IBLC 10 - Session - Mark Nichols's Keynote
Sure, it’s blended… But is it the BeST we can do? ‘Blended learning’...
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2 June 2010
Sure, it’s blended… But is it the BeST we can do?
‘Blended learning’ seems the latest term claimed by e-learning advocates. While it is clear that complementing face-to-face education with e-learning (which is how many understand the term ‘blended’) can result in benefits to learners, there are also significant challenges – and there is a danger that becoming ‘blended’ might be perceived as some sort of ultimate objective. This presentation considers the role ‘blended learning’ has had at Laidlaw College (formerly the Bible College of New Zealand), and suggests that becoming ‘blended’ was an institutionally useful yet pedagogically incomplete objective. Making real improvements to learning in formal education relies not on blending communication media or adding online discussion to on-campus meetings, but on adopting specific pedagogical approaches that do not necessarily require ‘blended’ media. Two specific frameworks for formal education are highlighted, both of which provide a context for ‘blending’.
Comment 1 by Marija Cubric
10:02pm 2 June 2010 (Edited 10:48am 3 June 2010)
I agree with your point on importance of "adopting specific pedagogical approaches", and looking forward to learn more about the Laidlaw College experience.
But isn't technology also an enabler for adopting a specific pedagogy? Or, to quote Martin Weller (2002) 'technology and pedagogy are intertwined in any online course' and the influence is bi-directional?
Comment 2 by Mark Nichols
11:19pm 2 June 2010
While Weller is certainly right that "technology and pedagogy are intertwined in any online course", the influence is only bi-directional to a point. Ultimately the way in which technology is applied to education is a pedagogical decision; there is nothing necessarily determinative about choosing to adopt online tools. So, while "technology [is] also an enabler for adopting a specific pedagogy", it is not determinative of any specific pedagogy.The opposite may very well be true. In some ways that is why blended learning seems like an unfinished revolution. While the step of adding communications media dan certainly be a plus, there are various approaches to education completely independent of online tools that we should really be focussing on. That these approaches can make use of technology is actually rather incidental.
More on the day...but I am certainly interested in your further thoughts.
Comment 3 by Marija Cubric
10:35am 3 June 2010
I agree with all your points, but I think that Internet was a very different technology to other technologies (applicable to education) - more disruptive and intrusive, and therefore more influential in determining a specific pedagogy
I believe that Internet is not only enabling but also 'driving' pedagogies in a certain direction. For example, parents (including myself) frequently complain on how little children read today. And when they read, they tend to 'browse', and when they 'browse' they tend to check their Facebook page or MSN conversation ... So any pedagogy that is going to work for these kids, should be based on 'bite-sizing' the content and intertwining it with diverse and fun activities that are going to keep their attention span for a reasonable amount of time?
Comment 4 by Mark Nichols
11:10am 3 June 2010
We will need to differ on that. The Internet may well be disruptive, but whether this is a good thing or not is determined by the direction in which it is pointed, or the way in which it is harnessed. I would argue that catering for readers who 'browse' in education is not a step forward in cognitive development for those truly seeking to learn in the conceptual sense. The difference between attention and engagement is important here. I would suggest encouraging children to read, rather than reinforcing bad habits - however my background is not in the primary or secondary sectors so it may be best I don't comment on that! A book that alarmed me was Mark Bauerlein's The Dumbest Generation, in which he bemoans the fact that young people are no longer embarking on traditional cultural experiences and they are simply not reading. The recent CIBER report underscores this. Personally I don't see these trends as any sort of opportunity for online education.
The problem with 'bite-sized' learning IMHO is that it works against sustained argument and revealing the subtlety of concepts. A good education frees you from the constraints of what and how you think... a 'liberal' education is my ideal. Learning what I want to learn in my way is not liberating; instead it chains me to the constraints I have chosen for myself and limits my horixons to what I think should be in them. Such an education reinforces ignorance, not liberation! Web 2.0 is no saviour here, either; we tend to connect to those who think just like we do (Bauerlien and Shirky both agree on this).
My perspective is explained a lot more comprehensively in one of the E-Primers I authored for the NZ National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence E-Primer series (sorry, a mouthful there): http://akoaotearoa.ac.nz/project/eprimer-series/resources/pages/extending-e-possibilities
Comment 5 by Marija Cubric
11:49am 3 June 2010
thanks for that, this is promissing to be a really interesting topic ! Looking forward to meet you in Hatfield
Comment 6 by Sarah Flynn
1:45pm 3 June 2010
Thanks for this introductory cloud, it has certainly set the mind thinking well ahead of the event. I've used a cooking analogy (a passion of mine) when commenting on Martin's presentation and it strikes me as similar here. We need to have a clear goal in mind of what the meal needs to look like before we start messing around with the utensils or ingredients.
I remember some resources from the CELT at University of Glamorgan about blended learning - talking about Smoothies (web link I have is broken now) and I was struck on how yummy a strawberry, banana and raspberry smoothy would be, but that I would need some persuading to try some of the wackier combinations with carrots and wheatgrass - even though they were the "trendy" ingredients. In a round about way I suppose that I am saying that the mix or "blend" needs careful consideration of how it works together and who will be consuming it, if it is to be a success.
Looking forward to hearing your presentation
Comment 7 by Mark Nichols
9:54pm 3 June 2010
Thanks Sarah. Let me profit from your excellent metaphor. Much of the thinking around blended learning considers how to mix the best smoothie. My concern is whether a smoothie is the best draught in the first place...
As you say, "the mix or 'blend' needs careful consideration of how it works together and who will be consuming it, if it is to be a success".
Comment 8 by Marija Cubric
12:20pm 8 June 2010
Re: 'blend' needs careful consideration of how it works together and who will be consuming it, if it is to be a success".
-how is it made ? (sequencing, control, experiments)
-what is the 'must' ingredient and what are the 'could' and 'would be nice' ingredients ?
-how is it served ?
- how much is it ?
Comment 9 by Mark Nichols
10:51pm 8 June 2010
BIG questions! I don't want to give too much away at this stage... suffice to say that technology is not, in my view, in the 'must' category. In a nutshell, that's the 'problem' I have with the concept of blended learning. We tend to focus too much on "how is it served". Inevitably, though, our exercises in course renewal are constrained by "how much is it"... and we may settle for an outcome that is 'blended' rather than something of real substance and nutrition.
Comment 10 by Marija Cubric
9:45am 9 June 2010
maybe we should move the metaphore to the bar section, where gin and tonic is never served without a gin :) Tonic just gives it a more interesting flavor and makes it more 'gulpable' :))
Comment 11 by Mark Nichols
10:43am 9 June 2010
Ah... but is the goal to make a G&T, or a cocktail? If there is no gin, is it still a mixed alcoholic beverage?
Comment 12 by Marija Cubric
11:38am 9 June 2010
As in : gin = pedagogy & tonic = technology
Cheers (this greeting has completely different meaning now :)
Comment 13 by Mark Nichols
12:09am 10 June 2010
Not quite... gin = best approach for this course, tonic = best blend for the best approach for this course. Mine's a rum and coke - no tonic in that at all.
Is this reframing helpful? I'm trying to take a step back, not focussing on the blended 'product' but on the bigger context, which may or may not make use of the actual parts that make up a particular 'product'.
Cheers again (bending of the elbow...)
Comment 14 by Martin Oliver
11:55am 16 June 2010
I was very tempted to make my talk focus on the idea of technological determinism; I'm really glad that Mark's covering some of this so that I don't have to!
I'd agree that pedagogy and technology are entwined, but it's the nature of this entwinement that needs exploration. Does the technology "cause" pedagogy? Is it the "effect" of pedagogy (it's chosen as a consequence of pedagogic decisions)? Or something in between?
If we're not clear about this, then the rationale for introducing technologies (and "the internet", I'd suggest, is waaay too broad to think of as one technology) is brought into doubt. Personally, I'm sceptical about appeals to things like "affordance" as a justification; I think we need to think more about association, suggestion and purpose.
Comment 15 by Sarah Flynn
9:48am 17 June 2010
Adding my thoughts live whilst listening to you. Really interesting to hear about the experience of rapid curricula change in times of reduced resources - think this will resonate with many listening to you.
I was reflecting on what we value in our teachers/faculty when we appoint them - subject knowledge is clearly key, and often a strong research background but it would be great to see capability in curricula design and design that involves blended learning to be a strong part of the recruitment drive too.
I'm not sure how we deal with people delivering material designed by others - I've experienced this working in an educational consortia - and there is huge resistance to this. But yet huge benefit too. The consistency of the student experience is surely worth a dented ego here and there?????
And I wholeheartedly agree with the "blending" needing to be integrative not additional. Music to my ears. It sounds like you have made great progress at Laidlaw on this front. I think your reflections about the acheivements were very honest - it is really hard to ascertain whether you have had significant impact and I think that transformative is wave like experience - some of the peaks occur straight away, but just because you then have a trough doesn't mean that you won't get another peak (in fact, my age old physics would tell me you need both to have a wave!)
I loved the significant learning model you presented - it really spoke to me and thanks for bringing that to the conference, we will definitely be following up on that - and the slow pedagogy.
I also love when I hear about a theory in a new context - Meirow was familiar but not in this context and it has sparked off an idea to look at the steps of transformative learning in my research context, which is to understand the development of teacher identity as a new academic - i.e. what/how do they learn to transform them into a teacher? This is a real "brain worm" for me, its going to bury in my head and nag at me for a good while :o)
Thanks for all this food for thought Mark - I'll be happily disgesting for weeks.
Kind regards, Sarah
Comment 16 by Marija Cubric
10:27am 17 June 2010
Thanks for the very inspiring presentation Mark
There seem to be a theme emerging from several keynote talks and this is the distinction between the weak ('add on') and strong ('transformational) sense of Blended learning. I like the comment that one of the delegates made about it- achieving BL in a strong sense happens through a series of small 'weak' BL changes.
It is also very interesting what you said about respecting modal differences. What I am worried about it that it might lead to DL being perceived as a 'low cost' inferior learning solution as compared to F2F
Comment 17 by Martin Oliver
11:14am 17 June 2010
Really enjoyed the talk - thanks for that. A good mix of strong ideas, careful thinking about practice and provocation, I thought.
I think I'd feel most comfortable with the add on/transformation labels rather than weak/strong, just because it make explicit what "strength" here is measuring.
My only note of caution, echoing Mark's talk, is that you could totally transform teaching but make it worse (in terms of learners' experiences). Keeping that sense of purpose in, as well as the attention to technique, is important.
Comment 18 by Mark Nichols
8:58am 18 June 2010 (Edited 9:00am 18 June 2010)
Martin, Sarah, Marija, Martin again - thanks for the feedback and encouragement. I found it strange trying to talk to a camera and a local audience, but it is great to hear that what I wanted to say got through OK!
Sarah, all the best as you digest. I'm interested in your ongoing ruminations, so do pass on any insight that comes of it. I'm poarticularly interested in your thoughts about Narayanan's 'slow pedagogy'. I have also seen some terrific examples of, well, I'm not sure of what to term it now ;o) at the University of Queensland. I will be following up on one particular exemplar in my new Open Polytechnic role. It is a shame to describe it as an example of 'blended learning'... I'd rather call it 'a significant application of technology to a clear educational need'.
Marija, I hope I pronounced your name correctly! Thanks for the dialogue, which added a lot to my thinking over the last few weeks. I think I 'get' your use of the terms 'weak' and 'strong', that little things can add up to a great deal of significance. I think we have seen that in our own gradual uptake of e-learning. I definitely share your concerns about DE being perceived as low-cost and inferior. Tertiary education already has plenty examples of that! I hope 'blended learning' does not become the latest attempt to pull quality distance learning down. The barriers to entry for distance delivery are low, but doing it well takes considerable effort and dedication. I had a wonderful chat with one of the UQ faculty last night sharing her experience (I mentioned her in the question time)... a pity we do not have the time to share all of these conversations across both venues.
Martin - thanks so much for your keynote and work. That image of Frankenstein's monster will haunt my pedagogical dreams for years to come... I wonder, have we revealed the true guise of blended? Do you think education discussions will get back on track? One thing that occurs to me... the sort of messages we both shared have been perceived as 'refreshing' and 'timely'... at least that was the impression from the UQ end. Shoud we be writing/publishing/presenting more along these lines? I think a new level of conversation is necessary.
OK - time to get into a relaxing weekend!
From sunny New Zealand (North Island this time),
Comment 19 by Sarah Flynn
9:59am 18 June 2010
Thanks for adding the slow pedagogy resources - I'll have a think and post some thoughts as they emerge. It will be great to continue the conversations - and I'm sure we will, in a variety of ways.
We are all recovering from a rather hectic conference - two days here (including a night of enthusiastic ceidilh dancing!) but we still have a few more hours until our weekend so I had better plough on!
Kind regards, Sarah
Comment 20 by Martin Oliver
3:03pm 21 June 2010
Mark - yes, I think there's a place for writing about blended learning/e-learning/learning and teaching in general quite probably that's more critical. It'd be terrible if that's all there was, of course, but a little more questioning and challenge would, I'm sure, add an interesting note to the field. It strikes me it's analogous to the whole single and double loop learning idea: one's about how to do things better, the other's more about whether you're doing the right thing in the first place. Either without the other is likely to miss something important.
And yes, the monster. Sorry. One of those things that, once it's occurred to you, you just have to share!