Even though this has been a particularly busy week, I have been trying to keep up with my “classes.” I’m currently VERY far behind in my Google Power Searching class, but for the most part I’ve stayed up to date with #blendkit2012. The focus this week is on “blending interactions” between instructors and students that are authentic and instructionally effective. The readings for this week focus on the theory and research that informs the design and pedagogy of our ICT infused learning environments. I must say that the readings have caused me to be introspective about not my design, but how I interact with students using online tools.
When providing PD, running workshops, or teaching classes, I’m a believer that more is more in terms of providing materials and resources to teachers and students. I have built up a “digital sandbox” that I’ve used over the years to provide 24/7 support for self-directed learners. I also build up the online Wikispace/Moodle/Google Site/etc. with all of the screencasts, text, and images a teacher/student may need. Typically I’ll walk learners through these materials in a session or classroom, and provide opportunities for them to utilize them during our F2F time together. What I have always questioned is how I work with students as they use the materials online. I have two examples of this type of interaction/inaction.
In teaching class at UNH, I will many times use a threaded discussion. In this scenario, I have students act as the Discussion Director (DD), and develop a topic, and lead the online class discussion for the week. My rationale is that I am working with pre-service teachers, and they need to learn some of the subtleties of running an online discussion. I also stay out of the online discussions. I believe that if I get involved, it undermines the role of the DD, and students in the class will just “agree” with me…or “disagree” just to prove a point. So, for the most part I stay out.
In working as a consultant many times I will use a Moodle to provide training and support for learners on their time. One of these instances is using a Moodle for CTHSS to empower teachers to use Moodle in their classrooms. Previously, my colleague and I walked learners through each nuance of how to add a discussion thread (now do it), how to add a text page (now do it), how to embed a video (now do it)…until the course was finished. We found through trial and error that this was a horrible mess. We’ve had much more success showing an overview of the theory and perspectives involved in use of online and blended learning environments, while getting them excited about what they could do. We wrap up by providing them with a classroom, and all of the support materials a young Moodler could want. In the end learners (not all) dive in and create (somewhat) successful online classrooms.
My thinking constantly (hopefully) evolves over the interactions I schedule with learners in blended learning environments. I try to provide scaffolding for learners, but not interfere with their own learning and expression. Learners do bear a responsibility to get involved and take advantage of the affordances of blended and online information…this is something I learned during my dissertation. I have worried about, or at least tried to provide learners with more hands-on, guided support. This would include working as the expert, even in online discussions. That being said, I constantly come back to allowing students to construct their own learning and classroom during our time together. I think they learn a great deal about working with, and in blended learning environments given the cognitive dissonance that occurs while trying to work and learn.