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).
Fink., L.D., 2003, A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning
Lavin, R. et al, Engagement and Communication