A few thoughts to kick off a discussion …
Let’s start with a definition so that we’ll know we’re all thinking about the same thing:
Blended Learning is the combination of multiple approaches to learning. Blended learning can be accomplished through the use of ‘blended’ virtual and physical resources. A typical example of this would be a combination of technology-based materials and face-to-face sessions used together to deliver instruction.
In the strictest sense, blended learning is when an instructor combines two methods of delivery of instruction. However, this term most often applies to the use of technology on instruction. A good example of blended learning would be to give a well-structured introductory lesson in the classroom, and then to provide follow-up materials online. Guidance is suggested early in the process, to be faded as learners gain expertise.
The views I’ll express here will be mine alone, and possibly idiosyncratic, and so I’d encourage (via Comments) some discussion.
The very essence of successful blended learning is, for me (and, I’d have thought, effectively by definition), integration, as seamless and as natural as possible, rather than separation and compartmentalisation of learning components … in other words, in its proper sense a ‘blend’. What this, in very general practical terms, means for me is:
- learning is unitary (“having the character of a single thing … marked by unity; not dual or segregated”). Activities in Second Life should not be seen as separate from other curriculum-related learning activities; there should be no discontinuity, no disruption, between offline and online learning
- there must be transparent complementarity between formal face-to-face tuition, workshops and informal class discussion, guided self-study, the real-world library, digital (e.g. web-based) documents and interactive learning resources, out-of-class assignments, etc
- the ultimate aim should, beyond simple complementarity, be the integration of all components in a seamless whole
Why is it important that we think about, and debate, such issues now? because, having now started to teach inworld, it’s essential to me that we get the paedogogy right, that we know exactly why it is that we are using Second Life and that we know how it’s use will enhance learning as an integrated component of a Blended Learning programme. Some observations:
- in the eight months that I’ve been actively in Second Life, and have been visiting virtual university campuses, my impression is that there has been in general very little (evidence of) activity. Most campuses, when I have visited, have been deserted; there has been scant evidence (in the form of, for example, billboards announcing class schedules or in-world events, or of notecards or other media reporting activities) of the medium being actively used. I may be mistaken: much may in fact be going on that, because of the times at which I’ve visited, I’ve simply been unable to witness; alternatively, many universities (and I’d obviously have to include Kingston University in this group) may still be in early stages of development, yet with paedogogically very sound plans for how the platform will in time be used. I hope to find the time and have the opportunity to speak with people from other institutions (and hope to hear good things from them); but, in the meantime, I flag this as a personal observation.
- I’ve attended a good number of in-world education-related meetings and discussions over the months. While some few have been interesting and informative, the general quality has been poor by comparison with face-to-face meetings and seminars. Meetings have often been poorly chaired and moderated; unmoderated text-based chat–thrown into inevitable disarray by variations in participants’ typing speed and, because of the felt urgency of the need to reply before the topic moves on, the tendancy to not reflect before typing–has determined that discussions are often chaotic and cacophonous; pushed by the medium into telegrammatic contributions to discussion, the potential for the development of coherent and intellectually rich content too often falls disappointingly short of what one would expect in real-world meetings
- in contrast, many lectures I have attended have been outstandingly good: well advertised, well organised, well attended, well presented with slides, video, voice, and well moderated Q&A sessions at the end. This, and the previous point, suggest that we need to reflect seriously on the issue of whether–and, if so, how–it makes any sense to assume that we can replicate in SL the kinds of teaching and learning activities that we take for granted in the real world
- almost endemic to Second Life culture (as a cursory glance at the ‘1st Life’ tab of a random selection of Profiles will confirm) is the insistence by residents that there be an absolute separation, a clean disjunction, between one’s ‘RL’ (real life) and one’s Second Life, and that the anonymity of the avatar be respected. In a context in which SL is treated as a game, a distraction, a form of entertainment, this is understandable: one’s online activities, whether in Second Life or World of Warcraft or Eve Online or wherever else, are unrelated to one’s real life. There is a risk that the cultural assumptions attendant on Second-Life-as-game may, by default, carry over into Second-Life-as-elearning-platform. My strong feeling is that, rather than simply plunging into Second Life for little better reason than that “every other university is doing so (and let’s watch what they do)”, we need to give a great deal of thought to what it is, paedogogically, that we hope to achieve through Second Life and what this implies about how we use Second Life. If it is to be truly and effectively integrated into a Blended Learning programme, as characterised above, my personal feeling is that the direction we should be thinking in is: SL as tool, SL as extension of RL, SL as medium and platform for multimedia communication, SL as seamlessly an extension of RL as, for example, the telephone is seamlessly and invisibly an extension of the communicating self.
The above observations and musings continue the reflections I began in an early article, ‘Why Second Life?‘, which may be worth re-reading. I look forward to reading your comments in response, and hope we can stimulate some productive debate.