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Sunday, March 5, 2017

My role as a student in blended learning

In addition to everything else I do, I decided to add yet another challenge: an online blended learning course. One of the first assignments was to read a chapter that explains blended learning. For being 43, I think my educational path has included more technology that most. 

When my daughter was born in 2001, I decided to get my masters degree. The University of Texas at Arlington was offering a degree plan that could be fully completed online. With a newborn, this was an ideal situation (except, in reflection, the horrific internet speeds of the time). My entire Masters of Education in Teaching (M.Ed.T) was earned based upon online discussions, assessments, and assignments. I had no face-to-face interaction with anyone, although I was having online interaction with a classmate in Japan. At the time, I thought this was one of the most amazing ways to learn, but now that I have engaged in blended learning, I have a different viewpoint.

I am currently enrolled in a masters cohort program through Texas Woman's University.  Two of the four classes I have taken have been blended learning courses, including the one in which I am currently enrolled. For my current class, we meet every two weeks (my summer class met every three to four) for face-to-face learning. During our off weeks, we have online discussions regarding our readings for class, allowing us to engage in much more than we can possibly cover in a three-hour class every two weeks. We also share real-life connections that we run across and respond to the work of one another.

There is a drawback to this class - for me. Considering how quickly my brain works, I have a lot to say. I am a heavy contributor to the discussion boards, and at times, I wish my classmates would add more. But I am realistic. We all have different lives and time available to us. It is not uncommon for me to be up reading and writing by 6 AM, but I certainly do not expect that of others.  

I am also currently participating in an online book study that is not blended learning. Here again, I wish there was more dialogue occurring. The administrator of this course set up expectations about how many posts and responses we need to add to the discussion. To some extent, I think that takes away from natural online dialogue, but I also see a need for it to ensure that those who signed up for this course contribute to it. 

I have had a chance to speak face-to-face to a few district colleagues who are enrolled in the book study course with me. There does seem to be some intimidation for those who are not as comfortable using technology, and for them, I think adding a face-to-face component would be beneficial. But as teachers, librarians, and instructional coaches, I know that trying to find time that works for everyone is not terribly easy. This particular course was designed to be "PD in your PJs." 

Having participated in fully face-to-face, fully online, and blended learning,  I find blended learning to be the most beneficial for my personal growth. I feel the added online component to the face-to-face class keeps me focused on the learning and challenges me to look at other viewpoints more frequently.

I am still trying to determine how to make this work with my own middle school students who see one another on a daily basis. For the next year, I am considering branching discussions across class periods to tie multiple classes and grade levels together. I need the downtime of summer vacation to plan this out.

For those of you out there using or engaging in blended learning, what are your thoughts about the positives and negatives? Have you been involved in anything that has brought about more success than you expected?

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