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Whether you read about it, Google it, or ask an expert, you will probably get definitions of blended learning that are actually about blended instruction. The definitions are also likely to be flat and one-dimensional because they focus on the modes — offline and online — of instruction.

I use the term blending to refer to how both teaching and learning can be designed and driven. I take care to separate teaching and learning because they are not the same set of processes.

Poor blending can lead to the teaching of content that does not result in desired learning outcomes. On the other hand, carefully designed and skilfully implemented blending is more likely to lead to powerful and meaningful learning.

Today I condense my scattered thoughts on good blended instruction. I might share a story on blended learning in a another blog entry.

Three Dimensions of Blending.

I offer a model of blended instruction that borrows from instructional design principles and TPACK. While the common definitions of blending are flat, I share one that has at least three dimensions to give it shape and form.

The dimensions of blending are mode, content, and pedagogy. The dimensions are broad design considerations that are shaped by instructional contexts. These elements are represented in the diagram above. I describe each dimension and provide examples to illustrate them.

Three Dimensions of Blending - Mode.

The mode of instruction is the first dimension and is essentially the same as most definitions of blending. In blended forms of instruction, an educator teaches and facilitates both offline and online.

The educator does this by leveraging on the strengths and suitability of each mode. The educator’s ability to do this depends on his or her experience, depth of knowledge of technology and content (second dimension), and range of pedagogical know-how (third dimension).

Three Dimensions of Blending - Content.

The second dimension is the ability to blend content knowledge. This is a multi-faceted element that accounts for the motivation for learning content and subsequent application of that content.

One way to start thinking about blending content knowledge is how one topic links seamlessly and logically to another. This should be considered not just from an expert’s perspective, but more critically the learner’s frame of mind. The learner should be taught in a manner so that the seemingly separate elements become part of a coherent whole.

Another way of understanding this dimension is to consider how information becomes knowledge, and how that knowledge is used. Meaningful learning is rarely decontextualised or standalone; if there is no context for application, there is unlikely to be any long-term learning. For example, the delivery of a mathematical concept or a new operating standard for work is empty if it is not embedded in why it needs to be learnt as well as how and when it can be used.

Such learning embraces complexity. Whether the content is the black-or-white variety (e.g., compliance standards, emergency drills) or many shades of grey (e.g., ethics in any field, geopolitics), learners often need to combine hard skills with soft ones; draw from different resources from other fields; and factor in their own prior experiences.

Yet another form of content blending is cross-or multi-displinary learning. By this I do not mean that English is the language for the delivery of game programming principles. I am referring to the fact that programming projects need proposals, timelines, budgets, presentations, and more. Peripheral processes and soft skills could be taught with central processes and hard skills.

In short, the blending of content recognises that what the teacher knows needs to be combined with other content areas, social learning processes, and meaningful contexts.

Three Dimensions of Blending - Pedagogy.

The third dimension of blending is pedagogy. This is partly the skilful application of x-based approaches as the content and context require, and as the technology allows. Some examples of x: Problem, case, scenario, team, game, mobile, social media, station, outdoor, etc.

The pedagogical dimension should also include the ability to design and implement suitable forms of assessment and evaluation, provide feedback, and draw out learner reflection.

The three dimensions of blending are dictated by contextual considerations which are often limiting factors. For example, budget, policy changes, sector (schooling, higher education, military, private), etc.

Three Dimensions of Blending - Context.

The context often determines the extent and quality of blending. For example, a paltry budget often leads to a one-dimensional, mode-only blending. There is content offline and online, and while this might look good on paper, it is not meaningful to learners if it does not have sufficient authenticity and complexity, or include timely interaction with content, peers, or experts.

Alternatively, budget or policy might dictate that instruction is separate from assessment. For example, when money is no object, the one who teaches might not be the same as the person who assesses. When budgets are tight or if there is policy to try automation or trial “analytics”, learners might be subject to low-level quizzes that are not aligned to performance outcomes.

Three Dimensions of Blending - Sweet Spot.

My ideal model of blending requires that all three major design elements — mode, content, and pedagogy — are factored into the context of instruction and application. Well-designed blending is the sweet spot that marries critical practice and rigorous research on blending.

However, reality bites hard. Practical realities and unquestioned practice might have led to one-dimensional implementation of blended learning. While such teaching practices might be efficient or even impressive on paper, it might not be as effective in terms of learning.

Instructional designers, educators, managers, and decision makers need to honestly evaluate their existing designs and processes for blending. They could start with a simple models like the three dimensions of blending.

What is wrong with designing a teaching resource because it is cute, fun, and current?

Nothing, if there is good reason for it.

A good reason for an exit ticket is to find out if and what students think they learnt. Another is to get feedback about a teacher’s instruction.

The tweeted idea is a more current version of the traditional smiley sheet. In evaluative terms, it is barely Level 1 of Kirkpatrick’s evaluation framework. The emoticon sheet might provide answers to whether students liked the instruction. However, liking something does not mean you learnt anything.

It is important to find out how students feel after a lesson. It is more important to find out if they learnt anything.

The fascination with scores, symbols that can be codified to numbers, and distractions from learning undermines what a teacher needs to find out with an exit ticket.

There are at least three critical questions exit tickets should address in well-thought but curriculum-oriented teaching:

  1. Did the students learn?
  2. What did they learn?
  3. What needs to happen next?

You might be able to get away with just the first two if the session is standalone or discrete (e.g., a TED talk).

Designing only with aesthetics and/or numbers in mind is not enough. Good educational theory that is based on rigorous research and/or critical, reflective practice should be applied to the design of learning experiences and resources. To do anything less is to do a disservice to our learners.


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This is a model TED Talk.

Let me rephrase. This is a TED Talk where a runway model, Cameron Russell, shares what it is like to be a model.

It is an honest look about what must surely be a first world problem.

I am certain that while she will get some plaudits, she will also face some backlash. People who speak about or speak against their professions sometimes get vilified.

The thing I admire about the sharing is how open it is. The cultural expectation is that you say what you need to say and you deal with what results.

Elsewhere you keep things to yourself or share within very closed contexts. The former only leads to frustration and the latter often leads you to group-think.

If individuals and organizations are to learn and grow, they must be more open. Open to change, open to risk, open to feedback you would rather not hear.

Then again, you might just appear to be open. Looks can be deceiving. Only the consistency of your actions will show if you have an open mindset or not.

When I found this image online, I couldn’t help but think how important it is to role model.

When I hear teachers asking questions like “How do we teach critical thinking?”, I say you have to model it yourself.

If you think inside the box, your learners will too.

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I just read in the print copy of Digital Life (2 Dec 09) that MOE’s deal with Google Apps is worth S$650,000 a year over two years. Does that sound like a lot? No, not if you do the math.

Based on MOE’s 2008 corporate brochure, Singapore has 29,000 teachers and an annual education budget of S$8 billion. Google Apps for education is barely a drop in the bucket.

MOE’s press release on 22 Sep 09 about adopting Google Apps does not mention explicitly if students will get to use it as well. If students are included as users, how is that drop shared among all teachers and students?

MOE claims that we have a student:teacher ratio of 21:1 (paragraph 11, cough!). Simple arithmatic (29,000 x 21) tells us we have about 609,000 students. Add the number of teachers (29,000) and the total potential users is 638,000. That means that it will cost us a little over S$1 per year per user. That’s value for money… if you like playing the numbers game.

I don’t just play by numbers. How will teachers and their students use Google Apps? Will these Apps be effectively integrated into teaching and learning? While I am watching for answers, I am not waiting. Time will provide some answers, but so will action.


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I am using some of the Google Apps now (Sites, Docs, Spreadsheets, Forms, Presentations, Mail and assorted widgets) without NIE being part of the Google Apps for education picture. I am using it partly as an informal LMS, but mostly as a collaborative learning space.

I think that using it as an LMS provides my teachers-to-be with some level of familiarity. But they also explore the use of the Apps to facilitate collaborative writing, data collecting and processing, planning, designing and learning. I hope that by providing one possible model of using Google Apps, my teacher trainees can then test the ground when they are posted to schools.

I am glad to report that I see some green shoots already. A few of my trainees come up to me after class to tell me that they are setting up their own Google Site wikis or to ask me how to do something or other. I also hope to be involved in the education of in-service teachers next year under a new MOE programme. More details on that if the plan solidifies!

I have always felt that I was not alone on this and now I am more certain. Of what? The fact that many teachers have learned to be helpless.

I mentioned this in passing in a short blog entry last year. I was reminded of this thanks to a wonderfully written course description by Howard Rheingold where he noted that “getting over learned helplessness may take some time”. More recently, Scott McLeod lamented that:

many educators (K-12 teachers and administrators, postsecondary faculty, etc.) still are extremely unwilling to just sit down and try stuff. Our digital learners, of course, have little hesitancy when it comes to clicking on things just to see what they’ll do. That willingness to probe, investigate, and experiment helps them learn and master the tools.

But he wasn’t just complaining. He was wondering if the training that he provided actually reinforced the mindset among teachers that they had to be hand held every time something new came along. McLeod referred to this as “facilitating codependence”.

Looking at my own practice, I am confident that I have broken this cycle as far as my ICT courses are concerned. I don’t teach my teacher trainees technology skills; I get them to explore what is meaningful to them on their own and to teach it to others who share the same interests. The codependence then is not of them-and-me but them-and-them. What they do depend on me for is seeing technology-mediated pedagogies in action, so I model it, practice it and live it!

In previous entries [1] [2], I talked about how schools could create anytime-anywhere, secure wireless networks instead of relying on computer labs or special media labs. I also described how students could be given laptops or netbooks on a 1:1 ratio. If not, they could adopt mobile labs like the ones Apple has been offering for a while now.

Having a mobile lab or 1:1 access would allow students to use technology as part of normal classroom activity instead of a novel experience or a time-wasting walk to a lab. More importantly, it would also require the teacher to rethink their pedagogical approaches and instructional strategies.

I had facilitated workshops for teachers in one such classroom in the USA about 7 years ago, so I was familiar with the concept and the practice. When I try to get teachers to imagine the same thing in NIE or in schools, I get blank looks. Surely there had to be a model of practice somewhere in Singapore.

Two weeks ago, Digital Life (5 Nov 08) [PDF] featured a short report on how the United World College (UWC) here in Singapore had set up such a system. The ubiquitous wiressless network cost UWC S$60,000 in 2005 and access is via 256 laptops in 16 trolleys. Any classroom can become a computer lab and lessons can be blended.

I would love to see how UWC conducts its lessons. That way I can determine if the setup goes beyond cool infrastructure to relevant and powerful pedagogies. I’d want to see if they were elaborate toys or real tools that enabled or transformed learning.


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