"In Class, the Focus Might Be on Discussing"
Kolding (DK), October 2019 - Keld Hvam is Director of E-Learning and E-Didactics at the International Business Academy in Kolding, Denmark. Apart from research in e-didactics, his special responsibilities also include being Course Director of four online UG and PG programmes, all of which the Academy offers to students around the world in close cooperation with the UK’s Leeds Beckett University. He will participate in the Panel Presentation "Powering Up the Effectiveness of Blended Learning" on Thursday, 28 November, from 11.45 to 13.15.
What has to be taken into consideration in order to achieve better learning experiences with fewer resources?
Keld Hvam: Students are much more individualistic nowadays and expect special and personal attention (adaptive learning). At the same time, they also seem to be less independent. These trends conflict with the academic reality that we often have fewer resources, meaning less time to teach, and consequently fewer face-to-face lessons. However, we cannot just let students study on their own; they need coaching, and here eLearning techniques come in handy.
Many lecturers feel over-burdened in their daily work and thus may be against initiatives like these because they think that it will mean more work. However, they often realize that there may be more work in the beginning, but later on there will be less because students do more of the work themselves. So lecturers need to be convinced that such initiatives are a good idea. This can be achieved by letting them work together in project groups or by having individual lecturers who are eager to use this approach serve as models for the others. In any case, though, the initiative must come from above (management), either through directives or active support to those lecturers who, on their own initiative, have developed the skills required for these new methods.
What is the role of blended learning in this?
Keld Hvam: Blended learning seems to be one of the solutions to this situation if you also combine it with peer-to-peer (P-t-P) or student-centered learning (SCL) activities. We define blended learning as an appropriate mix of face-to-face teaching and online learning activities. This means we use online learning activities where they make sense, i.e. where they may serve to motivate students, generate better learning, and where we can transfer traditional teaching activities to SCL activities.
Within Danish education, there has always been a great deal of focus on learning through active participation in classroom discussions. This principle is often transferred to online learning, in which students are expected to participate in asynchronous discussion forums. Consequently, this method is also an integral part of the blended learning activities described below.
Which combination of components, e.g. classroom instruction, video, WBT, virtual classrooms, cooperation tools, etc., do you find particularly suitable?
Keld Hvam: I’ll give you two examples. The first is the flipped classroom. Traditionally, a lecturer may ask students to read a chapter or two in a textbook, and when they subsequently meet in the classroom, the instructor may go through the prepared material in a PowerPoint presentation. In this situation, the individual student may think, "Why read the texts if the lecturer goes through them anyway?"
As an alternative, the lecturer might ask students to prepare the texts beforehand, and on a specified date, send them a recorded PowerPoint presentation with speech and video. And at the same time, the lecturer can open a discussion thread in the institution’s LMS system, where students can pose questions. The consequence would be that fewer classroom sessions are needed, and when the lecturer meets the students in class, the focus can be on discussing some pre-defined topics rather than wasting time on going through material that the students might just as well prepare themselves.
Students can also be asked to answer some multiple-choice questions to prove that they have read the texts and watched the video presentation sent to them. Only those students who reach a certain score are allowed to participate in the classroom discussions afterwards. This may motivate students to “do their homework”.
The second approach is peer-to-peer assessment. In a traditional face-to-face situation in which a lecturer would have to assess papers from, for instance, forty students, the burden may seem very heavy, and the lecturer may be tempted to mark fewer papers. Instead, the students can work in small study groups; discuss face to face or in virtual classrooms; prepare individual papers; submit these papers to specific fellow students in their group; assess each other’s papers; give feedback to each other; and finally agree among themselves to submit one paper only from one of the students in the group, either a good or a bad one, to their lecturer for assessment and feedback. This feedback can be given by video for the students to see repeatedly. In this way, the lecturer has far fewer papers to mark, and the students engage in lot of activity and, ideally, achieve a good standard of learning.
This is most often done online.
Students may also be actively involved in deciding on the assessment criteria that should be used. These criteria may be presented in a rubric, which makes it easier for the students to assess each other’s papers.
What has been the learners’ reaction?
Keld Hvam: At first, students may find it strange and challenging to be asked to do P-t-P assessments, but once they get used to it and can see the benefits, they like it a lot.
Learners usually react very positively to such initiatives. They feel that taking an active part in the learning process generates better results. They are motivated and learn something - their learning progression becomes visible for them. Furthermore, the drop-out rate is often lower and the exam results better.