Implementing Blended Learning: An Institutional View | Eric Baber and Carla Arena de Aquino’s presentation | IATEFL Manchester 2015

Abstract: Implementing blended learning successfully requires more than just giving teachers and students access to digital materials. In this talk, we will look at key considerations including administration of learners and teachers; teacher and learner training; monitoring teacher behaviour within an LMS; and resource and cost considerations. We will be using Casa Thomas Jefferson, Brazil, as a case study.

Here is my summary of Eric and Carla’s session:

Teacher and Learner Administration

Eric Baber started the presentation by drawing parallels between the learner administration that goes on in a face-to-face school (diagnostic testing, needs analysis, etc.) and the one that happens in an Language Management System (LMS) or a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). As happens in a f2f school, administrators must create classes in an LMS, learners must enroll in the LMS and be put in the correct class(es). At this point, Eric highlighted the fact that all this requires time and in some cases it requires very much time.

The notion of reporting was then introduced. At some point (if not at many points during an online course) an administrator, a teacher, or even a parent expects to receive some kind of report of what the student(s) has/have done. As it is expected, this adds to the amount of time needed to be put in the said course.


Teacher and Learner Training

Unlike some people’s belief that preparation for online teaching and learning is limited to buying a platform and start using it, Eric stressed the importance of training not only the teacher but the learner(s), as well.

In regards to teachers’ training, pedagogic training came first both in order and in importance. “Teachers need to recognise that blended learning is more than just ‘do what you can do in the classroom and send the students online to do a bit of additional homework.’”

Things to consider:

-If working with online platforms created by publishers, chances are there will be much more material than the one needed. So, asking learners to go home and spend an x amount of hours in the platform will result in learners accessing wrong materials, in most probability. So, the teacher needs to be prepared in not only knowing what is included in the platform but also in recommending the suitable materials to the learners, which can be done on a personal basis (recommending different materials to different learners, according to their individual needs).

-Continuous refinement in what the teacher does is another point to consider. It is very important but also time consuming.

In regards to learners’ training, there is a great need for learners to become more autonomous. The fact that most learners are digital natives, Eric says, does not necessarily mean that they know how to learn on their own. Other than learning how to learn, they must learn how to access the platform along with its different features.


Monitoring Teacher Behaviour Within an LMS

In an LMS environment, institutions need to learn what students (and teachers) are doing, which, in turn, means that Academic Directors need to be knowledgeable of how blended learning works. An example of a school director asking naively how many hours a teacher has spent in the LMS of the school is presented in order for Eric to illustrate the importance of knowing the mechanics and the pedagogy of blended learning by the ones in charge of a school. Things are different when it comes to measuring students because LMSs have been designed in such a way that they can measure learners’ performance.

Therefore, schools must invest in finding ways or even designing tools that can help with teachers’ evaluation. For example, a requirement from the part of the teacher to comment on students’ blog-posts or forum discussions.


Resource and Cost Considerations

Towards the end of Eric’s presentation, he made the following suggestions:

Teachers need training on how to better support students and how to keep them motivated.

Institutions might need to employ more administrators.

Institutions should train new staff as soon as they hire them.

Institutions need to maintain a back of computers for students who don’t have regular access on own devices.

Carla Arena de Aquino took over reporting on her experience when introduced blended learning in her school. Here are the main points of her talk:

Things to remember about the transition from a fully face-to-face program to a Blended Learning one:

-It is a shift of paradigm and it takes time for both teachers and learners to get used to it.

-A detailed study guide can make learners’ experience much easier.

-Students’ monitoring should not be limited to monitoring their progress. Instead, institutions and teachers should focus on creative ways of giving feedback to and communicating with students.

-Adjustments in course content are essential (Production work can happen in class, while receptive work can take place online).

-To make learners accountable for their work, institutions should promote blended assessment methods (i.e. a combination of online and face-to-face tests).

-Tech support to students should not be offered by IT personnel but by teachers and administrative assistants.

-Institutions should invest on teachers; they are the core of Blended Learning programs.

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