Monday, June 29, 2009

online, blended, and face-to-face courses

This report: http://www.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf is worth reading. The press coverage (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/06/29/online) focuses on the finding that where there is a difference, online classes outdo face-to-face classes.

I've been reading the report, though, and there is a lot more in it worth paying attention to. Here are a few that stand out to me:
1. that blended courses outdo face-to-face only and online (where there is a difference)
2. that the key variable might be time, not the medium of the course--that is, that time on task is the key factor in learning (consistent with all sorts of other studies)
3. that online and blended courses excel in their ability to foster reflection and community (characteristics that are sometimes associated with face-to-face courses)

I'm also intrigued by the report's typology of online courses: expository, active, and interactive (see the table on p. 25) Seems like a smart way to think about all sorts of learning.

See the summary of findings and conclusions on pp. xvi-xvii.

Thoughts?

1 comment:

Leslie said...

Gary,
I enjoyed this post and also the readings. I do have a few thoughts on this subject:

Right now I am teaching three online Contemporary Culture classes and also a blended five-week General Studies course. I am also teaching a face-to-face composition course. Weekly discussion posts are part of the curriculum for the online and blended courses, where there is quite a bit of content-oriented discussions driven by the students. Usually these discussions create a vibrant community and learning does in fact take place. Policies are clearly set so that the forum is devoid of "empty" conversations, so the outcomes are generally very positive.

This notion of where learning is taking place in these online courses fascinates me because I have come to the conclusion that there are a myriad of variables such as the course content, the prompts that drive discussions, the instructor, the students, and how the forum is set up to really promote "learning" as we hope to define it.

I am still a very big advocate of face-to-face, simply because it is becoming a lost art in this "techno" happy culture. Stories, experiences, interactions, conversation, thinking through things as a community, and the human piece----these elements are holding our culture together. Not to say that you can't get this online, but it is just taking me more time to find ways to productively measure it. Distance learning brings an entirely new pedagogy to teaching, particularly in English classes.

I read a great essay this week with the students in my composition class at Westminster called "Dwelling in Possibilities" by Mark Edmundson. He is a professor at University of Virginia. The basic premise of the essay is that students are in too many places at once because technology allows them to live this way. They are grand multi-taskers. Edmundson is an advocate of the face-to-face forum because he feels that the college classroom is one of the best places to stop and think, slow life down, and live more deliberately. From my experiences in the virtual and actual classrooms, I would have to agree that the ability to live more deliberately happens more often face-to-face than in the online setting. Perhaps after teaching online courses for another ten years or so will offer me a new perspective, but for now, the traditional college classroom breathes new life into the human spirit that is essential and critical in today’s world.
Just a few thoughts.