Content & Assignments

Week 4 of #BlendKit2014 is looking at ways to facilitate student learning, through student engagement with content items in general and assignments in particular. The reading began with a brief nod towards Didaktik design which at least at one level can be taken to focus on the what, why and how of learning by focussing on the design of learning activities/environments to achieve a particular pedagogical outcome. They also draw our attention to the opportunity and dilemma posed by the ever increasing number of online tools available. They stressed that relevant and integrated activities were the keys to success. Hard to argue against that! They were also advocates of consistency – possibly going one step further, citing this quote from Kaminski & Currie (2008, p205):

Within each Learning activity, uniformity also helps to guide students through the content.

We were asked to reflect on these four questions:

  1. In what experiences (direct or vicarious) will you have students participate during your blended learning course? In what ways do you see these experiences as part of the assessment process? Which experiences will result in student work that you score?
  2. How will you present content to students in the blended learning course you are designing? Will students encounter content only in one modality (e.g., face-to-face only), or will you devise an approach in which content is introduced in one modality and elaborated upon in the other? What will this look like?
  3. Will there be a consistent pattern to the presentation of content, introduction of learning activities, student submission of assignments, and instructor feedback (formal and informal) in your blended learning course? How can you ensure that students experience your course as one consistent whole rather than as two loosely connected learning environments?
  4. How can specific technologies help you present content, provide meaningful experiences, and pitch integration to students in your blended course? With your planned technology use, are you stretching yourself, biting off more than you can chew, or just maintaining the status quo?

Each of these is addressed in turn below:

Student Experiences

I am answering this question thinking about a blended course we are planning to run to support school students making the transition to HE. I think the key will be to design activities where students are willing to express their own opinions, test their knowledge and possibly get things wrong the first time. It think that the automated testing systems (e.g. online formative/diagnostic quizzes) might be a good way of encouraging people to engage openly and honestly, supplementing this with online and face to face discussion once individuals have a bit of confidence.

Presenting Content

The course will include both online and face to face components. In part this is to give students a degree of flexibility regarding where and when they will take it. Some of the material can really only be delivered online  – e.g. using the Stanford Teaching Privacy tools to establish how big your digital footprint is, or watching short ‘vox-pox’ videos from former students. Equally, it would be useful to have some face to face sessions, to help establish relationships and a sense of community amingst the learners and get early feedback if things aren’t going as planned.

Consistency

This is a really important area, too easily overlooked. A lack of consistency in layout/structure is one of the most common complaints we get in student feedback about the online component of blended courses. There is a fine-line to be walked between a common structure and effectively dictating the structure of a course. When I started at University I was firmly in the camp of let staff structure their course as they see fit (railing against any institutional template – think PowerPoint). As time has gone by and I have discussed these issues with students (see a recent Student-Led project I was involved in with) I have changed position and am now in the minimum thresholds camp that seems to be gathering momentum in UK HEI (e.g. this fine example from Newcastle University) – though not everyone agrees (see David Jones’ blog).

Use of Technology

As a practising learning technologist, I hope I can get this bit right! I’d like to offer students and staff the options to embed video directly from their webcam as a form of comment. I think that might be a bit more immediate and engaging than a purely text-based form of discussion.

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