- Exploratory Study of Blended Learning
- Some Tips to Integrate Library Resources into Your Research & Learning Environment
As a liaison librarian at a research university, I have provided many library sessions tailored to undergraduate and graduate courses. It became my regular practice to consult with the course instructor prior to my library session and to ensure the right fit of the session I am providing with the assignment or project students are working in the course. Although some undergraduate foundational courses are designed to introduce students with academic research and writing, the assignment description is often provided in a detached manner. It is my experience that students are often disconnected from the assigned task mainly due to not understanding the purpose or the meaning of the task they are asked to undertake. As a result, even I wanted to guide students to search and find relevant and useful information for their assignment, the disconnection to the task experienced by students does not lend itself to enhancing or facilitating their information literacy.
This is the context in which my blended learning exploratory project in support of two different 2nd-year foundational courses for one Faculty at the University of Manitoba came about. I collaborated with Kathy Block, a writing instructor, from Academic Learning Center, and invited the Faculty to join in our project. We conducted the first course for the exploratory study in Summer 2011, and the second course during a regular term session in Winter 2012. The idea was to design blended learning around the paper assignments in respective course. We wanted to design blended learning to support and scaffold student learning as students work on the paper assignments.
The basic blended learning model we implemented in both courses consists of two basic components: 1) online resources that students can refer to while they work on the assignments; and 2) sharing their draft pieces with peers and giving feedback using the discussion forum module of the University’s Learning Management System (LMS). We used Springshare’s LibGuide platform to organize course resources and made links seamlessly to library resources and to the Learning Management System (LMS). There were some variations in the actual activities we incorporated into the course. For the Summer 2011 course. we kicked off blended learning in the classroom by asking students to interview their peer about his or her connection/relationship to their field of study (and this was related to the topic of the paper). Then the students posted a paragraph describing the peer using the discussion forum. Being a summer session, the class size was very small staring with 14 students. On the other hand, the Winter 2012 course was large in size (with 140 students who completed the course). We started blended learning with a five-day, brainstorming session using Twitter. Another different feature included in the Winter 2012 course was mandating a submission of a draft thesis statement with an outline of their papers to the Online Writing Tutor service of the Academic Learning Centre.
Research: In this exploratory study, we were interested in how students experienced blended learning, if they found it useful in developing and shaping their papers, and if they did, in what way it was beneficial to them. After the course, we conducted a semi-structured interview with 7 students for the Summer 2011 course (11 students completed the course) and with 14 students for the Winter 2012 course (140 students completed the course). We also interviewed the course instructors to hear their experience of blended learning after each course. Since the Summer 2011 course was the last run of the course that was being offered for longer than 20 years in the Faculty, we recruited 5 students who took the course in the past 4 years for a focus group and we asked them their experience of working on the same paper assignments in the past.
Findings: Blended learning offered students with some form of getting feedback as they worked on the assignments. Sharing of their writings with their peers and getting some feedback using the LMS’s discussion forum were found to be useful. Although not all students responded positively to posting their own writing pieces and some, in fact, expressed a sense of intimidation for doing it, the majority liked to read their peers’ writings. One group of students positively indicated that they put extra efforts to make sure that they were posting grammatically correct, well-articulated pieces. The students indicated that viewing peers’ work helped them situate their own writing skills. And in turn, this allowed some to reflect on their writing skills. In addition, the students valued the quick feedback they received through the Online Writing Tutor. Many expressed that it was very useful to receive a quick feedback to see if they were on the right track with the assignments.
- Integration of blended learning in the Summer 2011 course went very well. A number of factors contributed to its success: 1) size of the class; 2) our familiarity with the course and its paper assignments; and 3) more planning sessions and open discussions with the instructor.
- In contrast, integration of blended learning into the Winter 2012 course had some issues. We experienced the opposite effects of the factors that contributed to the success of the Summer 2011 course:1) a large class with 140 students completing the course; 2) a brand new course with a new set of paper assignments; and 3) establishing a working relationship with a new instructor.
- The difficulty of integrating blended learning stems from the course syllabus that presents the paper assignments separately from the rest of the course.
- The actual planning was limited to the basic administrative matters such as scheduling dates. Neither clarifying the academic tasks involved in the paper assignments nor brainstorming for possible scenarios for guiding and scaffolding was part of the planning.
- Our project also presumed that the pedagogical orientation of guiding and scaffolding students was to be shared by all members of the collaboration.
- The large class size meant diversity in support needs among the students. A flexible blended learning design where more options of how students can interact with their peers online is identified as a future project.
The exploratory study found that the use of discussion module (in case of this study) or any other interactive means to share writing processes among students creates a productive learning environment and enhances meta-cognitive skills that are necessary part of doing research and writing. Providing the guidance and support for students to properly connect to the assigned task is also crucial piece of planning involved in a blended learning model in the support of research and writing skills of undergraduate students.
*We received research support for the Summer 2011 and Winter 2012 course from the 2011 Summer Innovation Fund, Extended Education, University of Manitoba, and the 2011 Teaching and Learning with Technologies Grants Program, the University Teaching Services of the University, respectively.
For a record, I put together this blog post for the Graduate Students Writing Workshop at the University of Manitoba, June 29 & 30, 2010. My idea of making this entry was to encourage graduate students to develop their own online learning environment and integrate library resources into theirs. This was inspired by the idea of Personal Learning Environment at the time. Back in 2010, Facebook was still peripheral. Our digital landscape has drastically changed since then. Even with so many apps, different devices and social networking sites, the concept of Personal Learning Environment is still relevant. We all need some locus of control where we can feel connected and productive in what we do, yet flexible enough to adapt to new possibilities. Prof. Terry Anderson (2007, April 10) applies McLuhan’s Laws of Media to Personal Learning Environment: Enhance, Obsolete, Retrieve, and Reverse. Adhering to McLuhan’s four laws, Anderson draws very useful observations that “PLE constitutes a new education media,” but we have to be cognizant of “how best to exploit this technology and what to be on guard against.” (Last paragraph of his blog entry.) It can enhance our lives and works but also can ruin and mess things up depending on how we use it as our extension.
Anderson. T. (2007). McLuhan’s Laws of Media and the PLE. Retrieved April 6, 2013, from http://terrya.edublogs.org/2007/04/10/mcluhan%E2%80%99s-laws-of-media-and-the-ple/