I’m doing some research for a talk I’m giving in New Zealand to heads of private schools – the invitation for which came from a similar talk I gave to the Australian Heads of Independent Schools Association. I’m sruiking the wonders of education 2.0 about which I’ve waxed and waxed on this blog. Who would you trust to guide you in your adoption of such obviously sensible technologies?
Obviously the power of the web should be used, but how? What are the pitfalls and what are the things to really focus on. Well I’ve got a nerve telling anyone anything. I did do a stint as a school teacher – a kind of self-funded Teach for Australia gig before there was such a program. And I’m an enthusiast for the web, for web 2.0 etc. But that’s it. So what would I know? What real research have I done. The problem is most people are in the same position. With bits of insight, bits of experience etc. And what kind of ‘research’ would be useful here. What kind of research would have been useful for Mark Zuckerberg setting up Facebook, Steve Jobs thinking of the iPhone or the Mac or Jimmy Wales wondering if Wikipedia would work. Or any of them trying to make those products and platforms better?
So who do you go with. The TED talkers? The consultants? Academics? Well the academics are peer reviewed after all. But then there’s a problem. What’s peer review doing in a field like that? It could add some value at least in principle. But does it? Well the academic articles that I’ve seen are more or less the same hunches marketed in the TED talks, or different ones. But they’re dealing with a massively complex subject – and no matter how many data-points one had on a topic like ‘blended learning’ (the combined use of online and ‘traditional’ learning methods) the conclusions one draws can’t really be extended beyond the circumstances of their adoption. And there are any number of ways to blend learning. As one can see from the chart.
And what we end up with is empty kinds of assurances as to what conclusions one can draw which are nevertheless shoehorned into the genre of any other academic article – which is to say one can’t make a claim that the sky is blue without references. And great lengths are gone to to provide the patina of science – single things are measured and reported on with great seriousness. But the conclusions are lame generalisations just as cliched and ultimately empty as the supposedly less ‘rigorous’ consultants and TED talkers – though the latter are partly marketing their profile and reputation elsewhere – along with the charisma of their presence and presentation.
Below the fold are the substantive conclusions from a summary article introducing a whole thematic edition of Internet and Higher Education (the reference is 18 (2013) 1–3, since you ask) It’s entitled “Blended learning policy and implementation: Introduction to a special issue” of by Ron Owston. Does this add anything to your understanding of the issues?
Concluding remarks A theme that comes through clearly in the collection of articles is that for blended learning to move to scale institutional goals must align with those of faculty as described by Moskal et al. This view is reinforced by Graham et al.’s study about the need for an advocate or champion to initiate and sustain an initiative, particularly in the early formative stages, and by Garrison and Vaughan who stress the importance of blended learning being supported by institutional vision and mission. Carbonell et al.’s research adds to this the importance of faculty involved in course re-design having a shared vision to put aside their personal aspirations and needs for the common cause of implementing blended learning. Although the notion of alignment of institutional goals and coherence is not a new concept in the institutional change literature (e.g., Goldman, 2005), what these articles af?rm is that introducing blended learning into the academy is not unlike introducing any kind of innovation into existing organizations.
The articles in the special issue raise a number of questions worthy of future research. For example, given that goal alignment is a critical factor in scaling blended learning, what processes and strategies facilitate goal alignment? Are there different strategies for working with faculty as opposed to academic administrators and what ones are effective in facilitating alignment with these two groups? What is the role of the blended learning champion in the goal alignment process and what happens if the person leaves the institution? Are there subject areas where blended learning strategies can be implemented more readily? Another intriguing issue was raised by Owston et al. They suggest that academic ability is a critical factor in determining the success of students in the blended environment. Assuming that is the case, research is needed to ?nd out what kinds of supports and services low achieving students require in order to succeed in blended environments. Are these supports and services different than the typical tutorial assistance provided in many university courses? How does subject matter dif?culty affect success? Their study also suggests the need to consider level of achievement as a factor in studies comparing blended learning with other instructional designs to see if Owston et al.’s hypothesis can be supported.
Thanks guys. In the meantime, I’ll just be happy in thinking that organisations need to find ways to empower people who seem to have talent and commitment to experiment with the new possibilities and, like startup firms, build a body of experience and work towards improvement. They’ll pick up tips from each other, and blogs and inspirational talks and what not. There’ll be dross in them, but as we were trying to figure out Government 2.0 one place we found unusually devoid of real help or insight was academic articles.