Blended Interactions

This week’s #BlendKit2014 session explored how much support and guidance students should get in an online course and posited four models of educators and learners:

  1. Atelier Learning – akin to an art studio, where students can learn from the work of each other as well as the teacher – John Seely Brown (2013)
  2. Educators as network administratorsClarence Fisher – where learners as well as educators can help construct and plug gaps in our learning/knowledge networks
  3. Educators as conciergeCurtis Bonk (2007) – where the educator provides ‘soft guidance’ directing learners towards resources and ideas that they may not yet be aware of
  4. The educator as curatorGeorge Siemens (2007) – learners are free to explore, but the expert curator helps them to engage with the key concepts of a discipline.

For more information see the full text from which the above references were obtained.

John Seely Brown’s conceptualisation of teachers as artists and architects reminded me of the artisian representations used by Hokanson, Miller and Hooper (2007) in their discreditation of ADDIE.  I didn’t find Fisher’s model very useful, as I find it very hard to really visualise what a learning network would/should look like – even in these days of social network analysis! I was a student on one of Curtis Bonk’s MOOCs and so can claim first hand experience of his concierge approach. A times it felt like a relentless barrage of concepts, where the learner has little time to get to grips with one idea, before they are presented with the next. That may have just been me getting the balance of online and offline wrong, and it was certainly very stimulating. Siemen’s view of the curatorial educator who ‘balances the freedom of individual learners with the thoughtful interpretation of the subject being explored‘ is very seductive, who wouldn’t want to be taught in that way, or indeed to be able to teach in it? I’ve also been on one of his cMOOCs and it had a very different style.

We were asked to reflect on these four questions:

  1. Is there value in student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction in all courses regardless of discipline?
  2. What role does interaction play in courses in which the emphasis is on declarative knowledge (e.g., introductory “survey” courses at the lower-division undergraduate level) or, similarly, in courses that cultivate procedural knowledge (e.g., technical courses requiring the working of problem sets)
  3. 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?
  4. What factors might limit the feasibility of robust interaction face-to-face or online?

Each of these is addressed in turn below:

The value of interaction

I think interaction should be valued in any disciple, in essence a universality. Student-student interaction can be very different to student-teacher interaction. The former may at times be more likely to achieve learning (particularly of threshold concepts), as it may use a common language – that of the novice, rather than the mismatch between the vocabulary of the novice and the practitioner.

The role of interaction

I don’t think interaction should be omitted from declarative or procedural courses. This would imply that there is nothing more to learn, or no better way in which the subject can be taught. Even if the interaction is limited to explaining concepts to your peer group, I think this has the potential to advance understanding of those involved and listening/reading along.

Planning interactions

Deciding which activities are best online and which face-to-face is tricky and is one of the areas that I hope will become clearer through my participation in this course. It would seems sensible if the face to face activities were either designed to help socialise the group, or relate to tasks which students might find difficult – e.g. it is unclear how to begin, where they would benefit from scaffolding and are likely to seek early confirmation from teaching staff (or their peers). Online activities may provide learners with a greater opportunity to reflect and prepare their argument – e.g. finely hone a video presentation before sharing it with the group.

Limits to interaction

Obvious limits to interaction are a lack of time, engagement/motivation. The ‘atmosphere’ of the course is also important – is it acceptable to try and fail, indeed  have these opportunities been designed as part of the course? If students are presented with a ‘course and a half’ then they may react by adopting a strategic approach and only participating in the activities which result in grades.

Also it is unrealistic to expect that all the interaction will occur within the chosen environment and be visible to the educator. There will be face to face discussions in the pub on blended courses, or on non-institutional systems (such as Facebook) for online courses – of value to the learners because they are out of the gaze of their teachers (see this article in the Independent).

by-nc-sa Featured Image by Cobalt123 shared on

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