Thinking About Blended Learning in EAP
This post is part of my reading response to the first unit of a Blended Learning course (#BlendKit14) that I am currently taking online (offered by the University of Central Florida and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities). I will continue posting on the topic of blended learning over the next four weeks.
Although I am not planning on designing a blended course for ELT at the moment, I am curious about the possibility of teaching English for Academic Purposes (EAP) online in the future. I would love to find out from teachers (or learners reading this blog!) if you think there could be advantages combining online and onsite learning activities in EAP. Also, what should we be mindful of when designing blended courses? I teach an English writing class to first year university students in non-English speaking country, and I am often looking for ways in which students will be encouraged to collaborate with each other in their writing and/or while reading and analyzing texts in class. What if students came to class for presentations and debates, but also had time offline to write their reading responses and interact with each other via forums and blog posts? Is blended learning a better alternative to traditional face-to-face courses or could it be mainly a beneficial option to some learners?
Hybrid or blended-courses are becoming more and more common at many higher education institutions nowadays. Some of the subjects taught range from accounting to marine biology classes. This is not surprising since the appeal of being able to learn through both onsite and online interactions is huge, especially when we consider that blended courses allow more flexibility for learners who need to complete work asynchronously due to their own work or personal schedules. But blended-learning works well for many learners not only because of the asynchronous nature of the learning activities in the online component. Blended courses allow participants to connect with each other in ways in which a traditional classroom does not often encourage (e.g., via blogs, sharing sources). Also, students get to participate in class by using different skills than those required in traditional face-to-face education only. Think of reading seminars and group work; discussions in online forums allow participants more time to think and polish their responses -a luxury we often don’t have when participating in a live class discussion. Additionally, in a face-to-face class we do not have the option of ‘skimming’ replies from participants who are speaking and focus our attention on replying to comments that caught our attention. I speak from personal experience here. Having completed an MA in TESOL (online) at the New School with the chance of taking some courses onsite during the summer, I have to say that quite often I enjoyed the online discussions more since I could browse different responses and think more about the replies I gave to others’ posts. I enjoy face-to-face discussions, but from my experience I’ve come to believe that online discussions can be deeper and more challenging at times.
By designing a course in which web 2.0 technologies are incorporated in addition to more common methods, learners are given the chance to explore online resources that they’ll be able to use and refer to in the future. BlendKit2014 facilitator Kelvin Thomson explains in his first chapter of the Blendkit Reader that “blended learning lends itself to learner-centered, teacher-guided (as opposed to teacher-directed), interactive, and student-collaborative learning.” As a teacher (and learner) who is drawn to the use of technology when exploring new content and connecting to others, I find myself wondering how a hybrid or blended course would work for English language learners in an academic context. What exactly about having an online component could benefit students in EAP? What are the limitations to keep in mind? I would love to see peer reviews conducted online, hoping that perhaps some of the insecurities of giving peer feedback in person would be lessened. But would they?
I’ll probably have more questions (and perhaps some answers?) as I keep reading and interacting with others in the BlendKit course. For now, I hope to hear from other teachers interested in blended learning. Please share some of your thoughts!