Blended synchronous learning

Over the last few months, there has been some interest in what it might be like if we could teach virtually and face-to-face at the same time. The question stems from the possibility of including those students who are excluded from face-to-face contact as a result of COVID-19.

The research conducted on this method of delivery that I was able to find (referred to as ‘blended synchronous learning’) is pre-COVID and revolves around a tertiary education context.

Blended synchronous learning

The notes and ideas below derive from these two sources:

  • Bower, Matt & Dalgarno, Barney & Kennedy, Gregor & Lee, Mark & Kenney, Jacqueline. (2014). Blended Synchronous Learning-A Handbook for Educators Blended synchronous learning: a handbook for educators
  • Simultaneous Delivery of a Face-to-Face Course to On-Campus and Remote Off-Campus Students. TECHTRENDS TECH TRENDS 54, 34–40 (2010).

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Definition of blended synchronous learning

  • The integration of physical classroom and cyber classroom settings using synchronous learning to enable unlimited connectivity for teachers and students from any part of the world.
  • Learning and teaching where remote students participate in face-to-face classes by means of rich-media synchronous technologies such as video conferencing, web conferencing, or virtual worlds.

Advantages

  • Provides flexible access to those in more remote locations, with disabilities, under represented groups and/or extenuating circumstances which make meeting face-to-face challenging.
  • Can be financially more affordable.
  • There is evidence that distance students value being able to ‘attend’ a face-to-face lesson as opposed to attending a virtual lesson.
  • The use of video and other media is underpinned by the premise that visual signals improve human interaction.
  • Many of those surveyed felt they learnt more in a blended synchronous learning environment. This may be as a result of enhancement of learning design as teachers rethink their pedagogy.
  • Holding discussions through a technological medium levels the playing field for remote students. It may encourage face-to-face students who are normally reluctant to engage in conversation.
  • Blended synchronous learning leads to an enhanced sense of community. There are suggestions that creating student profiles so all students can get to know each other, build representation and build a sense of community.

Challenges

  • There is an institutional responsibility to provide technical support, teaching assistance, professional development, and pre-equipped learning and teaching spaces.
  • Teachers require more preparation time. Their work commitments should be adjusted accordingly.
  • In managing two cohorts of students, there may be a tendency to devote more attention to remote learners.
  • The technology can be an imposition for face-to-face students.
  • In simultaneously catering to two cohorts, the teacher may need to compromise their pedagogical approach e.g. slowing down to accommodate distance learners, using more L1 than usual, an increase of wordy explanations, etc.
  • Although learners may be in the same room, their ‘talk’ and collaboration may need to be funnelled through a technological medium to accommodate remote group members.
  • Seamless interaction between two cohorts of students is reliant on each individual understanding the technology they are using and the typical conventions naturally found in a blended synchronous learning environment.
  • Technological reliability can be an issue.
  • Having remote students working with those who are face-to-face can slow down the lesson and interfere with face-to-face students’ interaction opportunities.

Essentials

  • All learners require a computer or tablet device in order to interact. Social distancing precludes learners from sharing.
  • The classroom needs reliable WIFI.
  • There is a need to provide clear instructions for remote students before the class begins.
  • The teacher needs to concept check regularly.
  • All students should be involved collaboratively as if they were not online.
  • Teaching assistants are an essential component. Increasing the ratio of teaching assistants to participants may be necessary to minimise disruption to lessons.
  • The success of each lesson is highly dependent on the technology working. This suggests that there should be help in the form of teaching assistants who understand the software and can troubleshoot problems if and when they arise.
  • There may be a greater sense of learning, possibly due to design, i.e. making more use of collaborative activities to engage students in ‘active learning’. If this is to occur, tasks require student participation. It therefore follows that all activities and tasks provide both temporal and technological space for students to make contributions.
  • Care must be taken not to overly modify or constrain face-to-face lesson activities. This could lead to ‘transactional distance’, which not only refers to the geographical separation of students but also the psychological separation.
  • There is a significant increase in ‘teacher effort’ required than when teaching in one mode, i.e. virtually or face-to-face. There is much higher demands and a greater cognitive load as teachers are managing two cohorts of students, streams of information, the technology, while at the same time trying to teach the lesson content.
  • Given the potential technological challenges and necessity to reinstruct and/or encourage participation of distance students, there may be a necessity to restrict student numbers per session.
  • There is some evidence to show that grouping face-to-face students together and distance students together is easier and allows them to collaborate more naturally. There are other sources which suggest the opposite is true or take a neutral position.

References

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