Teaching Reflection: Adaptive Active Blended Learning

Kelvin Thompson and Thomas Cavanagh are hosts of the podcast TOPcast. I listened to two of their episodes – episode 35 ‘Blended Our Way to “A Whole New Level of Student Success,” and episode 29 ‘Designing Better Blended Learning‘ to reflect more on blended learning.

University education has been evolving for a long time. Traditional teacher-centred methods of teaching where the teacher casts themselves as the master, controller, and expert of the subject is very much out of favour. In this process students are passive, it does not encourage involvement from students, and by extension mastery. To study, memorise, recite, sit and just absorb, does not develop student’s knowledge retention, problem-solving, decision-making skills, or interpersonal skills. Scott Freeman and colleague’s (as discussed in episode 35) study of active learning student performance states: “Given our results, it is reasonable to raise concerns about the continued use of traditional lecturing as a control in future experiments.”

Drs Thompson and Cavanagh discuss how blended learning out performs other modalities of teaching through grades, withdraw rates, student and staff satisfaction, and has done for twenty years. They discuss over episodes 29 and 35 (with guests) the following key principles – blended, active, and adaptive:

  1. Blended Learning – involves blending online and in-class time. Online platforms are not just content repository. There is a need to be intentional about what is happening in class and online material and encourage collaboration. Dr Norm Vaughan (episode 29) talks about “learning to teach with our mouths shut,” need to listen to students and help them link to academic material – we want to provoke and disrupt student’s way of thinking.
  2. Active Learning – involves students doing activities to develop higher-level thinking and improve their knowledge and understanding. Brame discusses a range of techniques including (but not limited to) – The Pause Procedure, Retrieval Practice, Demonstrations, Think-Pair-Share, Peer Instruction, Minute Papers, and Case-based Learning. It is about getting students doing more, in a thoughtful way. As stated in the podcast ‘No matter how much you know, it’s in the doing, the hands-on process’ that you end up learning.
  3. Adaptive Learning – appreciates that not all students have the same abilities and as such cannot be treated the same. We need to be able to tailor activities with this in mind. One size does not fit all. To truly embrace adaptive learning will need to put a lot more time into planning activities.

In using Active Blended learning we as teachers need to be aware that we need to develop a safe community for students to debate and discuss ideas. We need to be aware that they may not be familiar with this style of teaching, so it may take time to acclimate them to this. And we need to work as a community with our colleagues to be consistent in our approach.

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