Thursday, August 30, 2007

Blended learning questions

As I've been reading the articles for Week 2, the big questions that come to mind are related to the ambiguity surrounding blended learning. Do we need to have a definition of blended learning in order to fully understand its use in education? How do we study a concept like blended learning if, as Graham suggests, there is no consensus on the definition of the term? Even when the definitions are "precise," as is the case with the one outlined in the "Blending In" report, the difference between 1-29% (Web facilitated learning) as opposed to 30-79% (blended/hybrid) would be difficult to distinguish for respondents who adopt a broad view of the term.

Other questions:

The article by Bonk, Kim, and Zeng (2005) includes details about a higher education survey on the future of online learning in higher education. They note that 53% of the respondents to this survey were females; this is in contrast to previous surveys where the respondents were predominantly male. Were the responses to these two surveys similar or different? If different, how so?

Descriptions of blended learning environments tend to focus on visual learning. How do these environments translate to those who do not prefer to learn in a visual manner?

Many of the advantages of blended courses (and online courses, for that matter) emphasize the blurring of time and place, working and socializing. Is this necessarily a good thing? Will policies be needed to guide those that may teeter too much on the side of working or socializing? Where and how do you begin to draw that line? How do you maintain the proper balance between the two? Will setting these boundaries become a skill that's eventually taught in school?

More than the Memex?

Vannevar Bush (1945, July). As We May Think. The Atlantic Monthly; Volume 176, No. 1; pages 101-108.

I must admit that I've read and discussed this article by Bush several times - one of the hazards of getting an MS and a Ph.D. in library and information science, I suppose. Most conversations center around the memex and Bush's foresight into what we now refer to as the Web. In an article by Rob Kling (1994) titled, "Reading 'All About' Computerization: How Genre Conventions Shape Non-Fiction Social Analysis" (, he categorizes the memex as "utopian imagery" - a vision that is inadequate in the way it characterizes "technologies, people, and social life." However, Bush's prediction is amazing in its own right, but as Kling (1994) suggests, the fact that the image that was dominating scientific thought and writing at the time "As We May Think" was drafted and published was the high speed calculation of numerical rather than textual data.

The one idea that really resonated for me in this reading of the article and surpassed the appeal of the memex is sense of information overload - "that there is a growing mountain of research" that causes us to be "bogged down today." What would Bush think about the amount of information we are bombarded with on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis in the 21st century? Regardless, while I was reading this article, I had to stop and remind myself that Bush wrote this piece in 1945. I had a similar experience in reading the piece, On Liberty (section III -, which was published in 1859, yet had a very contemporary tone.

Smith's Icebergs

Peter Smith, (2004, May/June). Of Icebergs, Ships, and Arrogant Captains, EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 39, no. 3 (May/June 2004): 48–58.

Much of Smith's discussion about online education reminded me of the works I've been reading related to virtual worlds ( and their use in educational settings. Like those who write about virtual worlds, Smith argues that the traditional educational model is out-of-date and no longer adequate for today's students. He mentions that schools do not strive to match educational approaches to students and as a result, stifle learning. Rather than using technology as a solution, Smith contends that these devises are merely add-ons - an afterthought rather than part of the strategic plan. Moreover, Smith recognizes
the fact is that the educational community has been slow to adopt the use of new technologies in the classroom, and that the digital divide is still a concern. All of these issues are equally applicable to discussions related to education in virtual worlds. This is not surprising given that some educators are experimenting with virtual worlds as a way to supplement the online course experience. Currently, I am enrolled in a course conducted in Second Life, and the visual components to enrich the interactions in ways that text alone cannot.

The remaining portion of the article concentrates on the online initiatives at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB). It is worth mentioning that Smith is the founding president of this institution. Because he believes that teachers are placed in schools without proper training, his institution created CalStateTEACH, a program that is "built on individual learners' needs" (p. 54). Instead of the one-size-fits-all model that tends to accompany traditional education, CalStateTEACH is a customized training program.

One of the portions of this article that I found intriguing was the notion of a "mobile transcript" (p. 58). Because I am a product of traditional education, it is difficult for me to envision this type of model and the ways in which it would work. In the late 1990s, I worked at a community college that was venturing into the realm of online courses. One of the first problems that surfaced was dealing with individuals who were not "our students" and determining how their work would translate at other institutions. Over time, partnerships such as the Illinois Virtual Campus ( were formed, but Smith's model appears to go even beyond the scope of institutions within a particular geographic location. For someone like me who wishes to explore regions outside the Midwest, Smith's mobile transcript is appealing and something that would have been ideal when I was an undergrad.

Smith concludes his piece by linking education to the Titanic. By using this metaphor, Smith provides the reader with an image that not only reveals the visible issues and concerns, like the iceberg, but also those that are not readily evident yet no less damaging (an obsolete model). Like the Titanic, education may have hit a few icebergs along its voyage, but it is the model that it is desperately trying to retain that may ultimately lead to its destruction.