November 26, 2015

Blended, Hybrid, Flipped, Online: Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

Category: Educational Practice
Hybrid course development explanation drawing Niagara College

This is my second post in a series exploring my journey to develop and teach a graduate “Multimodal Literacies” course for pre-service and in-service teachers based on the connected learning framework. You can see the first post here and my original inspiration here.

Now that I have a sense of the conceptual and thematic organization of my course and have decided upon some focus texts, I am confronted with the task of setting up weekly structure and my methods for communicating content. Several of my colleagues have asked me whether, considering the multimodal subject I am exploring, I am planning on teaching some or most or all of my course online.

This question is especially pertinent at my university right now since our administration (like those at campuses across the country) is very interested in encouraging more faculty members to take advantage of . . . what is it called? Blended learning? Hybrid courses? Flipped classrooms? F2F + online? Synchronous or no?

I did some Googling to try to determine if there are “official” definitions for each of these terms. Here are some sites I found: the blog Panopto and a UCLA webpage. Generally, it appears that blended and hybrid are mostly interchangeable terms, but it starts to get murkier when we get to the flipped classroom. The basic idea is simple — assigning more direct instruction/lecture for homework in order to allow for more robust active learning during class sessions. But, what if the class sessions are online? Does the model still apply? What does it mean to learn actively online? Or, in person for that matter? And, so, the murkier questions begin to multiply.

I’ve quickly become overwhelmed by the flood of acronyms — and more and more convinced that they are being tossed around without much consensus about what they mean in terms of course structure and instructional quality. Saying that your course utilizes blended learning may elicit approving nods, but structure does not strong pedagogy magically make. I think that it is important for us as educators to remember that it is our job to mix and match and pick and choose from the tools available and make them work to meet the needs of the students in front of us. As I’ve oft repeated in my posts, it is fundamentally human, relational work (with tech assistance).

As a result, I have been engaging in some serious thinking about my core pedagogical beliefs and the extent to which I can provide my students with the kind of education they deserve (and that I stand for) through the use of various online learning management systems (LMS). And, I have realized that I have a long way to go. Change is difficult, and I have managed in many ways to turn online tools to my ingrained ways of doing things instead of taking advantage of the capabilities that new tools afford in order to help my teaching blossom and take my core beliefs into the digital age.

My first experience with an LMS involved Adobe Connect. In retrospect, I think that this system allowed me to teach online without having to seriously consider how the online environment might change or add to my pedagogy. My students and I all turned on our web cameras at the same time, Brady Bunch-style, and I could place them into small-group break-out rooms and share handouts and readings. I taught pretty much the way I always have.

I am now completing my first semester using Blackboard as an aid to a face-to-face class. Again, I see that I basically used the platform as a drop box. I have clung to the idea that learning needs to happen in a synchronous environment, online or not, and meanwhile lost opportunities to help my students explore more independent, self-directed forms of learning.

As a result of these revelations, I am thinking carefully about how to offer different sorts of experiences (online and F2F) to my students next semester AND use my hesitations and stumbles with technology as teachable moments as we all engage in inquiry about the possibilities and potential of new learning tools.

I’m curious to hear from folks — what have online learning tools allowed you to do with your students that offer something different than what you can do face to face? How has this helped you stay true to your pedagogical beliefs but allowed your practices to evolve?

Banner image credit: Giulia Forsythe