Thursday, 24 May 2012

Who controls the 'blend' in Blended Learning?

CC-BY Flickr User WGreller
There are many definitions of Blended Learning on the web. For the sake of this post, we can go with a working definition of; 'a cooperative alignment of face-to-face and online learning and teaching activities'. So, this seems to be used interchangeably with terms such as 'eLearning' and 'Technology Enhanced Learning'.

So, who controls which parts of a course of study are to be engaged with in the classroom, and which parts are engaged with online? That's rhetorical, because typically, it's the tutor, and more typically, almost all of the teaching activities take place in the class, with some additional activities to be conducted as 'independent' or 'self-managed' learning.

This post argues these ways need to be rethought. Well actually, I (and other colleagues) have been arguing this point for a number of years. In 2009, I worked with a colleague in a curriculum development activity to design a completely online Perioperative Care module. During the process, we questioned how we could benefit the holistic learning and teaching experience by bringing together the face-to-face class with the online class, and offer much more freedom for learners to control their own 'blend' in the learning experience.

Essentially, we encouraged learners to decide which parts of the module they wanted to study online, and which parts they wanted to come to class for. With increasing financial demands on Faculty, these modules could be marketed as completely online modules, completely face-to-face modules, or a mix of both. Learners arrive at University with expectations related to the use of technology in learning and teaching, and have increasing demands on their time, whether it be through work or personal commitments. As they begin to pay more for their Higher Education, they will come to demand more for their investment (or debt, as it will be for many) - here, more could mean 'more choice', 'more flexibility' or just 'more'. We felt (and feel) that our approach could cater to these demands, and was termed 'Mode Neutral' during an Institutional Validation Event. The name kind of stuck (whether we like it or not). In earlier published work, we defined it as;
"A method that allows students to progress across modes of delivery (face-to-face, online and blended) at any point throughout their study based on their preferences, requirements, personal and professional commitments without compromising their learning"
We debated the key factors that would facilitate such a flexible and fluid learning arrangement, and identified three Dimensions; The Role of the Tutor, Curriculum Design, and Communication for Learning, and each are required to maximise the student experience.

As our thinking evolved, we realised that these dimensions are not simply 'present' or 'not present', but instead are present in various degrees - almost three dimensional. The degree to which the dimensions are present rely on the implementation of certain 'conditions', and therefore could be visualised;

To summarise, our attempts challenge(d) the long standing approaches of tutor-controlled blended learning. Of course, there are significant workload implications in introducing such flexibility, but if this positively impacts upon the student experience, it's worth it.

Where do you stand on the term 'Blended Learning', and who should control this blend?

You can read about our more substantial thoughts, including details of conditions within each dimension, through;

Reed. P, Smith. B, Sherratt. C (2008) eLearning and Digital Media. Vol 5; No 3.

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts....

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This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Communicating with Year Groups through Moodle

Year Tutors and Programme Leaders have a common challenge in easily communicating messages to large groups of students. This post discusses how you can use the Programme/Network Area in Moodle effectively to solve some of these challenges.

You may not be aware that groups of students are automatically created in Programme/Network/School areas in Moodle based, on their year and mode of study. If you click into 'Groups' from the Administration menu (within a Programme/Network area), you will see students are grouped according to their 'Year of Study' and 'Type of Study', which means staff can target specific resources and activities to particular groups.

As you can see from the image on the right, students in the Computing & Digital Technology Network are grouped in multiple ways;

  • The beginning of the group name relates to the Programme number (11398A), and the year instance (11/12). 
  • Following that we have CH (Combined Hons) or UG (Undergraduate). In some areas you will see PG (Post-graduate) instead of UG.
  • Then we have the Year of Study (1, 2, 3), which relates to University Levels 4, 5 and 6; alongside the Type of Study, broken down as Full-time (F), Part-time (P) or Sandwich (S). Also, where appropriate, we see indicators for partner college students (MN, SC, SP). 
  • The number in parenthesis relates to the number of students in that particular group.

So what now?

Well now we know what (and who) they are, we can add the relevant groups into a Grouping, e.g. Level 4 students from across the Network (inc. CH, FT, PT and S). Then, we can create a forum that is only available to students in that particular Grouping, making it much easier to get messages out to specific cohorts of students more efficiently, and providing them with a platform to discuss academic (and perhaps non-academic) work. You can learn more about the difference between Groups & Groupings here.

The Computing & Digital Technology Network area has forums for each level that are really well used by students, and were identified as 'good practice' in the Students' Union Student 'Shout Out' event....

Of course if you want to communicate with large numbers of students that are not automatically grouped, you could always create your own custom groups. The post on Moodle Groups & Groupings clarifies the difference between the two and demonstrates how easily you can create your own. Of course, you can always feel free to give me a shout to run through this with you.

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This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Moodle Roll Over

Well it's that time of year where we think about planning for next year. To this end, this post will discuss some of the options for carrying content from one Moodle area (e.g. 11/12 unit) into another (e.g. 12/13 unit).

Unit Import / Roll-over

The most straightforward way to roll content across from one unit into another is to bring everything across - all resources, quizzes, etc. Of course there are one or two things we'll need to 'check off', but essentially the process is straightforward enough.

You can access the CeLT guide to support this process, and/or watch this short (<5 min) video, which walks through the steps...


  • Remember that Turnitin activities will not copy across, so these will need to be recreated in the new area
  • Any other assignments or quizzes that have dates associated will need updating to reflect the new dates - this can cause problems for students later on if overlooked. 
  • Also check the dates associated to each week in the unit (if using a weekly structure). You can edit these from the settings page (under the Administration menu).

Importing Selected Content

It's possible to import selected pieces of information, resources and activities into a new area, simply by only selecting the relevant check boxes. However there can be some problems when bringing that content into an area with existing content. If you are interested in doing this, it is advised to get in touch with me (or the eLearning Support Officer from your Faculty) to discuss the options and potential pitfalls.

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This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Finding images on the web

Increasing attention is being brought to the common activity of searching Google Images to find and reuse useful photographs/artworks/etc in teaching and learning materials. The real problem with this, is that the authors of the images may not be happy for you to actually reuse their work - it's not too different-a-concept to referencing academic works really...

So what can we do about it? 

Well there are various sites you can use to find images that you can safely reuse. These images might be licensed under Creative Commons licenses (this post introduces these), or might even be Royalty-free (meaning you don't even have to attribute the author).

This tutorial from JISC Digital Media on Using the Internet for Image Searching is particularly useful as it goes through 4 stages of Judge, Discover, Tour, and Success (see image below); as well as their advice for Finding Video, Audio and Images Online.

Image taken from jiscdigitalmedia: Finding Video, Audio & Images Online

The latter of these examples suggests a number of sites for finding both collections of images specifically for Education (which appear particularly useful for historical images in all fields) as well as Creative Commons and other free collections. Some of these include;

  • Everystockphoto - searches across several free-to-use image sites (incl Flickr's Creative Commons images - see below)
  • Flickr - Creative Commons advanced search - use Flickr's advanced search page to include only photos (or short video clips) that have a Creative Commons licence. See also our advice document Finding Images on Flickr
  • Flickr - The Commons - a number of publicly-held photographic collections from around the world use Flickr to share images that have 'no known copyright restrictions'

  • I particularly like the ability to search multiple collections using the search feature from, but you can easily check out the links to specific collections above, and don't forget you can also use Google's Advanced Search to find images suitably licensed - this short video shows you how you can filter the search....

    As somewhat of an aside, concepts such as Creative Commons are directly associated to the Open Content Movement, allowing educators and self-learners to reuse existing content. This Introduction to the Open Content Movement will provide a useful starting point to understand the movement, along with this post introducing the Creative Commons licenses. You'll be reusing videos from MIT and Stanford in no time :-)

    If you would like to discuss any of these points, feel free to get in touch.

    Creative Commons License
    This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

    Tuesday, 15 May 2012

    Perhaps Education isn't that broken....

    There are a number of debates circulating around education, many of which focus on what's wrong with the current system; some suggest alternatives. Quite a few of these have got me thinking, so this post is yet another (somewhat garbled and at times contradictory) attempt at thinking aloud.

    I must admit, I haven't been involved/engaged with the debate (or is it a movement) on the Purpose of Education as much as I would have liked. Having said that, I think there's a mutually exclusive relationship between being involved in teaching and educational technology, and the debate on the 'Purpose of Education'. I think to this end we consider, research and reflect upon many intertwined concepts on a daily basis;
    • what we are trying to achieve
    • what we want our students to achieve
    • methods for how these should be achieved
    • how we get, and become better at getting, students from A to B (if indeed that is the purpose of education)
    • how we assess and credit these achievements
    • and how in doing so, we help others (students, teachers, etc) do the same. 
    I won't go into each of these here, but two fairly recent blog posts have got me thinking (both of which I believe are almost sub-debates of the wider question of 'purpose').

    The purpose and future of the text book has been murmuring for a while. Audrey Watters post picks up on a few interesting things, but is generally critical of the fundamental concept of the text book. Whilst I don't see a problem with an entity that brings together information to support discussion and learning around a particular topic, I agree with Audrey in that;
    'Somewhere along the way, "textbook" became "curriculum" -- and under today's testing regime, that all became wrapped up in "assessment."'
    I suppose it's a subjective point as to whether a course of study should be centered around a single source such as a textbook, but that would surely depend upon specific learning outcomes. If a book is sufficiently aligned, (and of course of sufficient rigour) then is there a problem, and more to the point, any different than having multiple current sources from the web? Although I am in favour of encouraging students to search, find, review and share relevant content, I equally think providing a foundation layer to that higher level of working is no bad thing.

    Audrey obviously hints, as do others, at the problems related to assessment and the methods of accreditation i.e. how do we recognise and reward learning? Much criticism has been thrown at the current model of accreditation, with the concept of Badges as a potential solution - something I'm not too keen on for formal education. Again I'm by no means an expert on this discussion, so read up for yourself, but I can't see how this less formal approach can replace existing models effectively. The Mozilla blog suggests;
    "Open Badges will let you gather badges from any site on the internet, combining them into a story about what you know and what you’ve achieved. There is a real chance to create learning that works more like the web."
    Whilst this sounds exciting, I think we still need the academic rigour and formal accreditation in our education system, which is measurable and somewhat tangible for employers.  I stumbled across a post recently by Ted Curran questioning badges;
    “How can an employer believe that you’ve mastered content if there’s no accredited institution willing to put their reputation on the line to say that you did”?
    I don't disagree, but delving into site further, it's more apparent that this might be an option for lifelong learning (CPD) out-with the degree classifications of HE. I have long thought the range of CPD courses on offer need to be benchmarked, so perhaps badges could be a way of doing so? Certainly, I don't believe anybody and everybody could offer up badges with no benchmarking or comparisons to ensure what Provider A offers is of an equal rigour to that of Provider B, otherwise the badges will quickly become meaningless. Furthermore, (and playing Devil's Advocate a little) do we really need to bloat our CV with dozens of badges?

    On a side note: I really don't like the metaphor  - badges have wormed their way into a particular genre of fashion, and I don't like it. They are also something generally worn by children (and I picture them worn by Mods & Rockers as well - but that's before my time). Needless to say, I am neither! A certificate will do me fine, thank you. Herein lies a separate problem - metaphors have to be relevant and not patronising to be accepted! Where do Badges come in relation to this?

    So where do these ramblings lead to?

    The purpose of education; is it really to teach children who the Kings and Queens of the United Kingdom were and in what order? Or is it to develop skills to enable responsive, adaptability and reflective practice, and to better understand the world in which we live? Or is it a bit of both? I won't pretend I know the answers here, as there are far greater minds grappling with these problems and still yet to find the solutions.

    Doug Belshaw interviewed David Preston recently, who suggests the purpose is about 'leading people to a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them, through inspiring them to learn', and touches on how education currently focuses on economies of scale, measurable assessment, and efficiency.

    Whilst this all this is very inspirational, how do we shape things on the ground?

    (I think) I think that learning 'facts and figures' (and the definitive) are important, but the approaches we employ to support pupils/students needs to be more holistic and diverse. The textbook can still be part of the future of education (in paper or digital versions), as we need to teach students the definitive things (I think) - however we should do so whilst developing the problem solving and adaptability skills we eulogise. Nevertheless, with the focus of coursework/exams assessing specific things (skills, knowledge, understanding, etc);

    • Is there always a temptation to just give learners the information (in any format), rather than building a pathway for students to find that information themselves? 
    • Which is more efficient (in terms of ease of teaching and/or effective learning)
    • And how many teaching staff actually value the latter over the former?

    One thing I do believe, is that packing students together into massive classes, and getting them sitting in a massive lecture theatre, is not the way we should go. This is strategic decision to be made by Faculty, and a difficult one where efficiency savings are at the heart of daily business.

    Perhaps initiatives such as the Flipped Classroom (something I've already blogged about) attempts to combine the 'information giving' with the 'problem solving'? Could initiatives like this be the future?

    To conclude....

    Many say this is broken, but is it? Perhaps our Education system isn't broken at all, but rather the tools and techniques used (and importantly, those in control of those) are the real flaws in the system? With this in mind, I think about those students that have genuinely had an amazing experience in education - it wasn't broken for them. And I think about initiatives here at MMU and the annual teaching awards (were students recognise the good work being carried out not only by individual lecturers and supervisors, but by whole programmes). The teachers/lecturers have employed approaches that stretch and challenge. Corollary, the bad experiences we often hear about centre around limited support, didactic and inflexible teaching.

    So just to throw the thought out there; rather than complain about the 'system', perhaps we should better prepare those responsible for supporting the development of learners in order to make education more personalised, enjoyable and meaningful for everyone.

    Over to you...

    Book image via Microsoft Clip Art
    Badges image via Mozilla

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    This work by Peter Reed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.