ed tech in practice, reading responses & reviews

Response to ‘Conversations at a Crucial Moment’

I chose an article from one of the National Council for Teachers of English journals, College English, titled “Conversations at a Crucial Moment: Hybrid Courses and the Future of Writing Programs.” For the first few pages the author, Catherine Gouge, builds support for her argument that college writing instructors need to begin considering how to blend their composition courses.

Throughout the article, Gouge refers to hybrid courses rather than blended courses, but her definition of hybrid courses is congruous with blended learning (Gouge, 2009, p. 340-341). She quotes Todd Taylor’s list of ten principles for incorporating instructional technology that I believe are worth sharing here:

  1. Keep people first.
  2. Identify and build from program principles.
  3. Start simple.
  4. Invest heavily in hands-on instructor training.
  5. Revise strategies for instructing students.
  6. Consult with others.
  7. Expect the crash.
  8. Consider access.
  9. Be critical of technology.
  10. Use technology as a lever for positive change.

(as cited in Gouge, 2009, p. 343-344)

Gouge goes on to outline the advantages and disadvantages of hybridity. She notes the usual: flexibility, increased student interactivity, increased student accountability, financial benefits, development of marketable real-world skills, etc.  Notably, two of her listed advantages were new to me: first, she points out that the asynchronous communications among students and faculty “transforms learning from a one-time event to an ongoing process;” second, she uses anecdotal evidence to indicate that the challenge of a text-intensive hybrid course serves as a mini-composition course itself.

In her section on the disadvantages, Gouge points out that “the voices that are most noticeably absent in the existing literature on hybrid pedagogy are those that are critical” (p. 347). She lists the usual culprits of resistance to technology and lack of training and access.

Gouge moves on to discuss specific programs and focuses on ICON (Texas Tech University’s Interactive Composition Online Program). The ICON system is simply fascinating. This hybrid system involves multiple document assessors to grade papers anonymously. Through a complicated course management system, the program is able to allow an essay to be scored with comments anonymously and independently two times (or three, if necessary based on score differences).  She lists many criticisms of the ICON program.

In her concluding remarks, Gouge returns to a more general discussion of hybrid courses. She asserts that “the most important principle to keep in mind in approaching any programmatic design process, especially a hybrid one is that no teaching medium is a guarantee of student learning” (p. 357).  School-wide success with such programs requires support and training for the entire institution – students, teachers, and administration.

The most powerful “take-away” I had from this article came in the conclusion: “students need to understand as clearly as possible what to expect from the course and why the course is structured the way that it is” (p. 358). In other words, students need to know why some portions of class are saved for face-to-face while other portions of class are online. As obvious as this statement may be, I believe this is a significant question to keep in the forefront of one’s mind when making instruction choices regarding a blended classroom.

Much like this discussion post I have written, Gouge’s article took a lot of words to say, well, not very much. So, what was the main idea? Blended learning, like any other instructional strategy, has advantages, disadvantages, requires teacher training, and must be incorporated in an effective and meaningful way in order to maximize student learning. I was hoping that the article would be a bit more “how to” rather than analytical and anecdotal.

Work Cited

Gouge, C. (2009). Conversations at a crucial moment: Hybrid courses and the future of writing programs. College English, (71)4. Retreived from http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/CE/0714-march09/CE0714Conversation.pdf

ed tech in practice

Labels are Irritating

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.


Works Cited

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.

ed tech in practice

Blended Learning: What is it?

How would you define blended learning?

I’d like to take a few “key phrases” from some of our readings and my own thoughts to define blended learning. Please note: I do not think it is necessary to constantly mention the “technology” in the definition because I believe we are at the point where the technology should be ubiquitous such that a mention of technology is superfluous (<– one of my favorite words).

  • – traditional + cutting edge = relevant, meaningful, 21st century, embedded learning
  • – “the convergence of online and face-to-face education”
  • – integration, integration, integration
  • – shifting instructional strategy from the teacher-centered, teacher-delivery model to the student-centered approach
  • – interaction, interaction, interaction (student-student, student-teacher, student-content, student-“other stuff”)
  • – more student autonomy and ownership
  • – flexible and fluid
  • – highly-changeable depending on the school and situation
  • – the possibility for more personalized instruction
  • – rapidly changing and evolving
  • – “effective pedagogical practices” (Bonk & Graham, 2005, p. 8)
  • – blurring lines and boundaries between disciplines
  • – “‘best of both worlds’ approach” (Allen, Seaman & Garret, 2007, p. 2)
  • – diversity

What are some benefits and challenges that one can anticipate when teaching in a blended learning?


As the NACOL article explains, “information and technology skills are so critical,  and so much collaboration, resource sharing, content development and learning are done digitally, asynchronously, and at a distance;” therefore, the benefits of blending learning are relevancy and currency for the students (p. 4). Bottom line: education must be meaningful and immediately applicable to real life in order to be authentic. I know that we should hesitate before jumping on bandwagons, but I see blended learning as a necessity, not something that needs to have its “pros and cons” weighed. This is not to say that there aren’t significant challenges … there are. I’ve listed just a tiny sliver of those challenges below.


In the NACOL article, the authors discuss the challenges presented by the Chicago Virtual Charter School: “[t]his blended model requires teachers and administrators to think about time and instructional practices anew” (p. 9). I think change is scary no matter how comfortable one is with risk-taking. Plus, change is hard work, and, if we are being candid, many people are not apt to approach a scary, arduous task with enthusiasm.

Often, the faculty and administration are not the only fearful parties involved. Parents, whose educational experiences are becoming more disparate from that of their children as each year passes, are skeptical of change for many legitimate reasons: is this a passing trend? how will this prepare my students for college? how can I help my child when I do not understand myself? Certainly, many of these fears are probably shared among parents, teachers, and administration alike. In fact, if we take into consideration the percentages of consumers who have experience with blended or online learning, we see that nearly half have never had any experience with online education (Allen, Seaman, Garrett, 2007, p. 16), yet many of our students have grown up with cell phone in hand.

How do we manage blended learning logistically? There is the learning management software and organizational aspect to consider. Then, there is the professional development — extensive professional development. Another challenge is the daunting specter of the digital divide, which, I feel, should be addressed at the earliest ages possible. All of this blending is wonderful is so many ways, but the digital divide and lack of meaningful technology experience creates a learning deficit akin to the often discussed gap between the child from the print-rich home and the child who first learns the alphabet in kindergarten.

This post was originally written in May, 2012 in response to a graduate course on Blended Learning.

Works Cited

Allen, I.E., Seaman, J. & Garrett, R. (2007). Blending In. The extent and promise of blended education in the United States. Sloan-C: Needham, MA.

Bonk, C. & Graham, C. (2005). Handbook of blended learning: Global perspectives, local designs. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer Publishing. Part 1, Introduction. 1-21.

Watson, J. (n.d.) Promising practices in online learning: Blended learning: The convergence of online and face-to-face education. NACOL. Retrieved from http://www.inacol.org/research/promisingpractices/NACOL_PP-BlendedLearning-lr.pdf

ed tech in practice

Blended Learning Case Study

For one of my current courses at UF, we were asked to analyze and present information about a case study in the blended learning model. I found Dr. McVey’s blended learning model for teaching undergraduate research methodology interesting for several reasons, most notably, the fact that blended learning increased student motivation and performance. Research methodology does not sound all that appealing to me, and, certainly when I was an undergrad I would have dreaded the course based on its title alone, so any teaching method that increased student motivation and performance in this subject would certainly help me make instructional choices in my own courses — courses that I hope seem more exciting on first impressions.

Below, I have copied the prezi presentation that I created for this assignment. This was my first experience using prezi and voicethread (there is an embedded link within the prezi to a voicethread presentation). The ease of use with both of these programs is impressive, and I am already brainstorming ways to incorporate the use of these digital tools in my own classroom with my students next year. Can middle school students handle this? I think so!