A Blended Learning Approach To Improve Students Education Essay

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Traditional teacher-centric approaches allow for passive reception of educational content, do not align with learning styles of many students, is teacher/classroom-centred, not student -centred, do not allow for real-world experiences and generally focus mainly on summative assessment. By itself, the traditional teach-centric, broadcasting approach to content delivery in higher education is not meeting the varying needs of today's technology-enriched students, operating in an engaging technologically advanced social environment.

More significantly, the cohort of mature working, part-time students who generally access the evening programmes at higher learning institutions are hampered by the limited contact-time with the lecturer (generally 3 hours per week). There is a need for such students to communicate with their lecturers beyond the class room session, whether in groups or individually; to be exposed to extra sources of content, both print and on-line, social platforms for communication, collaboration and sharing of ideas. Blended learning provides these advantages. Based on the above ideas, I seek to find out the relationship between the use of a blended learning delivery mode and student performance in the MGMT 043X course module running from June to August, 2010 in the Summer Programme at the University of the West Indies St. Augustine Campus.

2. Introduction

Blended learning described also as hybrid learning is usually defined as a mixture of traditional face-to-face learning with instructions together with the elements of technology where on-line resources are created, organized and placed on Learning Management Systems (LMS) incorporating a range of constructivist mechanisms including the placing of subject content, quizzes, puzzles, games, simulations, use of real-time and asynchronous discussions or utilized as webpages or Website-based content or organized as on-line activities; is now been recognized as a major methodology for improved student performance in higher education.

More recently, the explosion of social technologies ( utube,edutube, facebook, frickr, myspace, twitter etc) used by digital natives and to a lesser extent digital immigrants, and their positive impact on the higher education environment has necessitated a rethink of the delivery methods used in lecture halls. The idea of anywhere, anytime learning is a reality in higher education today. Blended learning environments provide the most significant features for this process.

The idea of the "blend" in learning is supported by (Garnham and Kaleta , 2002; Singh, 2003; Bonk and Graham, 2005; Albrecht, 2006; Lloyd-Smith, 2009 ). What is significant though is that there are different perspectives with respect to the context, use and impact of blended learning as a methodology of delivery in higher education. The idea of improvement in student performance is critical and also essential as a important area of investigation for me and consequently, I propose to find out whether blended learning does in fact improve student performance and how can I use this delivery mode to improve the performance of a cohort of students (in terms of classroom engagement and end-of-course examination performance) at the St Augustine Campus summer programme in 2010.

The purpose of the study therefore is to determine to what extent blended learning can improve student performance in the Course MGMT 043X on the 2010 Summer Programme of the St Augustine Campus. The information gathered would help to determine what features of blended learning increase student's performance and how the use of ICT technology impacts the teaching/learning.

3. Assumptions

The following assumptions are used to raise the research questions in the study:

Blended learning enhances learning capacity of students;

Restructuring a course beyond the traditional 'text and blackboard' mode to include e-learning allows greater student involvement and increase learning;

The use of social technologies (blogs, wikis, facebook, on-line groups, twitter, discussion boards, etc.) improve social interaction among students and hence improves learning;

Blended Learning impacts the learning styles of students.

4. Research Questions

1. How do I restructure the MGMT 043X course content to enhance blended learning course delivery to align with students learning styles?

2. How can I use a blended learning approach to improve the classroom and examination performance of students in the MGMT 043X course at UWI?

3. Does Blended Learning enhance student performance in the classroom?

4. Does a Blended Learning approach affect the learning styles of students?

The Socio-human Technology Platform

The Lecturer

Pedagogical

Philosophy

Instructivism

Constructivism

Behavourist

Strategies

Cognitivist

Strategies

Cognitivist/ Constructivist

Strategies

Constructivist/

Situated Strategies

A

S

S

E

S

S

M

E

N

T

The Student

L

E

A

R

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5. Concept Map: Blended Learning

facebookk

Feedback loop

Feedback loop

6. The Conceptual Framework

a. Socio-Human Technology Platform

The Conceptual Framework from which I begin to articulate the blended learning ideas is underpinned in what I call a Socio-Human Technology Platform or internet-based environment which allows for the interaction between the student and the lecturer; fact-to-face and via social technologies-(email, short messaging, facebook, blogs etc. and learning management systems(LMS).

This platform is always dynamic and evolving allowing for collaboration communication, sharing, co-authoring and transmission of issues and ideas. It allows for the extension of the classroom and provides a multi-media, dynamic environment for teaching and learning;

In other words it enables the following questions to be raised and studied with respect to blended learning:

-What students are doing in the classroom and on-line?

- How are learning communities been formed?

- What kinds of facilitations are been conducted by lecturers, students, other experts etc.?

All of these are to be viewed in the context of interaction and communication, creativity, knowledge-building and reflection.

b. The Lecturer

The Lecturer operates from the left side of the platform. The lecturer brings a pedagogical philosophy (Reeves & Reeves, 1997) which provides the pedagogical foundation for implementing any course using blended learning. This philosophy includes an understanding and articulation of Insturctivism and Constructivism. These methodologies should be conceptualized as running along a continuum, implemented by the lecturer relative to the goals of the lecture/s and interaction with the students. Thus the approach to teaching may be rooted in instructivism where the delivery of content is traditional and is expanded to include construtivism in terms of the use of e-learning/ ICT technology.

c. Instructivism and Constructivism

These are the two dominant methodologies implemented by the lecturer in the teaching/ learning situation and provide the context for the teaching/learning transaction. Instuctivism represents the traditional face-to-face, lecture mode of delivery to students while constructivism represents the on-line rich, multi-media activities including on-line discussions, on-line collaboration, coursework, group work, sharing, and self directed learning, on-line research including the use of LMS. It is important to conceptualize these methodologies as a continuum providing a number of strategies to be used by the lecturer. These are the foundation strategies used in a blended learning environment.

7. Strategies

i. Behaviourist Strategies

These include popular direct instruction, programmed instruction and mastery learning, traditional and objectivist in intent, such methods are use in the instructivist mode of delivery. They can be considered as teacher-centric and teacher-focused allowing for passive acceptance of content by students.

ii. Cognitivist Strategies

Gagnes nine events of instruction

The major focus here is on outcomes and behaviours based on instructional design and training but in a more systematic way. Although behaviourist in intent such teaching methods tend to follow the schema presented by (Gagnes, 1985):1. Gain attention, 2. Inform learners of objectives,3. Stimulate recall of prior learning, 4. Present the content, 5. Provide "learning guidance, 6. Elicit performance (practice), 7. Provide feedback, 8. Assess performance, and 9. Enhance retention and transfer to the job.

iii. Cognitivist/constructivist Strategies

These include micro-worlds and problem-based learning.

These are approaches which involve real-life experiments where students are encouraged to think, solve problems, test hypotheses and explore the dynamics and multi-disciplinary characteristics of significant topics in the curriculum. Micro-worlds generally use computer-based programmes, are structured and/or systematic.

Problem-based learning (PBL) is also a student-centered instructional strategy; here students collaboratively solve problems and provide solutions. They then reflect on their experiences.

iv. Constructivist/Situated Strategies

These include Inquiry-based learning and Project-base learning.

Education begins with the curiosity of the learner. This is based on (Dewey's, 1938) philosophy. Thus in an Inquiry-based learning environment, students take responsibility for their learning and arrive at an understanding of concepts by inquiring by themselves or in groups with the guidance of the teacher.

Project-based learning is student-centred and student-focused where students construct their own knowledge based on real-world problems. It is a comprehensive instructional approach to engage students in sustained, cooperative investigation (Bransford & Stein, 1993) and is targeted towards deep learning. Both teaching strategies are generally classroom-based and hence 'situated' in context.

8. Assessment

The teaching/learning strategies available to the lecturer in a blended learning environment yield a number of assessment mechanisms, both formative and summative. The major formative exercises would include mid-semester examinations, minute questions, quizzes/forums, groupwork, discussion-threads and Individual research/reports. The summative assessments would include end-of-module examinations, unseen examination, open-book examinations, projects and course work. The on-line environment provides new opportunities of dynamic assessment and immediate feed-back based on the wide range of electronic types of assessment templates available to teachers.

9. The Student

The student functions from the right extremity of the model in the teaching/learning environment where the emphasis is on learning. Assessments therefore indicate: 1. whether learning has taken place, and 2. what remedial steps are to be taken to achieve the goals/objectives of the module. Thus in the context of blended learning, there exist a range of assessment offerings, both formal and informal which provide feedback to the student and lecturer on the student's performance in a module. Student performance is also augmented by the feedback/ communication loop represented by the coloured thick arrowed lines which permanently link the lecturer and the student in the Socio-Human Technology Platform. This is one of the major advantages of the blended learning environment over the traditional delivery mode. Communication is available beyond the classroom and takes place between the lecturer and student, student and lecturer and student and student.

The model therefore attempts to expose the features of the blended learning environment, identifying the major components: the student and lecturer, pedagogical philosophy, educational methodologies, teaching strategies and assessment strategies; all underpinned by an enabling teaching/ learning environment augmented by technology which facilitates traditional and modern modes of content delivery, communication and assessment.

10. Literature Review

Blended Learning is supported by (Garnham and Kaleta , 2002; Singh, 2003; Bonk and Graham, 2005; Albrecht, 2006; Lloyd-Smith, 2009 ) among others in the literature.

What is significant though, are the different perspectives and emphasis placed on the use of blended learning with respect to the learning context, technology use and impact of the methodology as a mode delivery in higher education. Thus one finds in the literature, research on blended learning from the perspective of the learner (Chen & Jones, 2007; Delialioglu and Yildirim, 2007; Orhan, 2007; Burgess, 2008; Greener, 2008; Jusoff, K. & Khodabandelou, 2009; Lloyd-Smith, 2009; Miyazoe and Anderson, 2010); the teacher ( Draffan and Rainger, 2006 ; Robertson, 2008; Motteram & Sharma, 2009; Miyazoe, & Anderson, 2010) ; the higher learning institution ( Singh, 2003; Francis & Raftery, 2005; Albrecht, 2006) and from pedagogic practice and philosophy (Shank, 2002).

A number of studies in the literature point to blended learning as a mechanism for improve performance of students taking course modules in higher education (Gray, 1999; Gunter, 2001; Sanders & Morrison-Shetlar, 2001; Yildirim, 2005; Greener, 2008). Although still in evolving stages, these action research studies indicate the need for alternative approaches to the delivery of courses and the introduction of technology in teaching/ learning in higher education. However, there is still a significant role for the lecturer; Greener, (2008) asserts that at the beginning of a module there is need for guidance, direction and motivation, when student-student collaboration and learning community is not yet developed. She further indicated that face-to-face sessions in the blended learning environment are critical and intense but not as frequent. The goal is to enhance student-centred learning and self-directed learning.

Chen and Jones, (2007) make mention of clarity of instructions in the traditional mode and a greater understanding of the concepts in the blended mode. A combination of clear instructions and greater understanding of concepts could accrue if students are exposed to a blended learning environment. This idea is supported by (Greener, 2008) who suggested that small group size was appropriate as a teaching strategy that dynamically mediated online discussion and offered encouragement and support, especially in the preliminary stages of a course module. Though this is the ideal situation it must be noted that blended learning can also be used successfully in large classes.

Delialioglu and Yildirim, ( 2007) opined that blended learning bridged the attributes of online instruction- efficiency, sufficiency and freedom to access information anytime with the characteristics of traditional classroom instruction; such as allowing students to focus on new information presented in addition to working with peers and instructor in class. The major focus in both methods of delivery-traditional and on-line should be on module redesign to amplify the rewards of both modes of instruction. This is critical to the improved performance required of students, since the intention is always to ensure that the learning styles of all students in a class are activated, given the different modes of delivery and the exposure to technologies that allow for sharing, collaboration, peer coaching, communication and reflection.

Burgess, (2008) focused on blended learning from the perspective of its suitability for part-time mature students. The impact of the first iteration of the blended approach to a financial module resulted in 8% improvement of part-time students' marks. Whereas 50% of part-time students asked for time extensions or concessions for submitting assignments previously, only one asked in the first iteration of blended learning. Students who missed classes because of work were less anxious because the course content was available on Moodle.

The inference to be drawn from these findings is that there are a number of positive outcomes to students taking a course in higher education using blended mode, whether full-time or part-time. In the case of part-time students the access to content 24/7, the ability to work with peers in real-time and on-line, to communicate with lecturer/s in class and on-line, the ability to work in groups, in-class and on-line and the ability to develop learning communities are advantages which impact positively on their performance. Blended learning does contribute positively to student attitude and hence their performance in course modules.

The review so far has focused on blended learning from the perspective of the student; Higher learning institutions also play a critical role in the development of blended learning to the extent that they can provide blended learning programmes to meet the many-faceted demands of their student population. Singh, (2003) focused principally on the holistic requirements for a blended learning programme (from an institutional viewpoint) providing what he calls the dimensions and ingredients for blended learning programmes.

These findings suggest an institutional perspective is also significant to the idea of blended learning. The implications here are noteworthy in the context of instructional standards for blended learning programms across higher learning institutions faculties. His use of (Khan's, 2005) Octagonal framework is instructive as it provides for a thorough guide for the production of blended learning programmes in higher learning institutions..

This approach is in sink with (Singh, 2003 and Albretch, 2006). There is therefore a distinct focus on the institution as a driver and supporter of blended learning at the institutional level to help improve student performance.

The literature alerts the reader to the wide range of considerations which must be taken into account by higher education institutions which are engaged in the development of blended learning programmes. It also focuses on the critical requirements for the development of an approach rooted in the pedagogy which facilitates the understanding of the issues to be identified and clarified in order to utilize blended learning as a mechanism to assist in the improvement of students' performance.This analysis therefore identifies three perspectives from which to initiate blended learning, whether a course or programme: 1. the student/lecturer, 2. the institution/course and 3. the technology; all of which help to improve students' performance.

11. Method

The objective of the study is to demonstrate blended learning as a viable method for course delivery and to show its impact on students' performance in class and on the final examinations. The information gained would be used to determine the extent to which blended learning does improve performance in Designing Information Systems 11(MGMT 043X), an eight-week course at the UWI St, Augustine Campus Summer Programme in the Social Sciences Faculty.

To initiate the study pre-course quantitative surveys would be conducted using course participants to determine their technology-use competence and to gain from them information about their study habits, including their preferred learning styles. (see appendix d).

A pre course qualitative study would also be implemented to obtain students' perception about blended learning. At the end of the course, post-course surveys, both quantitative and qualitative would also be implemented to gather information from students about the blended learning experience and to see whether there are variations in their study habits, technology-use competence and attitude toward blended learning. This information would be used as input to further modify the course but also significantly, to see whether the information gathered is in sink with that derived from the literature.

12. Tools

The following tools would be used in the study:

Kolb learning style questionnaire at the beginning of the study;

Pre-course questionnaire prior to start of teaching;

Interviews during the teaching period for further clarification of ideas/issues raised;

Post-course questionnaire at the end of the course;

SPSS or substitute software for quantitative analysis of the data;

NVivo or substitute software for qualitative analysis of students' ideas, opinions.

13. Procedure

Ten (5) to ten (10) students would participate in this study. This cohort includes those students who failed the course last year as well as new students. Students participating in this study would be asked to sign a consent form. (see Appendix c.). Students would participate in this pre- course survey during the first week of the module. All consent forms will be kept by me, the interviewer, for research purposes only and unauthorized access to the records will not be permitted. I shall exclude any information that will make it possible to identify any student. Students shall not be coerced to respond to any of the survey or interview questions included in this study and their participation or non-participation will not affect their grades in this course.

14. Surveys

Students will participate in the surveys by responding to the questionnaires which will be emailed or given to them in printed form. They would respond and return the completed documents to a given email address supplied by me or return the printed version by hand to the faculty office or approved location. Interviews will be conducted at times convenient to the students (lecturer and students to negotiate such times); An MP3 recorder as well as note book will be used during interviews.

15. Survey Description.

The surveys will consist of pre-course and post-course questionnaires. The Kolb learning style survey would be conducted twice, at the beginning and end of the course to glean if there are variations in learning styles. The Kolb learning style inventory is an appropriate method for higher education. The surveys are subject to change and additional questions may be included to suit the problem definition. (see appendix d, e & f).

16. The Interview

The interviews are designed to solicit responses that are not captured on the questionnaires. They also allow me to probe or ask follow-up questions and observe the reaction of the students as they respond. The following questions will be asked:

What difficulties do you face doing this course?

Do you study by yourself or do you like to study with other students? Why?

Do you think that social technologies (e.g. facebook, bloggs, and discussion boards etc.) can help you in this course? How?

Do you have access to the internet? At home, at work? Please explain?

How can I help you to perform better in this course?

Are you prepared to work on-line with other colleagues?

17. Data Analysis

The data collection resulting from the questionnaires, interviews and notes will form the basis of the qualitative/descriptive analysis of the study. Such descriptive evidence, personal quotes and responses will also be used to expose useful information with respect to students' perceptions on blended learning and the impact of technology and teaching/ learning on their attitude towards blended learning. The major goal here is to glean whether the information obtained is in line with the evidence from the literature and to see to what extent such evidence from the study vary and why.

The interpretation of the data would be in the form of bar charts, tables, graphs and percentile rankings to show common trends or variations in responses to particular questions.

18. Project Plan

Phase 1

Introduction of study to students, signing of consent forms, pre-course surveys and interviews

The first phase of study is to be executed for eight weeks starting from the middle of June. During the first week, I shall introduce the study to the students, seek all necessary approvals and also give them the consent forms. I shall also initiate discussions about times for interviews.

This period is devoted to the delivery of the course content in blended learning mode and to the use of the technology for the eight (8) weeks. I have included a timetable on how the procedures for the study will be followed. The period will conclude with the final examinations or summative assessment based on the course requirement. It will also mark the end of the first phase of the study.

Phase 2

The second phase of the study begins post-course surveys and interviews. This will be followed by the organization of the data collected for analysis and the development of the charts, graphs and tables. The Kolb learning style survey would be re-administered; Post-course questionnaires would be distributed; Interviews and discussions would be conducted with the students to get their opinions and seek clarification on their ideas with respect to their conceptions and overall performance in this blended learning course.

The ideas as expressed by the students and the data representations will form the basis of further analysis and interpretation. SPSS and NVivo or other substitute software would be used for the quantitative and qualitative analysis of the data respectively. SPSS is widely used in quantitative data analysis both in academia and business while NVivo is used for qualitative analysis especially peoples' ideas and/or opinions.

Phase 3

The third phase of the study involves an in-depth analysis, interpretation and refinement of the data/information collected; the organization of the results of the study and the writing up of the report. The information gained from the analysis of the data together with ideas and opinions as expressed by participants would be categorized, analyzed and synthesized identifying the trends and variances and comparing results with that observed in the literature with respect to improve students' performance. Interpretations and predictions based on what is obtained from the data would inform the development of the critique of blended learning as a viable mode of content delivery for improved students' performance in higher education.

Phase 4

The fourth phase of the study is dedicated to the completion of the analysis/report for final delivery to the IDU based on input/advice from my supervisor/s.

See appendices for documents related to the study.

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