I have been looking forward to this topic since the start of the ONL Course.  In my subject discipline – law – my focus has definitely been much more on designing the curriculum and content of the course rather than the broader teaching and learning practices.  The reading materials for this week have made me think more broadly about how to design the learning environment and assessment practices to facilitate a stronger uptake of the content, especially in a blended learning context.  The uptake of content remains important and has to be a strong focus – we are preparing people for legal practice; the use of their legal skills in the real world.  But I have not spent enough time thinking about the broader learning environment and assessment practices.  I used the “Community of Inquiry Educator Survey” here to help me understand my strengths and weaknesses and what I can really explore further as an educator.  I am really inspired by all that I have read and really look forward to putting it into practice.

In reflecting on this topic, I came to the conclusion that blended learning is largely viewed as problematic and lacking in opportunity to realise pedagogical advantages.  I have thus far viewed blended learning as a pandemic-related necessity rather than seeing it as something that can possibly be utilised to optimise teaching and learning.  However, when I was reading through the materials I learned that according to the US Department of Education, blended learning can actually offer the broadest methods of developing student skills as learners.  The idea is that with carefully thought out blended learning that leverages digital tools and the Internet, learning is more accessible to many and can actually engage a broader and diverse range of students – students who might not be engaged through more ‘traditional’ and completely physical / onsite learning experiences.

So what would a ‘carefully thought out’ approach to blended learning look like?  There seem to be various ways of modelling approaches to blended learning.  One such approach is that proposed by Hannon and McKann (2014):

Model 1 – Blended presentation and interaction

– Activity focuses on face to face sessions blended with online resources (e.g. flipped classrooms)

Model 2 – Blended block mode

– Combination of intensive periods of face-to-face interaction with weekly online sessions / interactions

Model 3 – Predominantly online

– Combination of online lectures and tutorials with some face-to-face collaboration

We can think of it as being on a spectrum – with the degree / balance between face-to-face and online activities varying.  What should determine which model / design approach we take as educators to the blended approach?  In my experience, it would turn on a number of variables:

– Size of the class 
– Whether the class takes place in the lower v upper years of law school – perhaps the latter needs more face-to-face interactions and the latter needs less
– The nature of the course I am teaching – is it a very content heavy course v a skills-focused course

These are just some variables – there will be many more variables.  What I will also need to consider is the infrastructure / ecosystem I need to embed any blended learning.  A study by Cleveland-Innes et al (2017) suggests 5 things that any educator needs to consider in creating an effective blended learning environment:

1.  Technology and internet access – what resources do I and my students have?  Is internet connection reliable?  What digital tools do we have access to?

2.  Pedagogical philosophy, values and principles – when designing a blended learning approach, we need to be clear about the pedagogical values that we seek to pursue to facilitate meaningful learning.

3.  Safety and security – how do we deal with unpleasant behaviour that takes place online (academic dishonesty, disrespectful interactions, unethical learning)

4.  Skills development, support and training – how do we – as learners and educators – advance our digital competencies (see my post on Topic 1 for my thoughts on this).

5.  Motivation – how will I motivate students and get their ‘buy-in’ for the particular blended approach that I follow especially when I need them to move to novel / less orthodox learning practices than they are used to?  

I do not have a lot of answers at this stage, but I know that there is enough for me to start scaffolding my thinking and planning for a blended courses that I will be running in August 2022.  I look forward to discussing these further with my PBL Group.

Reflections on Topic 4: Design for online and blended learning