To blend, or not to blend… Introducing blended learning to undergraduate students – Antonio Calderon

Particularly intense way in the last decade, we (as academics) are being overwhelmed by a digital tsunami, advancing steadily and bringing technology into our daily work, because it is considered a natural amplifier of the educational experience of our students (the 21st century professionals). Some evidences of this big wave are the Report by the High Level Group on the Modernisation of Higher Education or the one by the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. These official documents, and many others, are built on a common belief that using technology will advance the science of pedagogy, and will enhance the quality of teaching and learning.

So, do we assume that our students (millennials) learn and are more engage with a pedagogically sound use of emerging digital technologies (i.e. using Twitter chats for online discussion or Pinterest to create a thematic board) than with a pedagogically sound use of other traditional and face to face strategies (i.e. in-class debates or a PowerPoint lecture)? You probably have an answer to this question and so do I … it depends! But surely, within the complexity of every teaching environment, we are teaching students who would prefer to express their ideas through Twitter or other social networking sites, and that it will enhance their learning and engagement, and we are teaching others who would prefer face to face interaction. I do believe it is our responsibility as academics and teacher educators to plan and deliver the best learning experience and be the best teacher than we can be, by serving all students and meeting their unique needs (using technology or not).

One of my favourite instructional strategies that has been successful in terms of student motivation and engagement is ’Blended learning’ (Drysdale, et al., 2013). Blending incorporates traditional face-to-face instruction with the affordances of online tools. This academic year I have had two meaningful but different teaching experiences. One using a blended learning approach (tech-approach) and one using a more traditional one (non-tech approach). I will briefly outline both.

In #CoolPE, the blended instructional setting was designed according to the students’ technology background and interests. It included a mix of online tasks: (1) Clip of the week: Every class started with a YouTube video in which a young person is vlogging about a controversial topic on physical education (PE); (2) Highlights of the lecture: A summary of the ‘lessons learned’ in the lecture was shared through the class Slack channel using visually sound slides (created with Haiku Deck ), and (3) The happy hour: Once a week students had an hour to raise any concerns with the assignment and discuss the weekly topic using the class Slack channel too. The blended approach also included face-to-face tasks: (1) Team reflection: After the ‘clip of the week’, teams reflected around the ideas emerging from the video, and (2) Article of the week: This reading alluded to a theoretical framework about the clip topic. The student teams answered and debated different questions that were projected onto the class screen. This blended instructional approach was an effective opportunity for most of the students to be engaged in the module, learn the contents and recognize the benefits of moving away from the traditional teacher-directed instruction and moving towards a more holistic approach to learning and engagement in a higher education (and teacher education) setting. As one of the students reported in her blog: “overall I have found this approach to be very beneficial to me and I will take what I have learned and it applies it to my teaching and learning strategies in the future”.

In the second experience, the students were involved in using in-class debates (non-tech approach). Teams of three students chose from a list of topics relevant to the module and affirmed or opposed the negotiated proposition. Both teams had to research and present their arguments on the topic, and to accept or reject rebuttals from the other side’s arguments through different arguments in support of their points of view. As a consequence, and after the analysis of the students’ voices, many participants spoke favourably of the in-class debates and showed an increasing and deeper engagement with the module topics. Overall, most of the students found the value of this approach to improve their critical thinking, and the potential for learning and engagement. As one student reported: “it encourages us to research into our profession. Makes us challenge the norms and stand behind our own beliefs and values”.

The take away from these two meaningful experiences is quite simple: face-to-face teaching and digital technology can (and I would say have to) work together, and both the tech and the non-tech approach had an impact on the students’ learning and engagement at different levels. It is important to find the balance, and blended learning is a challenging pedagogical approach that can be successful. Nevertheless, we should highlight the idea of Selwyn (2017): “making sense of technology in education is not simply a matter of working through issues of ‘effectiveness’ or ‘best practice’. Clearly we need to challenge all of the dominants assumptions in this area – if only to be better informed on what exactly might be beneficial aspects of technology (and, it follows, what might not be)”. After all, as academics and teacher educators we have to plan and deliver the best learning experience and be the best teacher than we can be by serving all the students and meeting their unique needs (blending more or blending less).

For Further Information:

  • View a short video on blended learning in higher education here

Antonio Calderon is a Lecturer in Sport Pedagogy for the PESS Department, view his profile here

Antonio’s Email Address:

Antonio’s Twitter: @acalderon_pe

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