Face to face or online learning? The case for blended learning?

ABSTRACT: What is the picture of a student’s intellectual future? How is online learning transforming learners and the ways in which learner’s learn? There is no turning back, to the pre-internet world of learning and inquiry. Our minds are changing as we interact with the tools of learning, and as the structure of our brain changes, so do our thoughts and experiences.  What do we stand to lose by constant connectivity, instant and unlimited information? For a talent lost or diminished there will be another one that is gained. As educators continue to nurture student’s minds, they need to tread carefully and perhaps adopt the evolving ‘ Blended learning’ model of education, the combination of traditional bricks and mortar and online delivery. This presentation will cover the impact of the Internet and its tools on learners, the different approaches and models of Blended learning, how the IB is leaning towards a blended learning environment and practical insights into what makes it work

This session opened with a disturbing metaphor: ‘the internet the invading our world’.  It didn’t improve much when we then went into the ‘what is the internet doing to our brains’ and then showed a whole lot of pictures of young people texting. However, she twisted the narrative by then showing a picture of the conference from the day before; a whole lot of educators on their ipads and computers (and iPads are everywhere here)

Unfortunately, it was then back to neuroscientists and ‘What the internet is doing to our brains’ and the Nicholas Carr book, ‘The Shallows’. Our brains are changing apparently, being constantly rewired and neural pathways and synapses are working all the time. We used to call this ‘learning’ by the way.

This presentation argued that there is no turning back, but then went back to what we might lose by constant connectivity. So far, so negative. It was nice to see some of the participants questioning back: ‘how is this different from the way the brain is rewired when you learn French?’ Yuzzah. You go you. The session threatened to get feisty when one man said that the way he had to deal with 150 emails a day and didn’t read the same anymore, and that was because of this (gesturing at the screen with the word ‘internet’) And there was a bit of back and forth. Nice to see.

But then it was back to us losing the skills of ‘concentration, contemplation and reflection’. And (no irony at all) an argument that we should go back to the blackboard. I’m not joking.

We eventually got on to ‘blended learning’  – ‘a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, pace etc.’ For schools, surely this is the future I think; the mix of ‘brick and mortar’ and online learning model. She argued for a ‘self-blend’ model for IB where students take an online course in their regular school schedule and students work with a site based coordinator.

Blended learning provides a nice convergence of online and face to face. She gave some good tips including the importance of the dedicated site coordinator, sharing student weekly progress using Google Docs, setting up collaborative student teams, making tutorial or help sessions available, student counselling in and out of the program, limit of one subject per student, the importance of educating parents and students, providing hard copy text books and doing regular surveys of student opinions and interests.

On the other hand this was pretty much the only session I’d seen so far where the presenter demonstrated good design skills with some good images, and very little text. And she handled what I would probably have regarded as challenges, really well.

Below, a key diagram from the presentation, which argued for the self-blend model.

Reading Newspapers Online

A little while ago I was in a meeting of Year 12 English teachers, discussing how the course is going, and planning for next year. One thing that got agreement from everyone was that we needed to improve the way we distributed newspaper articles to students for the language analysis task.

In essence, what we did this year was collate a booklet of articles that the library had found for us their online databases. We were asking students to analyse the language the media had used in their coverage of the issue of whaling over the Australian summer. We had a nice little booklet of articles, letters, editorials and news stories at the end, but it was the format that bothered us. Because the articles had been derived from an online search they were in that online format; a single headline in about 14 font, in one column with no accompanying photographs or artwork. Just text.

In fact, they didn’t look like newspaper articlea at all. We decided next year to use the databases to find the articles, then go and find the originals, and cut them out! With scissors, through paper.

So I thought about that conversation again today when I received a trial subscription to the Australian Online, not the website, but an online version of the newspaper that looks like the newspaper. You can scroll through it, look at a whole double page spread and then click on an article to read it, albeit in text form at that stage. The site also offers 90 days of back issues, advanced search and audio of each article (if you like your articles read in that robot voice from Radiohead!)

I’m not sold on the proprietary nature of the viewing platform, maybe Adobe has a chance to snaffle this market if they’re quick, and I know that various newspapers are taking up this challenge in a variety of ways, but I read through the various sections of Friday’s Australian very easily, and more easily than I would have thought. It certainly provides the visual context that was lacking in the print outs we gave our students, but also the visual context that is still lacking in the online version of most newspaper sites.

Maybe I wont need those scissors after all?

k12 Online Conference 2008

It’s not until October but already pages and conference details are going online for this year’s k12 Online Conference. This was the best conference I didn’t go to last year! 🙂 And it looks like being even better this year.

They say:

The K-12 Online Conference invites participation from educators around
the world interested in innovative ways Web 2.0 tools and technologies
can be used to improve learning. This FREE conference is run by
volunteers and open to everyone. The 2008 conference theme is
“Amplifying Possibilities”. This year’s conference
begins with a pre-conference keynote the week of October 13, 2008. The
following two weeks, October 20-24 and October 27-31, forty
presentations will be posted online to the conference blog (this
website) for participants to download and view. Live Events in the form
of three “Fireside Chats” and a culminating “When
Night Falls” event will be announced. Everyone is encouraged to
participate in both live events during the conference as well as
asynchronous conversations. More information about podcast channels and conference web feeds is available!

Conference website is HERE