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

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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)

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