I wanted to experiment with blended learning even though I had little idea of what it meant and what it required. All I knew was that by the third hour of my workshop, when I was expecting students to be creative, they were tired and had little time to reflect on new ideas and concepts.
I felt that my classes were too teacher-centred and I was NOT practising what I preached. Quite often the ‘creative’ activity became something students asked to do as ‘homework’ to give them time to absorb the information and, more often than not, this was not completed. ( If it isn’t assessable, why do it?).
My first close encounter with the Learning and Teaching Centre (LTC) was through the Faculty Partnership Program, working with Fiona Nicolson, Mike Catabay and Michael Rampe. Through working with the LTC over the past 12 – 18 months, I learned that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE! Whilst my area of expertise is in the field of secondary History teaching, I had no idea of what could be achieved in the IT world. I thought I was reasonably IT savvy ( I could use google doc and Edmodo) however, once I began working not only with the LTC but also more closely with my secondary Teacher Education Program colleagues, my teaching practice changed radically.
Flipping the three hour workshop began in Session 2 last year and, through the work of the LTC, the online component was diverse and engaging. It included extended video interviews, online quizzes, blogs, animated Powerpoints and a much more easily navigated and visually attractive iLearn platform. Prior to working with the LTC teams, my iLearn space was revealed week by week rather than being completely available and ready for students from the first week of semester. It became easier to navigate and I learned more and more about features available on iLearn so it became my main communication platform with students rather than just a space to upload materials.
How did students respond? In the 3rd and 4th year environments, almost 100% of students embraced the flipped model. The one or two students ( out of total of around 200) who didn’t were ones who ADORED on-site lectures and university tradition. But nearly all students loved that class time was spent on conversation, reflection, discussion of the online component and creation of resources to suit their individual classrooms. It also answered my dilemma of how to make a three hour workshop student-centred and active, whilst still communicating the theory that students needed as a basis for pedagogical and curriculum based concepts. Students were grateful for these resources being online and available to them prior to the workshop. As indicated in my TEDS evaluation, “This gives me time to re-read the materials over and over. It gives me time to reflect upon what I have watched”.
The diversity of learners meant they used the iLearn site in many different ways. To give some examples, some students downloaded the entire course at the beginning of the semester and used various components in their practicum as required. Some students began all three assessment tasks within the first month of the semester as they were time poor and could draw upon the interactive components to help them with these assessment tasks. Many students listened to the theoretical podcasts as they travelled to and from uni. BUT ALL CAME TO CLASS PREPARED! They clarified any issues through the discussion board prior to class and, by reading their conversations, I was able to tailor the three hours in a much more relevant way for them. It was so successful that some students were confident enough to transfer this style of learning into their own school classrooms and reported greater success through engagement.
Apart from being able to use the class time more practically and in a more relevant manner, students’ assessment results improved greatly. I believe that this was because they revisited materials as they required it for either assessment or practicum. Students worked at their own pace, began the first hour in a Socratic conference discussion where points were clarified and ideas shared.
So much was achieved with the LTC team. Nothing ever seemed insurmountable and my IT skills improved greatly. Having back-to-back FPPs enhanced workshops and allowed for further exploration of delivery options. Working with the LTC teams and outside of the department was enlightening, and it was great to see our Education team creating and sharing innovative and cross curricular online activities. Through these projects, I am delighted with how the workshops now run as are the students. According to the TEDS evaluations from the past two semesters, students value this type of learning and feel the iLearn site is user friendly and easily accessible. The sites are sustainable and can be used by anyone.
Thank you LTC for all of your hard work, your cutting edge ideas and your eagerness to share your knowledge. It has proven invaluable. Your dedication to improving learning environments for students is second to none.
All the very, very best for the future,
Judy Adnum, Lecturer, School of Education.