Principles of Blended Learning. Feedback from the Blended Learning Amazing Minds Event in Dubai.

This is the first of two entries posted to share the information and ideas discussed at this two day event.

 

Five Guiding Principles of Blended Learning by Christine Ozden President of Pearson for the Middle East, Africa and Caribbean.

  • Focus on the core needs of teachers and learners and not on technology trends.
  • Use technology to liberate the classroom.
  • Understand that teacher enthusiasm usually accompanies their level of competence, thus there is an onus to train, train and train
  • Complement the teacher rather than try to make the teacher add an extra touch to the technology.
  • Enrich student learning by informing teaching

How these guiding principles featured on the two day course.

Principle One: Focus on the core needs of teachers and learners and not on technology trends.

1.One core need of all end digital learners is being aware of internet safety issues.  Presenter Isil Boy  (http://isilboy.edublogs.org/)  emphasized the need to educate students  about the dangers of the Internet. She recommended that schools participate in Safer Internet Day on February 5th each year. See http://www.saferinternetday.org for information.  She suggested:

Young people using an avatar to protect their privacy.  See http://clayyourself.com and the many avatar creator apps.

Emphasizing the fact that once something is in cyber space, it is difficult or impossible to delete.

Checking the validity of a website using http://www.alexa.com

Tracking what is published on the Internet about you through http://www.google.com/goodtoknow/manage-data/me-on-the-web  .

2. Another core need of learners and teachers is that materials are produced following the principles of Instructional Design Theory, rather than having bells and whistles and whirling 3D objects just because it is now possible to have them with modern technology.  This comment should ring true with those readers who suffered death by PowerPoint and its entourage of animations in the early 90’s. Cognitive overload reduces learning opportunities as too much information is placed in the learners’ short term memory at once.  The same overload can occur in digital story telling etc. when a dense on-screen text is accompanied by audio narration and visuals. More information is available both on Isil’s blog: http://isilboy.edublogs.org and on her wiki: digitalstorycake.pbworks.com

3.Lessons or a series of lessons need to focus on learning goals and specific learner outcomes. There needs to be an end product.  This could be an iBook, a wiki, a blog, or collaborative pin board such as  http://en.linoit.com . The starting point needs to be the learning aim and possible learner outcomes. Looking for the e or m learning tools to actualize these, is the second step.  Language is pivotal to a successful language lesson. The process of communication and the use of critical thinking skills is equally as important, if not more important than a technologically generated finished product.

I myself worry that the glowing end products now produced in EFL and ESL classrooms may distract from the language learning. I fear that sometimes students are satisfied with a lower level of language expertise because of a sophisticated learner outcome, the likes of which they may not ever have produced before.

Principle Two: Complement the teacher with technology. The teacher can never be replaced by technology.

Technology and Learning Management Systems that are based on sound principles of instructional design, together with an effective teacher and willing students, leads to deeper learning. Technology on its own, will not educate future learners. Christine Ozden quoted Arthur C Clarke who said that any teacher who can be replaced by a machine, should be. I believe a teacher’s role is the make students think more deeply than they normally do, to question more and evaluate more.  Good teachers build rapport with students, who in turn work hard to please the teacher and to contribute to social learning networks. These groups are often fostered by teachers who set up collaborative competition in classrooms. The gaming element of a lot of digital software is often used to pit a student against their own performance and to encourage them to out-perform themselves, but if communication is a central target of an educational situation, this gaming element can be used even more effectively at the group to group interface.

 Principle Three: Use technology to liberate the classroom.

Pre and post lesson consolidation work can reinforce learning and automate knowledge and skills outside the classroom walls to such a degree that high surrender value activities can be done inside the classroom.  In other words, students can prepare for discussions, jigsaw readings, peer teaching and project work in their own time. They can learn vocabulary, complete automization exercises, research and prioritize content information in order to be able to use it productively in real time communicative in class.

The reverse is also true in that collaborative platforms such as wiki, Google Docs, Linoit , Wall Wisher, and Edmodo allow students to continue working towards shared outcomes beyond the classroom walls. For example, Skype homework conferences allow students to collaborate and share expertise, whilst physically miles apart.  Some teachers expressed concerns that such extensive sharing can lead to shallow learning on the part of some students, who allow others to do the work which they then copy paste in order to gain a mark. Isil Boy saw the dashboard/ moderation facilities of wikis as a key element in dissuading such surface learning as tracking systems record who does what, when and for how long, thus informing the teacher of each individuals contribution to the finished product.

Principle Four: Understand that teacher enthusiasm usually accompanies their level of competence, thus there is an onus to train, train and train.

Teacher resistance to using new technology was a repeated strand of the conference. The solution, it was suggested was to give teachers plenty of technology training sessions both before starting to teach with the innovation and after doing so for several weeks. It was also emphasized that it was advisable to start with the learning outcome and learning goal a technological innovation could help address. ( See Principle One above)

Sometimes resistance to change comes from the fact that moving out of our comfort zones and having to do things in new ways is time consuming. One major thing I am having to learn with m-learning is to be comfortable with knowing there are mounds of material, blogs, Apps and resources that I simply do not have enough time to look at.  Publishers, trainers and school administrators as curators of blended learning curriculums and pedagogy need to provide teachers with evaluative tools to help them decide what among the plethora of Apps and software is best for their specific teaching and learning situations.  Useful tools suggested during the conference are:

https://www.quixey.com   The search engine for Apps

http://www.schrockguide.net/bloomin-apps.html   A website that categorizes Apps according to Bloom’s taxonomy of critical thinking skills, assembled by Kathy Schrock

http://www.appitic.com A collection of Apps for education chosen by Apple Distinguished Educators

Principle Five: Enrich student learning by informing teaching

This can be done through personal learning networks, data from classrooms, and examples of good learning outcomes. There are now so many teachers who blog about their classroom experiences and share materials or information to facilitate the teaching of others. Likewise there are many websites from which teachers can download ready-made teaching material and lesson plans.

Enrich student learning.

Presenter Ibrahim Kawaja said that student learning could be aided by the flexible solutions that blended learning permits. He identified the three pillars of this flexible solution as:

The extension of learning time outside the classroom

Informed teaching

Rich learning

 Pillar One: The extension of learning time outside the classroom

M-learning is personalized and enables constant connectivity both to materials and learning communities. It is easier to keep to an extended rehearsal program of recycling language structures and  vocabulary one day after encountering it, three days later, one week later etc. when that material is accessible 24/7.

Pillar Two:  Informed teaching through a 1:1 tracking system.  

For example, Pearson’s English Grammar Lab Software provides users and their teachers with specific feedback on reoccurring errors, performance improvement over a series of instructional encounters etc. An error report informs teachers of the areas that need to be reviewed in class, meaning that time is not wasted in revisiting items students demonstrated proficiency in.

Pillar Three: Richer learning

Kawaja and Boy said that the multi-modal features of blended learning means that students have more choices. Choices of how many times to re-do an exercise until they get to the level of competence they are happy with, and choices between the skills and language they wish to focus on.

Students also learn digital literacies as well as a language. The semiotic decoding skills they acquire such as knowing that a + sign means open up a new file/page and that a box with an arrow protruding from it leads to another function, are very valuable 21st century skills in a readiness for work environment.

 

 

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