Enhancing Hass Students' Experiences Through Blended Learning Opportunites
Cross-Faculty TIES grant (Arts, Education and Social Work, Law and Conservatorium of Music).
eLearning is a major vehicle in facilitating social engagement in a flexible and accessible manner. Research has shown that deep and meaningful learning depends on, among other things, ‘social presence’ (Garrison and Anderson, 2003) through engagement in peer-to-peer interaction and the chance to reformulate concepts through activity-based learning. The predominance of ‘static’ learning sites in university courses reflect the significant uptake of eLearning in higher education but also shows that the move towards more pedagogically-oriented sites does not appear to be a natural progression, as it was once assumed (Rogers, 1995). One of the main reasons for the relatively low number of interactive, activity-based sites is the fundamental chasm described by Moore between early and majority adopters. Different professional development strategies are required by the two groups (Moore, 1999). Whereas early adopters’ approach to e-learning is exploratory, majority teachers need an approach that is incremental, based on proven solutions and sensitive to disciplinary requirements. To improve the quality of the student learning experience, this cross-faculty project focuses on the development of a professional development model aimed at majority adopters and at supporting the change from static, information driven, design to activity-centred, interactive, eLearning sites.
The aims of the project are two-fold:
- to assist staff members in moving from a static, supplementary model of online unit of study delivery, to a blended model, where teaching and student interaction occur in the online context as well as face-to-face, and
- to provide HASS Faculties with a diversity of approaches to blended learning and a variety of discipline-based eLearning models appropriate to the development of blended Mode B units of study.
An electronic survey was undertaken with all academics across the participating faculties (approximately 1,000) to ascertain the current status of online units of study and the necessary resources for the development of Mode B online teaching sites. From respondents who volunteer to be interviewed, small numbers of academics from each faculty will be invited to participate in the project. A literature review of successful models for engaging staff in cultural change in eLearning was conducted.
An educational designer worked with the project participants via a mixture of online community building and experiential learning, face-to-face workshop sessions, and one-on-one assistance and support, with the aim of developing a number of mode B online units of study for students in semester 1, 2009.
The academic participants piloted their online mode B units with students in 2009, with the support of the educational designer and the USyd eLearning Helpdesk where necessary. The online units were delivered via the University's enterprise solution learning management system, WebCT and may other available technologies - e.g. blogs - where appropriate. The participants were asked to conduct evaluations of the online units with their students to ensure that the units were meeting the project aims.
The project is being evaluated via questionnaires, interviews and/or focus groups conducted with the academic participants.
- group sessions were seen by participants as being as important as the individual sessions with the educational designer. While disciplinary focus was also considered very important, the rich and fertile environment of the interdisciplinary group was highly appreciated by the participants for the opportunities it offered to hear about different teaching experiences and share learning solutions.
- the majority of participants delayed taking ownership of their site’s e-learning activities and were very reliant on the educational designer to lead the way in terms of both designing the activities and creating them in WebCT
- those who could express a clear need for a type of online activity and articulate a precise pedagogical rationale for it were able to quickly shift their focus away from the technology and concentrate on pedagogical design. Others who did not have a clearly defined pedagogical objective tended to focus more on technical issues.
- most of the participants stated that they will reuse, and develop, their site in 2010. The project will investigate the level of individual assistance required and consider the long term sustainability of the project’s professional development model.
Garrison, D. and Anderson, T. (2003) E-Learning in the 21st Century. Framework for Understanding the Application of ELearning in Higher Education. Routledge: London.
Moore, G. A. (1999). Crossing the chasm: Marketing and selling high-tech products to mainstream customers. New York: Harper Business.
Rogers. E. (1995). Diffusion of innovations (4th ed.). New York. NY: Simon & Shuster.