Blendkit 2016 Week 5

This is the fifth and final week of instruction in the Blendkit program. This week we were introduced to the various types of instruments for evaluation that exist, and the limitations that exist employing any one type of evaluation. In order to get a fuller picture of the quality of the educational experience that an instructor’s blended course is providing a blend of evaluation tools is needed: self-assessment, student summative feedback, and peer or administrative feedback. Although this may require more time for the instructor, it is essential, especially in the first incarnation of a blended course, to pursue a quality blended learning environment. To keep this goal a focus of the design of my blended learning course I will employ these three assessment strategies.

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First, self-assessment and writing personal teaching goals for both the f2f and the online environments is a good idea. It reminds me of reflective teaching practice that I learned to utilize during my MA TESOL program. In my opinion it is the online portion of a blended online course where the instructor needs to be the most vigilant, and active, to ensure that students feel supported and that the instructor is present. I think there is a danger that, because the online environment encourages learner autonomy, instructors might say, “Well, I created the environment, now it’s up to them to engage with it.” The old horse water metaphor. However if feedback on assignments is not prompt and the instructor does not engage in discussions (without dominating) students will disengage or define it as busy work, and not participate earnestly.

The second aspect of quality assurance in blended learning lies in summative feedback provided by students. Our institution provides opportunities for student feedback after the midterm and final exams, but these are focused on f2f interactions. I will encourage students to comment on the online portion of the course at that time, and will provide an online survey or discussion forum on the learning management system as well. Questions would be directed at learners’ perception of relevance of online assignments to course goals, ease of site use, and clarity of assignment instructions.

The final part of this evaluation process would be to get some outside perspective from a colleague or administrator, ideally someone with experience designing or implementing blended learning. Luckily there are several faculty members who are experienced in this area in my department. I will provide a rubric to one of these faculty members and administrative access to the LMS where my course resides so that they can see students’ levels of participantion as well as settings on quizzes and assignments. Finally, I will ask to do a similar evaluation of their blended learning course. I have found great value in observing staff members’ classes and discussing their design choices, so I am sure there would be similar benefit in observation of the online environment they design for learners.

This final step, evaluation, in most design models like ADDIE, ensure that your design process is iterative and that the designer works to constantly improve the E-learning environment for learners so that the content and assignments are clearly described and understood by learners and that they match course learning objectives. I look forward to implementing this final step and learning what steps I can take to improve my course design

Blendkit 2016 Week 4

This week we began to look at the variety of assignments that can be used to encourage students’ learning, in line with defined objectives, and in order to succeed in summative assessments. The opportunities that the technological tools available online for creating educational resources as an educator or as a student are vast. With this diversity there lies a danger that the assignments given to students may be misunderstood in terms of how to accomplish the task, or its connection to the f2f portion of the course. Throughout the reading, uniformity in assignments as well as a clear connection to the activities and learning objectives that occur inside the classroom is paramount. Keeping this warning in mind, it is exciting to explore some of the options to maximize learning and increase learner engagement with the course.

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The primary goal for attempting a blended learning course in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) is to maximize learners’ opportunities for language production both in and outside of the class. Korean students have had a lot of experience with receptive skills like reading and listening comprehension, as it is a core area of assessment in the college entrance exam for high school students. However, despite 9-12 years of English education both in the public and private educational industries, students enter university classrooms with limited communicative ability. Therefore the assignments I choose are focused on language production through discussion (online and f2f), role play, debate, and academic writing skills.

The online portion of the course is composed of video tutorials (readily available for TOFEL content due to its popularity as a subject worldwide), quizzes, and discussions currently, but I am interested in how I can build more on this without overwhelming my students with new tools. I understand that technology has to be gently integrated especially in this context. In an upcoming unit, on home design and architecture I ask students to choose a video from the playlist Offbeat Spaces, summarize it and then describe their own ideal space. This is still a discussion assignment that they have experience with, but now they have to navigate a playlist which offers learners a choice on what they want to watch and interact with. The videos are short and have closed captioning so they are accessible to lower level language students as well.

Ideas for the future include having students record themselves having conversations or role playing then upload the video to their class site on the LMS, but this idea will first be introduced in class to ensure success. This might be an opportunity to introduce some of the video editing software available for them to experiment with and increase their digital literacy. As I mentioned in my last post I am also interested in getting students to use their voices by recording their discussion posts on their phones or using other audio tools and uploading their responses on the LMS assignment. This can be a great help to increase confidence in their speaking, and get them thinking about pronunciation and intonation.

It is an exciting time for education and blended learning solutions can provide a multitude of new ways for learners to engage, create and navigate their learning opportunities. These solutions can be effective if designed correctly so that learners feel safe, and confident in meeting the challenges presented throughout the course.

Blendkit 2016 Week 3

This week was focused on designing appropriate assessments, online or in class, aligned with learning objectives. I found the reading this week, quite thought provoking, in regard to potential means of assessment that I hadn’t considered and am considering integrating into the online section of my course.

First, let me give a brief description of the types of assessment in my Practical English course I teach. There are two formal assessments of the students’ communicative competence, a midterm and final. The midterm and final are similar. There is a speaking section, where two students are required to ask and answer 4-5 questions (chosen by the professor) based on topics from the textbook. They should maintain the conversation for about 8 minutes. There is also a paper based exam that tests there listening, reading, and writing skills. The listening and reading are multiple choice, true/false, and short answer questions based on what they heard or read. The writing section asks students’ to write a paragraph in response to a writing prompt based on the topics in the book. The only difference between the midterm and the final is that the final is weighted more heavily, and the topics are different.

The assessments that I include in the online portion of my course are informal quizzes,  discussion boards, and paragraph assignments. The quizzes are formulated so they resemble the formal assessments that they will experience throughout the year. It was encouraging to read about the study by Walker et al. (2014) which showed that students who took practice exams online performed better on in-class graded exams. This is an area that I greatly curious about, since as I mentioned I have chosen to move the listening and reading requirements online, and assess them there. I am also interested in revising or improving my questions so that they push learners to higher level thinking.

Finally, one of the most challenging aspects of EFL is connecting students’ language studies with real world application. The English speaking world and being an active participant in it, seems so distant to the students I am sure, no matter how much I try to bring it into the classroom. However, the opportunities for students to search out articles or pictures related to the topics we study online, and share them in our online community is exciting. I often encourage my students to be online tourists, and experience English that way. In an upcoming lesson we will study color, architecture and housing. I will ask students to post pictures from their homes or around their cities with a brief description. I will also ask students to participate in the online discussion next week by uploading an audio or video recording of their comment rather than just typing their response. I also liked the one-sentence summary idea and may implement that to get students to synthesize what they learned in the previous week.

There were a lot of good ideas presented in this reading, as well as some important areas of reflection. I look forward to implementing new and interesting types of assessments to engage learners and achieve learning objectives, as well as revise existing online assessments in this iterative design process.

Blendkit 2016 Week 2

Reading Reaction

The second week of Blendkit focused on the interactions that can take place during your blended course. It is a human desire to interact with their peers, this occurs in the blended learning environment as interactions with the course instructor as well as classmates, and can occur online or f2f. It is a course design need to determine how and with whom course participants will interact with each other and the course content. Inherent in this decision is the level autonomy that the learners will have in discovering content, interacting with it, and sharing their own content with each other.

This an idea that I addressed briefly in week one response. I find that I am leaning towards the opinion of Kirscher, Sweller & Clark (2006) that minimal guidance is not as effective as guided instruction. The online portion of my course is very structured. I suppose of any of the described roles of educators in the networked world: Atelier Learning, Network Administrator, Concierge or Curatorial. My approach would be more in line with curator. I provide the content that is aligned with the objectives of the course and the content of the prescribed textbook by our institution’s department. The units or modules within each course are all linked, so that students cannot begin the next unit without completing the assignments in the previous unit.

Student interaction is somewhat limited within the online portion of the course. There are a few discussions, but mainly it is informational videos, readings, and listening tracks followed by quizzes to assess their understanding. Most of the interaction will take place in the face to face portion of the course. Because this is the first attempt at flipped learning I think it is important to exhibit much more control over the content, and then with subsequent presentations of the course I can see where students could benefit from more freedom to interact and find their own learning materials, and share these with their peers. I think that this is good for the EFL context because the learning gaps in the digital literacy working with English applications and their linguistic knowledge itself. No matter how much you design your course, you will never know how it will be interacted with by the peers, what will work as intended and what will not.

Blendkit 2016 Week 1

Blendkit 2016

Introduction

I have recently started the Blendkit 2016 five week online massive online open course (MOOC) offered from the University of Central Florida via Canvas. It will guide learners through the design process for a blended learning course that we design. I have also opted for the portfolio review option where expert instructional designers will review and critique my blended learning design and created course content. I feel it will be a valuable experience, that will provide experience in instructional design, and confidence in creating and displaying content online, as well as rekindling my online participation via blog and Twitter.

Week 1 Response

The first chapter of the Blendkit reading offered a definition of blended learning, as a balance of face-to-face (f2f) instruction and web-based online instruction, as well as two approaches to the design process. The balance between f2f and online is defined by the instructors teaching philosophy, the course objectives and learners’ needs and level of comfort with the various forms of instruction.

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The form of blended learning that I will be designing this semester will be a “flipped classroom” approach to my freshmen practical English course offered at Yeungnam University in Daegu, South Korea. A flipped classroom can roughly be defined where the lecture aspect of the classroom is moved online via instructional videos, and the homework, project work is moved in to the classroom so that the teacher can be available for students who are struggling with implementing concepts outlined in the lectures.

This course was traditionally focused on the four skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. It was supported by the Q Skills for Success series from Oxford University Press, which offers two books divided by reading and writing, and listening and speaking. To determine what to  move online we looked at the passive parts of the classroom, where students were not interacting with the instructor or each other. Generally those activities were listening and reading, so we decided to move those online and created quizzes to assess students’ understanding of this content. This was thought to allow students to proceed at their own rate, review content as much as needed, and increase opportunities for them to practice and produce the target language in class.

There are several things I would like to respond to from the first reading. First, design: I have taught this course traditionally for several years now. Therefore I have clearly defined the learning objectives and the assessments. When designing a blended learning do you have to go back to the start and totally redefine the course? “Blended learning is not simply adding an online component to a face-to-face course.” I think as long as the online content is connected to the activities done within the class in our case speaking activities and writing practice, and the students clearly understand how they are related then you have the potential for a good course. But what is counseled regularly is to start small, then add content based on personal reflection and responses from the learners.

Second, learner experience: learner-defined vs. instructor-designed. The reading advocates to some extent for a flexible learning design, in that the students have opportunities to pursue learning avenues that interest them. To me this is a nice ideal, but in my experience with South Korean learners who have little experience with learner autonomy this would be very challenging. I think clear activities that need to be accomplished in a set manner are what they are used to and will feel comfortable with. We plan to offer optional extension activities, related videos that they can watch and comment on for example.

Finally, instructor roles: mentioned in the first case study: McCracken and Dobson’s broad conceptualization, was a team taught course. I think there is great potential in this situation, but only if the roles of the instructors in regard to design and management of online content is clearly defined. With many LMSs there are collaborative tools. My colleague is more interested in mining existing content that can be used in our courses and designing online assessment, and I am more interested in learning development tools to create tutorials and educational videos for our learners. We can share what we created and choose appropriate materials for our own individual course goals.

In conclusion, this design will be an iterative process. Units will be designed about two weeks before the students engage with the content.  I look forward to learning how elements of blended learning design theory presented and experienced in this course will inform this ongoing process.