couros, G., 2013, What if… ? 

Downes, S., 2008, Seven Habits of Highly Connected People

Downes, S. 2013, Strive Less, Share More