Anderson (2004) points out that there are proponents and opponents of studying theories in education, and I have to say that this week’s readings have me on the “opponents” side. But, I have to acknowledge the value of viewing my teaching practice through specific lenses in order to understand, evaluate, reflect, and ultimately improve my skills (p. 33). I think it’s the labels and trying to fit things into categories that bothers me the most.
During my second year teaching, when I was still very impressionable, a veteran teacher told me that teaching was easy: “All you have to do is organize information and present it well.” It took me quite a while to realize that he was wrong. I believe that great teaching comes from being able to make the best educational choices based on the content, the students, and the context. This ability comes from a combination of practice, intuition, continuing education, and willingness to take calculated risks – to be “different” from the status quo.
This discussion post is a challenge unto itself. How does one reflect upon a decade of teaching experience – regardless of the blended learning lens? I struggle to differentiate learning theories as they apply online with those that do not. I wonder at the value of such an activity, anyway, as one of the most important qualities of effective teaching, in my opinion, is cognizance of context and students. I agree with Eliot Masie who said: “the ‘e’ in e-learning is disappearing and it is all just learning” (as cited in Picciano, 2009, p. 8). Until this class, I was unaware how “blended” an environment I had created in my classroom. In an ideal world, I easily could have cancelled 2 of 5 weekly face-to-face classes and conducted them online. In a way, I did. Students often spent entire class periods engaging with content using their assigned laptops.
In my own practice, I see myself using a combination of behaviorist, cognitive, and constructivist approaches dependent upon the content. I had never thought of organizing the methodologies in this manner, but Ally’s explanation sums up my general practice: “Behaviorist strategies can be used to teach the facts (what); cognitivist strategies to teach the principles and processes (how); and constructivist strategies to teach the real-life and personal applications and contextual learning” (2004, p. 24). In addition, since my first graduate school course, I have been revisiting John Keller’s ARCS theory for motivational instructional design. I find that I am consistently incorporating these concepts into my designs and daily instruction because motivation is key, especially in my low-level ninth grade English classes. Garrison and Vaughan explain my thoughts on the importance of clear objectives and explicit enunciation of relevancy to learners: “it is going to be very difficulty to facilitate and direct the learning process without a clear purpose, structure, or plan of activities” (p. 47). In fact, this further illustrates my above point – the ideas behind the basic “best practices” are the same; we just must be thoughtful in how we adapt to different contexts and learners.
As thoughts of the blended learning project percolate, I find that my energy is best used in considering areas of my potential weakness. I love the idea of a community of inquiry, and, I attempt to foster such an atmosphere in my classroom, most notably during my warm-up SAT exercises and class discussions of literature. I feel confident in my ability to “ensure that the discourse, verbal or written, evolves in educationally appropriate directions” (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008, p. 44). However, discussion boards and related activities have always been very limited in my classes (mainly due to administrative policies), so I am less confident in my ability to provide the appropriate level of direction so as not to be too strong a presence as Garrison and Vaughn warn against (p. 45).
I also strive to create a community of learners during long-term writing assignments. Peer reviewing is an essential aspect to writing practice and instruction, and I look forward to the potential that blended learning environments may provide in real practice. Implementation in the online environment will be challenge because the process will be new and I will need to lay the groundwork so that students can create an appropriately open and purposeful virtual community for meaningful discourse about their writing.
When considering the cognitive approach to education, I realized that another weakness I have is properly chunking the information so as not to overload my students. This concept of breaking the content online in smaller, more digestible pieces has come up in other classes, as well, and I have found that I must be diligent in evaluating the amount of information I put into one module, for instance (Ally, pg. 12).
Finally, assessments are always difficult, and to be truly reflective of one’s practice, I imagine that assessments would always appear on a list of “things to work on”. As Anderson points out, a “danger of assessment-centered learning systems is the potential increase in the workload demanded of busy online learning teachers,” but I would like to add that for a teacher of writing, assessment vis-à-vis workload is a never-ending tug-of-war (2004, p. 38). Next year, I will be teaching creative writing and this other course called dramatic writing (which I hope I am given the latitude to change to digital storytelling and presenting). Either way, workload and assessment are a constant concern; finding a balance is an art that I have yet to master.
In a final note, I have to say that this is the first time in reading any of the educational resources and articles that the diagrams and figures have been so helpful (I sometimes get the feeling that the diagrams are perfunctory afterthoughts). I am especially attached to Figure 3 from “Blending with Purpose: The Multimodal Model” by A. Picciano. I am printing a copy of it for my teacher binder. I’m just not sure where some of these ideas will best fit into my new teaching context.
Ally, M. (2004). Foundations of educational theory for online learning. Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Athabasca University Press: CA.
Anderson, T. (2004) Toward a theory of online learning. Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Athabasca University Press: CA.
Garrison, D. R. & Vaughan, N. D. (2008). Blended learning in higher education: Framework, principles, and guidelines. San Francisco: Josey-Bass.
Picciano, A. (2009). Blending with purpose: The multimodal model. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 13(1), 7-18.