In a recent Faculty Reading entitled Articulating Learning Outcomes For Faculty Development Workshops by Dr. Jack MacFarlene, the importance of Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) is expressed in ensuring that post-secondary students have an active and continuous understanding of where their learning is taking them and the purpose of teaching practices. Like, the SLOs described in this reading, the School Effectiveness Framework within the Ontario education milieu is urgent to build and sustain a learning environment where students feel empowered, informed and in control of their respective learning. In regards to control, it is not about displacing the teacher as the provocateur of the learning but importantly ensuring that students know why and what they are learning with the goal to grow success – nurturing students to achieve and embrace learning skills that transcend any one curriculum. As such, the relationship between the learning goal, success criteria and descriptive feedback must be intentionally embedded to create a lesson that allows for learning and expectations to be redefined. It is within the idea of redefinition reinforced by the SEF that blended eLearning if harnessed with a reimagined learning environment in mind, can truly enhance and empower students to be creative, collaborative, critical and communicative learners.
In examining the viability of blended eLearning as a mode of teaching, a virtual learning environment can create hybrid learning spaces if managed with purpose. Thus, before blending, flipped or whatever else it is called (post-modernism within the tech space is becoming a bit overwhelming) and while looking at learning goals, reflect on the following:
If you are blending, do students know why?
If you are blending, how has the curricular learning changed or evolved?
If you are blending, do students have an active understanding of where their learning is going both online and in class?
Take for example my Gr. 9 Religion class where the goal is to have students reflect and examine their faith not only through their personal story but also popular culture / mass communication. In this course, “blending” is purposeful at it compliments, feeds into and extends what is happening in class. The goal of classroom time is for student to use technology (we often visit the school learning commons as the class is not in a computer lab) to actively show what they know and to reflect on their faith through creative projects. As such, activities grounded in the Catholic Graduate Expectations and 21st Century fluencies are scaffold with the SEF in mind and through a number of online activities where students embrace the traditional discussion board etc. The goal is to ensure that students know why the course is blended, understand how the course is progressing, how to be successful in a respective activity and receive online feedback that is descriptive and is extended through text, audio and video. Further to this, the online work really has to be meaningful – the students need to be logging in at home for a reason. What happens online needs to make a re-entry back into class in a way that compliments and extends the learning.
For example, through the use of an online discussion board, Gr. 9 Religion students were to share five tweets from Pope Francis. Through these tweets, students were to reflect and explain what the Pope taught them as “discerning believers.” From this online discussion, students in class then extended the online work through multi-modal design – reinforcing skilled communication. Over the course of three classroom periods, students visited the school leaning commons and used net books to create infographics that visually brought to life the tweets and extend their learning. The goal of the infographic was not to teach graphic layout but to reinforce, extend and compliment the online discussion with the goal to share student work online through social media etc.
With all of this, whether it be “blending,” “flipping,” or using tech, my question is why and how? As educators (and as a specialist in Communications Technology and broad-based technology) why are we using tech and how is it changing the way we teach and importantly students learn? Asking “what’s the point” is a step in the right direction.
For additional reading on all things eLearning, visit Faculty Focus for some great insights.