Presently in the blended learning field it is widely accepted that carefully designed blended learning creates a change in pedagogy. "At its simplest, blended learning is the thoughtful integration of classroom face-to-face learning experiences with online learning experiences" (Garrison and Kanuka as cited in Niemiec 93). Therefore blended learning can be considered a socially complex learning experience, which allows for formal and informal learning to take place within a community of practice. The session begins with the experience of six students (A-Class) in a blended program and how their communication and collaboration evolved as they built their own community of practice, and used innovative approaches to build a community of learning; thus enhancing their learning both formally and informally. In reviewing the success of their blended learning experience, the presentation will focus on strategies and practices that help learners in blended learning programs or courses to build a community of practice.
Too often redesigning a traditional face-to-face course or program into a blended learning experience means providing supplemental information online and without careful design, the online portion becomes a repository of information with no engagement or direction for the learner. In an authentic blended learning experience, there needs to be a complete redesign with a focus on designing instruction that works best within the appropriate mode of in-person or online. A key component in any successful blended learning experience is effective student-instructor interaction and the creation of a community of practice within learners so that there is increased student engagement. Research has shown that community building in blended learning courses leads to active student learning both formally and informally because blended learning, when designed correctly, adopts the best of face to face (f2f) and online instruction (Vaughan 86).
In a well-designed blended learning course, classrooms are not the only learning space but so is the virtual space of the classroom. Since the current generation of learners are so well-versed in virtual social communities, which have been formed through common likes, dislikes, affiliations, and/or friends, the assumption often times is that these skills will translate over to community building in the blended instruction. However, it is important to note that these skills don't always translate in an educational setting, because in blended learning the community's purpose is to engage students in creating partnerships, which expand and elaborate the students' knowledge (California State University Sacramento, 2009). So, it is the responsibility of the instructor to guide the learners and help create a sense of community. In traditional courses, communities form spontaneously while waiting in the classroom or hallways, whom you're seated near in the class, or who you might be paired or grouped off with in class. In a virtual learning space, communities can be created in a large group, small group or pair, however learners need guidance regarding participation, otherwise these communities end up being little more than a perfunctory assignment component as opposed to the transformational learning they can cause. Thus the classroom can set the stage for a larger community to form and for the creation of smaller groups but instructors should expect and allow for smaller communities to form spontaneously in both the online and virtual classroom.
The goals of this presentation are to a) present strategies and practices that the instructor can use in order to help establish learner communities of practice in blended learning, and b) focusing on extra curricular activities and virtual hangouts that learners can partake in which can increase students' understanding and knowledge of the subject matter. The presentation will highlight best practices for building communities of practice in blended learning based on current trends and literature, which contribute to the transformational aspect of blended learning and produce positive student learning outcomes.
This presentation will benefit individuals who are interested in improving student engagement in blended learning experiences, and in the transformational aspect of communities of practice in blended learning. The audience will experience stories of success in building a community in blended learning, while reviewing best practices of community building. Audience participation and success stories will be welcomed as the presentation discusses the best practices with the intent that after attending the session, participants will be able to apply the information to create communities of practice in their blended learning courses and/or programs. Audience will be able to access presentation information online after the event.
California State University, Sacramento. (2009). Online Discussions for Blended Learning. Retrieved from http://www.csus.edu/webct/faculty/discussion-board-best-practices.pdf
Niemiec, M., & Otte, G. (2009). An administrator's guide to the whys and hows of blended learning. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 14(1), 91-102.
Vaughan, N. (2007). Perspectives on blended learning in higher education. International Journal on E-Learning, 6(1), 81-94.