Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Understanding Blended Learning


   Last year, I started using a blended learning approach to teaching English for my 15-17 years old students, who are non-native speakers. I created facebook groups for many students in which I intended to share extra material related to the content dealt with in class or to make them view videos before a lesson, to share their work either homework, or (writing) activities they did in class. And later, as part of the students' project work. I'm writing about that later experience to reflect on how I could make it better.
The choice of blending was a personal initiative. I was experimenting, as I read about it I wanted to try it, especially because it extends learning beyond the classroom walls, and student's exposure to the target language beyond the three weekly hours provided at school.
I'll mainly be writing about blending as part of the project work that went through one term. Students who took part in the project were selected based on their motivation to join in. I created a facebook group for the purpose, and added my students. It was a space where I gave online instruction, online assignments, online feedback, where my students and I started discussions, posted questions... It was our common online space, but students had their individual space, they used blogs to reflect on and share their work. I had set objectives and vision of what I wanted my students to perform. The choice of blending in the project was to create a working environment for students to collaborate face to face and online, to find guidance and assistance when they were doing their tasks or assignments. It is that aspect of blended learning that 'allows the teacher to look for creative ways and use a variety of media to address the specific needs of his students'that appealed to me and to my students. It's not the "one-size-fits all", it's more individualized. For instance, students had the responsibility to join one of four groups based on their own choice of the final product they had to achieve in collaboration with their group or team. Students and teachers (team teaching) met face to face once to twice a week to discuss issues, to follow students' progress and collaborations.
. After reading chapter one I realized that planning and designing are key factors for the success of blending courses. Reflecting on my experience in blending, what I did was experimentation in incorporating technology in teaching. I like this quote 'Creating a blended learning strategy is an evolutionary process' (Sigh and Read, 2001). This is what blended learning is, no one could say that his or her experience is a fixed set that could be used as a standard, rather, educators and researchers find intersections from different experiences applicable to their own context. Even when having set one's own strategy for blending, we might modify or adjust on the way or for the next experience.