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Tech Research Update: "Blended" Learning Environments

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Incorporating the Internet and other technologies into the classroom provides teachers with more ways to present material to students and more resources to help them learn. But does a teaching approach that blends technology with traditional teaching methods work better than a purely traditional approach?

That's the question Shawna Strickland, director of the Respiratory Therapy Program at the University of Missouri's School of Health Professions, hoped to answer in a study of college students that compared a "blended" technology and traditional learning environment with a traditional classroom with little or no technology use, according to this press release from the University of Missouri.

Strickland compared the level of student satisfaction in both environments and the academic performance of the students, and found that while achievement levels hardly varied between the two approaches, students in the "blended" environments reported feeling more confused about course requirements and less satisfied overall.

It's good to see some research coming in about this subject, but I do have some hesitations about drawing hard and fast conclusions from this study. I definitely think student satisfaction levels--in K-12 as well as higher ed-- correlate somewhat with how the teacher used the resources and how comfortable he or she was with those resources. A teacher using traditional methods of teaching might be more comfortable than someone attempting to learn an entirely new way of teaching, which could account for the differences in student satisfaction levels.

Strickland recognizes this in her study and predicts that when teachers become more comfortable using online resources and a "blended" approach, it will indeed become more favorable than a traditional classroom.

3 Comments

Hi Katie,

I read with great interest your "blended" learning environment topic today.

I am a Technology Education Instructor at a Jr/Sr H.S. here in Indiana. Two years ago I received all the components; camera, computers, software, etc. to enable myself to create powerpoint presentations that would, I thought then, enhance student learning of the machines, their operation, and safety considerations paramount to their success in the Manufacturing Lab.

Previously we read the rules, went out to the machine and read the rules again pointing out those items that would not have made sense, and then demonstrating those aspects of the rules.

When I switched from reading/demonstration to viewing the powerpoint presentation/demonstrations I anticipated a significant improvement in their learning/understanding/retention and application of the rules. But, what I discovered through the post quizzes that,in fact, students did no better or worse than before the presentations. I thought sure they would since the pictures I had taken were upclose so all could see (which was not always the case when demonstrating at a machine) and the explanations were quite detailed, meshing with the rules sheet provided.

Twenty years ago I had the vision to do this sort of thing, but lacked the means. Now I have the means, but am sort of somewhat disappointed.

One positive from having done all the work putting the presentations together is that some of my special education students who need to see things more than once, or a student who might have been absent the day we saw the initial viewing can view the presentation at will and see what the entire class saw. For myself, it was much work ensuring that I was saying and showing exactly what I wanted students to see/know, but, having gone through that arduous development stage, I have an additional resource with which my students are able to take advantage of in many ways.

I did an informal poll of my students that first year when I was transistioning from reading/demonstrations to presentations/demonstrations which they preferred, and actually the class was about split.

Professionally yours,
Paul

I agree with the comment "A teacher using traditional methods of teaching might be more comfortable than someone attempting to learn an entirely new way of teaching" - but I think this is caused because of the lack of proper professional development and curriculum support.

As someone who instructs teachers (grades 7-12) on implementing new technologies into the classroom and has presented at numerous conferences on this subject - I have found that blended learning works better than traditional methods of teaching if teachers are given proper support - especially curriculum support. Students are much more engaged, they see education as more relevant and they are learning 21 century skills which prepare them for the future.

The interesting thing is that teachers actually do not have to know how to use these technologies - they only have to know what these technologies can do. This concept takes the pressure off teachers and teachers who are digital immigrants are more apt to using new technologies.

It is up to students to learn new technologies on their own - after all most of them are already digital natives. This is easy given tutorial videos which can be accessed for free on youtube. For example search “tutorial podcast” on Youtube.com and you get dozens of tutorials - many using Audacity which is free. Below is the tutorial we use with students - (most of the teachers who assign podcasts do not know how to create them)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHgD6cVv9QU

The video below is from a teacher who actually did not know how to use the technology she assigned - Her students taught themselves how to create a wiki, do podcasts and use Microsoft’s PhotoStory. The assignment they used is posted on connectingeducation.com
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fGsgYpLgrs

We have also started to implement Google Apps (education edition). This product is a huge success - it makes learning more efficient and uses the same tools as in business for collaboration. Students need very little instruction on how to use it - because the look and feel of Google Apps is the same as the email - chat - calendar applications they use in their personal lifes. Below are a couple of students discussing its use.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miYvAh09M_M

All the technologies we assign to students are available for free - so students can work on them at home for no cost.

Roger Nevin co-founder connectingeducation.com (non profit educational site)


When I did my dissertation on web-based learning in 2001, I used resources that asserted there was no significant difference in learning results when a teacher used what was then called a hybrid form of teaching as opposed to more traditional teaching.

I am wary, however, of what some might mean by "traditional" teaching. I think most educators have learned that student-centered teaching makes quite a difference in student engagement and, therefore, learning. Active learning and differentiated instruction are more important to student learning, I think, than cool toys and, I confess, I love to use the cool technology toys whenever I can. But I also know that schools can invest a lot of money in technology--Promethean boards and the like--and find their students learning not one whit better because the teachers haven't been trained to use the technology well or weren't fabulous teachers without the technology.

I think the other likelihood is that some students like learning with technology and some don't. Some students are more comfortable with various forms of technology because they have exposure and/or access. For others, technology does not align with their learning style so is not as helpful, fun, or motivating, or they simply do not have exposure or access so are not as comfortable with technology.

In the long run, I think differentiation remains key. If we truly want our students to succeed, we need to be prepared to teach these multifaceted individuals in multifaceted ways.

Elaine

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