The blended learning field guide

I’ve been working with the Department of Education Innovation at Pretoria University to design a “Field Guide to Blended Learning, intended to complement the Blended Learning Self-Evaluation app. The app uses eight dimensions (assessment, teaching and learning strategies, learning activities, content, communication, administration, design and support) as a structure for self evaluation. Academics open the app and work through a set of questions that allow them to self-reflect upon their existing practices, self-identify their own levels within the eight categories and record these results as benchmarks, for future reference.

Challenges and barriers to using blended learning

As I put the field guide together, I referred to a range of blended and online frameworks from other countries, universities and tech organizations. The systematic nature of these frameworks offered inspiration. I was able to slot many of the listed practices into the eight dimensions that I arranged the field guide around.

The frameworks were almost all “instructor” or “practitioner” centred. They addressed common issues and challenges facing course designers or university administrators. While these frameworks were quite comprehensive in their coverage, they missed a key theme. They neglected the day to day self regulation challenges that face a student who does not have the tometabled routine day associated with bricks and mortar campus . Unheard expectations, poor time management, self regulation etc. are acknowledged issues that come with blended learning. But frameworks did not seem to address this.

I took the liberty to imagine ambiguous and ambivalent responses towards teaching and learning. I labelled them, turned these responses into statements, captured the challenges and barriers and then associated these voices with each of the eight panels. Whether it was the passive, distracted, overloaded student, or content tyrant, prepare them for the real world or ban phones lecturers, I articulated “negative” stereotypes and wondered if blended learning had anything to offer those voices.

As I began began to write down common responses, I also wondered “whose” voices should be unpacked? Among students, who should I listen to. Who can tell me what’s working well and not so well? What influences your perceptions of effectiveness? I recognize that it is dangerous to speak on the part of anybody else and assumptions from my point of privilege can be easily made. But I’ve been a part of the research into the effects of #feesmustfall on students. My characters were not intended to be glossy tech stereotypes(like digital natives, net gen etc), but voices from the vulnerable, frustrated, time pressed and stressed. Affected by #feesmustfall and the choices to use digital for course completion.

Much is made about blended learning being student centered. I’m not aware of how our frameworks capture the range of student voices. The contextual realities associated with every blended learning design will vary. There’s no one size fits all approach for guiding practitioners, academics, course designers and students towards quality improvements. But the missing voices, and how the two primary roleplayers (academics and students) might jointly address their unvoiced challenges seem to be a major hole in blended frameworks.

Feesmustfall allowed us to look beyond the glossy stories of technology enabled education. Frameworks, apps and field guides also need to acknowledge the hazards with the benefits. I’m hoping that my field guide allows readers to hear and understand troubling accounts of tech divides or challenges in a blended context. And then find a pragmatic response which allows those constraints to be acknowledged and allow opportunities to attend to these challenges.

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