Meet, eat and blend

Panel of three speakers in front of an audience

Photo by Delft Teaching Academy, @TUD_TeachingLab

Last week I attended a Meet & Eat session at the Teaching Lab on the topic of blended learning. You gotta give it to the organisers: it’s the tried and tested ‘feed them and they will come’ tactic, so a tasty broodje (sadly someone grabbed the salami before I got there), a sweet treat and coffee settled our mood to chat all things blended.

The way I’ve seen these gatherings work around here is the panel (manel in this case, tsk tsk) format; three experts at the front and a series of questions displayed on a screen as prompts for discussion with the (happily munching away) audience. The first one (throw them in the deep end!) was:

1. What is blended learning? A mix of online and offline activities. A mix of in-classroom and out-of-classroom activities. Interactive no matter where. Is a MOOC blended? Yes. No. This is getting too messy, let’s move on to the next question.*

2. Should I really put my lectures online? I wasn’t too gone on this one. For starters, it assumes that blending is only about putting stuff online. TU Delft students have Collegerama: recordings of lectures are available for them to watch any time any place; lecturers may be more or less pleased, they may see the value of this or not… the truth is students like it, as in ‘I missed the lecture so it’s great I can catch up and be prepared for the exam’. Thankfully the conversation veered towards ‘what’s the most effective use of my classroom time?’. The three experts on the panel coincided in their ‘flipped’ approach to blended: move the explanation of concepts to the online space (either as videos or readings), come to class to apply those concepts, mostly working through a set of problems with the help of the lecturer. It was pointed out that the new set up needs to be explained to students at the beginning of the academic year: they need to come to class prepared. One other thing they agreed on: you will lose bums on seats from class one to class two, but those who come for class two will become regular attendees. Then, the inevitable question: ‘Well, I recorded all these fantastic videos but nobody watched them, so I found myself in class going through the material that students should have covered before coming to class, what do I do?’. Experts’ unanimous response: don’t spoon feed them. You can do a quick recap as a refresher, but don’t go over the material again. Students are too used to sitting back, you need to ask them to take at least that one responsibility of coming to class having done their preparation.

3. I love lecturing. Is blended for me? If you love teaching, going blended won’t make you stop, it’s just a different way of doing things. “I object to this question!” passionately cried one expert; we shouldn’t do this or that because we like it, but because students will learn better. Cue in a colleague’s favourite (and rightly so) line: blending is about rethinking education, rethinking the way you teach, teaching the best course possible for students. Think about what’s the added value of the teacher. There’s no secret formula, no ‘drink this potion and the power of blended will be yours’, but aligning learning objectives, (online/F2F) activities and assessment will set you on the right track.

4. How can I increase student engagement in the class? This was an overlap of the discussion in question two, plus the oldest piece of sound advice: interact with your students, don’t be the sage on the stage.

There you go, all of this because of a sandwich. And it wasn’t even salami.

* If you are looking for an actual definition of ‘blended learning’, let me point you in the direction of the EMBED Project and in particular Willem‘s slides.

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