Reflecting on the use of technology for content delivery

This is the second journal entry prepared for my PIDP 3240 class based on readings from Jose Antonio Bowen’s book, Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning. The middle section of his book discusses integrated technology (hybrid courses) in course designs as a way to deliver content outside of class-time, engage students, assess students and motivate students. If you don’t know anything about the book, here’s a video of Jose discussing the major themes in under 5 minutes:

I want to quickly highlight some of the many resources that Bowen lists for online chemistry content delivery to give and then the rest of this blog post is a reflection on what blended learning is, how using technology to deliver content outside of class-time is advantageous, and why I feel that it’s important to explore in a post-secondary or adult upgrading education context.

Bowen (2012) mentions several fantastic places to start for general chemistry resources: YouTube videos, apps for the periodic table and chemical formulas, podcasts from Nature to provide relevant connections to students’ lives, animations from the University of Akron, and open learning courses by Carnegie Mellon and MIT. To this I would add sites like the University of Colorado’s interactive simulations of chemical concepts (http://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulations/category/chemistry), ChemCollective’s virtual labs (http://chemcollective.org/vlab/vlab.php), and University of Oxford’s virtual chemistry page (http://www.chem.ox.ac.uk/vrchemistry/foundation.html). Virtual labs could be done outside of class to prepare students for an in-class experiment or to provide students with data that could be analyzed together in class. I also see an opportunity for collaborative learning by including a reflective assignment where students are asked to review existing online resources and identify new resources that they believe should have been included.

Technology provides the opportunity for teachers to deliver content in a variety of ways – we’re no longer limited to oral lectures and paper handouts, but can also use podcasts, email, games, simulations, animated presentations, screen drawings, and YouTube videos (to name only a few).  By integrating technology into course design, teachers can better prepare students for class participation using outside class time and make in-class time more valuable by  focusing on “discovery and application” of content rather than content transmission (Bowen, 2012).  This model of combining both online and face-to-face components is called “hybrid learning”, “mixed-mode learning”, or “blended learning”.  Most studies suggest that the hybrid model is equally effective as a traditional course in learning outcomes and, in some cases, may be even more effective (Gutierrez & Russo, 2005; US Department of Education, 2010; O’Brien, Hartshorne, Beattie, & Jordan, 2011; LaMartina, 2012; Driscoll et. al., 2012).

I originally thought online and traditional face-to-face courses were polar opposites with little middle ground. However, when I read chapters 5 and 6 in Bowen’s (2012) book, I was immediately struck by the potential advantages of the hybrid learning model for both students and teachers. I was also a bit shocked to realize that I don’t know any post-secondary instructors currently using blended learning in the way he describes. As most of the classes I have taught are 4-hour long classes twice a week, spending the majority of class-time transmitting content is frustrating and honestly at times, boring, for both myself and the students. I work with adult students who are entirely capable of self-directed learning and have incredibly busy lives that mean if they do attend a whole class, they want to get something valuable out of it.

According to Dziuban, Hartman, and Moskal (2004), “Blended learning should be viewed as a pedagogical approach that combines the effectiveness and socialization opportunities of the classroom with the technologically enhanced active learning possibilities of the online environment”.  I imagine that for many instructors like myself who grew up experiencing classes as primarily content delivery with learning taking place individually and outside of class, it is a huge shift to revision the way we teach. For some instructors, they perceive blended learning simply means using computers minimally or for distinct tasks as part of the learning process, while for others there is a clear distinction between using technology to supplement learning versus integrating technology into the learning process (Darrow, 2011). In particular, some authors argue that a true blended course is characterized by reduced face-to-face class time (University of Wisconsin, 2013).

One of the uses of integrated technology in hybrid courses is for content delivery– through email, videos, podcasts, online problem sets, interactive websites, animations, games, and learning modules (Bowen, 2012). In my mind, using technology to provide first-exposure to content feels like an important shift in responsibility for content learning from the instructor to the student.  Instructors can empower students by providing a wide range of resources that will allow students to learn what they need to know at times that work best for their schedules. Online content delivery also provides an individualized learning experience which is nearly impossible to achieve in a traditional model of one instructor teaching 30 students simultaneously.  Even though instructors don’t have to directly deliver content in a blended model, their work focus is now identifying useful online resources for content delivery; teaching students how to process the content, select appropriate media and modes to help them prepare for in-class time; motivating them to engage with the content in multiple ways and effectively assessing their learning progress.

The significance of transferring content delivery to an online asynchronous environment not only lies in the flexible, alternate modes of learning for students, but in what class time can now be used for – discussion, interaction, learning how to apply the content, building analysis and critical thinking skills, synthesis and evaluation of information, collaborative learning, and physical activities like laboratory experiments. Particularly for adult learners who have multiple demands on their time and energy, and are more likely to have experience with and be capable of self-directed learning, reducing in-class time and increasing the value of what is done in class should be a key focus for any institution that provides upgrading or continuing studies courses.

From what I have read of hybrid learning, I am convinced of its effectiveness and its growing importance in education. I will begin to work on identifying existing valuable online resources for chemistry 11 and 12 content. One advantage of online content delivery is that students can use it for review purposes  if a particular concept is difficult, when studying for a quiz/exam, or when preparing for a lab. Considering the student demographic in Vancouver and at VCC, it is also extremely likely that the class will contain ESL students. Having recorded materials that can be replayed to ensure understanding is much more effective than students sitting in a class and missing major concepts and then being unable to participate successfully in subsequent active learning experiences. Hopefully through the hybrid model, classes that were previously offered as 4-hour blocks twice a week could be reduced to 2.5 or 3 hour classes twice a week. By freeing up in-class time from content delivery and using technology to better prepare students for class, class time could be spent on case studies, group projects, scientific literacy, problem solving, discussing issues at the intersection of chemistry and society, a larger variety of lab experiments, or more complex experiments that extend over multiple classes.

Resources

Bowen, J.A. (2012). Teaching naked: How moving technology out of your college classroom will improve student learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Darrow, R. (2011). Definitions of blended learning (PBWorks Wiki). Retrieved from http://blendedlearning.pbworks.com/w/page/40419181/Definitions

Driscoll, A., Jicha, K., Hunt, A.N., Tichavsky, L., & Thompson, G. (2012). Can online courses deliver in-class results?  A comparison of student performance and satisfaction in an online versus a face-to-face introductory sociology course. Teaching Sociology, 40(4), 312-331.

Dziuban, C. D., Hartman, J.L., & Moskal, P.D. (2004). Blended Learning. Educause Center for Applied Research: Research Bulletin. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/erb0407.pdf

LaMartina, D. (2012). The hybrid classroom: Just as effective as in-person lecturing?  Retrieved from http://edcetera.rafter.com/the-hybrid-classroom-just-as-effective-as-in-person-lecturing/

O’Brien, C., Hartshorne, R., Beattie, J. & Jordan, L. (2011). A comparison of large lecture, fully online, and hybrid sections of introduction to special education. Rural Special Education Quarterly, 30(4), 19-31.

University of Wisconsin –Milwaukee. (2013). Hybrid courses: Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from http://www4.uwm.edu/ltc/hybrid/about_hybrid/index.cfm

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. (2010). Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, Washington, D.C.

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