10 July 2013

Blended Learning: Let Them Loose

When I put all my tutorials online, I felt like a cop-out. I felt lazy. My class-starting trademark was to say, "Get to work!" (I felt like Tim Gunn, but the students didn't know who he was.) But let me tell you, it's not lazy. I was just as busy, if not busier, but I felt so much more productive. I'm just going to quickly go over some benefits I saw from blended learning.

Very Little Classroom Management

Classroom management has always been my achilles' heel. Maybe it's because I have the 'cool teacher' complex, but I just hated the disciplinarian and babysitter aspects of the job. But the only time you really need to do that is during lecture time. With blended learning, you put your lectures online and the class period is simply work time.

Quicker Students Stay Motivated

Without being held back by anyone else, the quick students are able to blaze on through to the next assignment or project. They already have an A, but they tend to still want to complete the next assignment. When you say, "You only have to complete X number of assignments, most of you won't be able to finish the rest," the quick student thinks, Others won't be able to finish, but I will.

Slower Students Keep Up

With lectures online, students who are forgetful, or absent, have a chance to go back and watch anything they need to. With only a certain number of required assignments, they have a smaller chance of feeling overwhelmed.

Discussions Move Online

Many teachers might try to argue against blended learning, claiming that it kills classroom discussion. But let's be honest, was the whole class participating, or just your usual three? Not only that, but by putting it online, you can easily dole out points for participating. If the discussion starts going off on tangents, the lesson doesn't suffer, because not every student is held back by the progression of the discussion.

Focus on What Matters: the Assignments and the Feedback

  1. In the YouTube tutorial world, feedback is king.
  2. Students can learn far more from a well-designed assignment than they ever could from even the most elaborate lesson.
It appears that more than a few teachers are worried about the MOOC and all other things threatening to remove the teacher from the classroom. I have no such fear, because the teacher will not be replaced, but her role will shift. She will no longer be a lesson planner and presenter, but an assignment designer and feedback giver.

Maybe that should be the new title for ourselves. I don't teach, I design assignments and give feedback. (I'm remembering a post from long ago right now...) I want to find a better word, but they're pretty bland. Mentor. Trainer.

Anyway, I know a lot of graphic designers and video producers out there who were self-taught. They needed to know how to do something, so they googled it. But that only works for a small percentage of people. For the rest of us, Google and YouTube are gigantic worlds, and even when we find what we were looking for, there's no one to tell us whether we did it right. There's no one to point out things we missed, shortcuts we could have taken, other tools we could have used. You can learn a lot more with a mentor.

Even better is when that mentor creates the challenge for you. It's a project that is limited enough that you can handle it, open enough that you can experiment with it, challenging enough that you have to stretch yourself to accomplish it, and fun enough that it doesn't feel like a chore.

Like I said at the very beginning, I'm busier than ever thanks to dropping lecture time. But it's business that I enjoy. I love coming up with new assignments that I think will lead students to performing better.

With that, I'm off. I'm feeling tired and I fear this post is far more ranty than I intended.

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