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Friday, March 4, 2016

BlendKit 2016 Week 2 Reading Response

  • Is there value in student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction in all courses regardless of discipline?
  • 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?
These are the two questions I am going to focus on, as they are relevant to my context.
The text refers to university courses, and suggests that blended learning is ideal for this age group, but this is different to my own teaching scenario. I teach young learners (primary and secondary) and as I mentioned in yesterday's post, I will be referring to individual learners or small groups of adult learners for the purposes of this course. The type of learner who usually wants one-to-one lessons are usually in their 30s or older, and therefore have different interests and preferences to 18-22 year olds. They often have little time to spend on English outside of face-to-face lessons, but I want to encourage a blended learning approach, even if online time is limited, in order to help them reach their goals.
The first question is difficult for me to answer, as someone who studied and teaches languages. Of course, interaction is an essential part of language learning, whether this is student-to-student or student-to-instructor. However, I can't really offer an educated opinion for other disciplines. Using my own experience of online courses, I would say that some interaction is necessary. I have taken part in an online course for professional development (a paid course) as well as acting as a moderator for free online short courses for the Electronic Village Online. In both of these, interaction with tutors and other participants have always been an essential part of the course, even though this may not have influenced graded assignments. I once started a course (as a participant) in app design which had no interaction apart from a forum where questions could be asked and answered. Partly because of the level of the course (it was advertised as "no previous knowledge required" but this wasn't true) and partly because interaction with the tutor was very difficult, I dropped out.

Let me use my experiences with online learning to dicuss how far tutor guidance should go. With our EVO courses, we set up a series of daily and weekly tasks for participants to complete. Participants did not need to complete all the tasks in order to get a certfiicate, although most of them did try to do most of the tasks. Motivation is key in how much guidance is needed. But motivation is influenced by other constraints such as time. People who are short of time may not complete tasks that are not guided by a tutor or part of an evaluation. 

As for learner directed learning, the quote “how will the learners know what they need to know?” is a common one. I think this depends on the approach of the course. If, as tutors, we take more of a coaching role (see Daniel Barber and Duncan Foord's book From English Teacher to Learner Coach) we can help learners discover what their needs are, as well as providing them with a set of sources from which to find relevant information for these, e.g. a list of websites and tools.

The article mentions two things that I think are particiularly relevant to adult language learners.  
1) Encouraging learners to discuss the syllabus and possibly create a negotiated syllabus
2) Having an online space for students to get to know each other, socialise and reflect on their learning and the course.
Both of these have been important in the courses I have participated in and moderated.
A key word from this section of the article, for me, is community. Just as you often get in a face-to-face class, a sense of community almong learners is a key aspect of an online course. In a blended course you get both of these - students get to talk to each other and socialise in the F2F sessions, but this can also be continued in the asynchronous chats, forums, blogs and so on which may make up the online part of the course.

As all my teaching experience has been face-to-face, and most of my recent professional development has been online, it might be hard for me to combine the two for teaching. Of course, if I am planning a programme for individual learners, there won't be much online interaction, except with the tutor (me). However, blended learning may help my job as a learner coach rather than an English teacher, and I think the best approach would be to include aspects of the four models outlined in the article: Atelier learning, network administratror, concierge and curator. 
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