Blended Interactions

Week 2 of the Becoming a Blended Learning Designer MOOC or #blendkit2015! This week has been about Blended Interactions – designing high impact activities online and face-to-face.

Reading Reflection: A Quick Synopsis and Thoughts

There were many elements of the discussion this week that stuck a tone with me, and I will review them here in an effort to summarize and consolidate what I’ve learned:

Constructing assignments that encourage interaction and expression

Its an interesting and refreshing perspective to think of assignments as an opportunity for interaction and expression for learning. I have come to value assignments that have some greater purpose – assignments that are authentic. Thinking of assignments as an opportunity for interaction and expression helps me focus on this motive. The following questions are worth considering:

  • To whom will students express themselves to? Who is involved in the interaction? Who will be listening? Who will be responding? How will students need to take their audience into account?
  • Through what medium will students express themselves? How will students express themselves? What support will they need in order to make effective use of the medium?
  • For what purpose or value? Why will students want to express themselves? Will they feel motivated? Does the assignment have some larger value than just another assignment for just another course?

The role of an educator in a networked world

Blended learning environments invite us to revisit and possibly redefine our role as an educator. In the readings this week, four potential roles were presented: the notion of studio or atelier learning, the notion of the educator as a network administrator, the notion of the educator as concierge, and the notion of the educator as a curator. Two of these notions stood out to me as being more in line with my teaching philosophy, so I would like to briefly explore each of these:

  • Atelier Learning
    • Envision an art studio as an open space where student artists create their artwork in full view of other artists. Master artists observe the students’ activities and may draw attention to innovative approaches. The space is creative and not bound to the expertise of the instructor alone. Everyone in the room has the potential to be a teacher, a critic, a source of inspiration.
    • An example of this within an online teaching environment: An inquiry learner posts reflections about their progress to a blog. Students can read each others’ work and gain insight from both the facilitator and fellow students.
  • Curatorial Learning
    • “A curator is an expert learner. Instead of dispensing knowledge he creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and connected”. The freedom of individual learners is balanced with thoughtful interpretation of the subject being explored. Learners are free to explore but as they do, they encounter displays, concepts, and artifacts representative of the discipline being engaged.
    • This seems to resemble inquiry-based learning quite well. Learners have the freedom to explore but do so within an environment created by the facilitator – an environment that curates concepts and artifacts in a way that models the nature of inquiry within the discipline of study. For example,

Wayfinding and environmental cues for achieving balanced scaffolding

Learning, especially inquiry learning, needs appropriate scaffolding or guidance in order to adequately support learners through their experience. Too much guidance and the essence of inquiry-based learning is gone. Too little guidance and students feel so lost that their motivation wains, they become lost and disengaged. All courses need appropriate environmental cues to help students navigate their learning. This is of particular importance in blended and online courses where students must navigate the course more independently. Environmental cues might include a clear, useful syllabus, a schedule of events, and a checklist for work to be completed each week.

Important questions for anatomy education 

Two questions were posed to me that I find particularly important to ask of anatomy studies:

  • Is there value in student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction in all courses regardless of discipline?
  • What role does interaction play in courses in which the emphasis is on declarative knowledge (e.g., introductory “survey” courses at the lower-division undergraduate level)? 

While I have been witness to assumptions that interaction, engagement, and discussion has no value in anatomy studies, I have also been witness to the rich learning made possible by doing so.

Putting this Thinking to Work: Exploring Anatomy Through Inquiry Course

Applying all this to my imaginary course of Exploring Anatomy Through Inquiry Learning:

  • the course might include assignments that get students:
    • articulating their experiences of engaging in inquiry through blog posts that the facilitator or classmates can read and respond to
    • sharing their findings with peers through a presentation – either in person or though supported digital technologies (such as slideshare, video, etc.)
    • communicating their discoveries to an academic or public audience – either through written communicate or through supported technologies
  • As educator, I could take on the role of curator
    • course content would be structured from materials that develop inquiry skills with this content being curated by me in a way that helps students make sense of the material in light of their learning tasks
  • students would be assisted in finding their way through environmental cues such as:
    • a clear course syllabus
    • a weekly schedule
    • a weekly checklist

Creative Commons License

Blended Interactions by Lauren Anstey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Photo Credit: Van Gogh by Lauren Anstey

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