I have questioned the over emphasis of traditional classroom teaching to students who are at ease with technology. It continues to be an area of serious concern to me a lecturer/tutor. It is well known that today's students are different from students who grew up in a non-technological textual world of books and very little multi-media. These digital age learners seem to be at ease with technology. If I am to make an impact on my students' learning it is reasonable for me to include technology in my teaching.
I propose therefore in this research project to use blended learning where I can blend the traditional face-to-face delivery mode of teaching with the use of the social technologies- wiki, Edublogs, facebook, myspace, google docs and email to provide for the online learning /virtual experience for students. By so doing I hope to extend learning beyond the classroom and encourage student engagement in the learning process. It is my intention to engender more communication, collaboration, creativity and sharing information and ideas among students in a short summer course at the UWI.
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My goal is to improve student performance in class and in the final examination in the MGMTO43 Information systems Design 11course. I believe that technology, especially social technologies, should be an integral part of teaching in the 21st century
My research describes the approach I used to facilitate blended learning in this course. It identifies the challenges I faced, the infrastructural issues in the classroom assigned for the subject which negatively impacting on the original concept I had for course delivery; the adjustments I had to make to complete the course, my students strategic behaviour and demands made of me by them during the course . I also analyse the responses to the pre-course and post-course surveys which were undertaken by me and my reflections as a result of doing this project. I believe that I have growth intellectually from the process and that I shall continue to refine my praxis as a lecturer. I have learned from my students.
My action research study focuses on the question: How can I use blended learning to improve student performance in an undergraduate course at the University of the West Indies, Faculty of Social Sciences summer programme.
Chapter 2 explores the context of my study outlining my experiences as a teacher in the education system of Trinidad and Tobago. It details my entry in teaching and my early practice as a teacher at molding minds of students; describing my pitfalls in terms of my pedagogical praxis, the influences of my mentors and the traditional approach to educating students in our education system. It goes on to briefly explain the historical practice by educators of focusing on the academically inclined students ostracizing those with different learning styles and describes to overemphasis by the society as a whole on student performances (passes) in national examinations as a criteria for success or failure of a school.
The chapter also highlights the impact of my exposure to education theory and teaching/learning methodologies which have transformed my approach to teaching placing the student at the centre of my practice as a lecturer. It explores my interest in technology in education, particularly web2.0 social technologies and how these platforms positively impacts the teaching/learning transaction; allowing for collaboration, communication, creativity and sharing of information, providing for the development of learning communities.
I also explore the concept of Digital Natives or Digital Age Learners and analyse blended learning as a teaching/learning methodology from different perspectives, linking the idea to my reasons for using action research to explore blending learning as a method for improving student performance.
Chapter 3 details my methodology in this project. I explore briefly the perspectives of research in education, highlighting the scientific, interpretive and action standpoints. I seek to explain why the interpretative approach is valid as a method in education research and why in the investigation of 'peoples' or 'students' issues quantification as used in the scientific method may not be as valid as qualification, given the subjective issues involved. I discuss the nature of my research linking my experiences as a teacher at both the primary and secondary sectors and my actions as an educator in the classroom.
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I discuss in some detail the research process in this study, describing the environment in which I functioned, the challenges I faced and how I overcame those challenges. I described my initial interaction with the students, the steps I took to solicit their agreement to participate in the study, the documents I used and their responses. I also indentify the ethical issues involved in the study and how I handled such issues.
Chapter 4 describes the action research process in some detail. I provide a description of the duration of the study; how the students responded, their concerns, the challenges I faced in the classroom based on the institutional arrangements made for the course. I further explained my assumptions with regard to what I perceived as basic requirements for any blended learning activity e.g. students having internet access at home and in class; the institution providing internet access in the classroom and administration efficiency. When such facilitations are absent the negative impacts on one's plan are significant. I detailed some of these issues and how the students reacted. I explore issues which arose in the execution of the study with reference to the teaching/learning transaction, the students concerns and how I negotiated solutions.
I detailed the pre-course questionnaire and findings and how these finding impacted the approach the study. In providing a comprehensive analysis of the questionnaire, I used a series of diagrammatic representations to show the students' responses to the individual questions. This chapter also gives a detail account the sessions as they occurred and the issues I had to encounter. Finally, a reflection on this experience is provided.
Chapter 5 focuses on the discussion/analysis of the blended learning study. I provide an account of the action research from the perspectives of the research questions by undertaking an analysis of each of the four research questions:
Does Blended Learning enhance student performance in the classroom?
How can I use a blended learning approach to improve the classroom and examination performance of students in the MGMT 043X course at UWI?
How do I restructure the MGMT 043X course content to enhance blended learning course delivery to align with students learning styles?
Does a Blended Learning approach affect the learning styles of students?
In analyzing each question I seek to identify the opinions of the leading researchers and provide snapshots of their research, explaining my own experiences, shortcomings, adjustments made and reflection on students' performance in the short course on designing information systems.
I discuss my reality in terms of the actual teaching/learning environment - the technology, the institutional arrangements and the adjustments I had to make in the context of the research questions. I also comment to the responses the post-course survey in terms of student responses to the issues they faced in a blended learning environment.
CONTEXT OF STUDY
2.1 My Experience as a Teacher/Lecturer
Teaching has been the main profession I have engaged in throughout my life. I have been influenced by the best of teachers and the worst of teachers, both at primary as well as secondary level. What is significant to me, however, is the significant impact, both consciously and unconsciously, teachers have on their students. As a teacher I have had to constantly question my performance in the teaching /learning transaction because my major objective has always been to ensure that my students did well in their examinations. This was what mattered most since my class and my school was judged by society at large as a 'good' or 'bad' depending on the results of examinations; whether Common Entrance or SSEC/CAPE. This was the reason I spent long hours in classrooms drilling my students. As a college lecturer I perpetuated the same myth of hard work and concern for my students by broadcasting content and drilling them on content. Yet I, like many of my colleagues complained bitterly when they underperformed in examinations.
The fact is that I was perpetuating an educational systemic problem of not catering for the "academically differently able" students; the individuals who were slow, weak , had different learning styles and whose talents I was unable to tap into because of my approaches to teaching and learning. I failed many of my students, partly because of my ignorance and inexperience in the theory and practice of education. Drudy and Lynch, (1993) have commented on this systemic failure which continues to occur in our education system when they opined:
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"Failure in school is construed as a problem of individual incapacity: we blame the victim for the inadequacy of the system, and the victim in turn internalises a sense of personal failure through the continuous experience of being labelled".
Why was I judged by the society and my pairs in the profession as a 'good' or 'bad' teacher/lecturer depending on how many of my students performed excellently in examinations? What caused this over emphasis on the percentage of students who passed their examinations from my class? Like so many other teachers/lecturers, the perception of "excellence" was linked to examination passes. Humphreys (1993) asserts that: "education is not just about developing intellectual and occupational skills; it is also about helping students to understand and value themselves."
These ideas were just not in my consciousness; as were the other pedagogical issues initially, which were of little concern to me -how my students learn, my delivery styles, their learning styles, my method of student assessment, my failure to implement group and independent learning, my ignorance of the impact of classroom environment, the significant relationship between my students social, environmental, psychological and cultural backgrounds which impacted on their ability to perform academically in the classroom.
I have since recognised the fundamental significance of each of these issues in the context of my students' performance and the hugh impact each has on my role as teacher/lecturer. Over the past decades, I have been exposed to new ideas and educational concepts about teaching and learning. I have agreed with (Gardener, 1991) ideas on multiple intelligences, (Bloom, 1956) taxonomy, as well as Dale's cone of experience among others. More recently, I have been exposed to the theories and ideas of teaching and learning in a formal setting as I undertake studies and research at the University of the West Indies in Teaching and Learning in higher education. This unique experience has helped me to transform my original teaching philosophy allowing me to be at a juncture where I believe that all teaching should be humanistic.
I focus on the student. I have also recognized the fundamental role that technology plays in 21st century education. I am a believer in the power of web 2.0 (O'reilly, 2005) social technologies in education in the context of promoting communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, sharing, harvesting of digital learning resources and the promotion of life-long learning. I am convinced that digital natives (Presnky, 2001) and digital age learners( ISTE, 2010) learn differently from digital immigrants and consequently, I need to focus more on a constructivist approach to learning; guiding, negotiating and inspiring students to navigate their own learning, allowing for more student engagement in the teaching/learning process.
The principal objective of my classroom transaction in higher education is to engage and influence my students to acquire knowledge; to build on their real-life experiences and to ensure that they learn. As important as examinations are, my focus is on learning, in all its contexts. I have also observed the impact that technology is having on my students in their daily lives, especially those 30 years and younger- Digital Natives or Digital Age Learners (Prensky, 2001, ISTE, 2010). As a consequence, I have had to make adjustments to my classroom transactions. Broadcasting can no longer be my main mode of teaching nor can the blackboard be my main tool for teaching. I need to use a range of teaching styles, matching my delivery with their learning styles and ensure that I meet the diverse learning needs of my students.
It is against this background that I have embarked on this action research project to find out how I can use blended learning to improve the performance of my students in an information technology subject-Designing Information System II, a short course at the Summer School conducted by the Social Sciences Faculty of the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus.
My research focuses on how I shall use Blended Learning to help improved the performance of students in the MGMT 0433 Designing Information Systems II course so that they are successful at the end-of-course examination. I shall seek to find out what accounts for the successes I achieve, the challenges I face, the impact of blended learning on the students performance, their response to blended learning, their initial and post course concepts about the method, the institutional arrangements which positively and negatively impact on the course objectives and learning outcomes, my students' reflections and finally my own analysis and reflections on this experience.
2.2 What is Blended Learning?
In submitting my proposal for this action research I opined the following ideas: "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 teacher-centric, broadcasting approach to content delivery in higher education is not meeting the varying needs of today's technology-enriched digital age learners, 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." I see blended learning as allowing for the student to link his/her learning style with my methods of delivery in the classroom and also enabling the communication, collaboration, sharing and co-authoring of content, ideas, resources and solutions to questions in the MGMT 0344 course beyond the confines of the weekly class and tutorial session.
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 ). In a broader context Blended Learning is hybrid learning 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). The approach also incorporates a range of constructivist mechanisms including the placing of subject content, quizzes, puzzles, games and simulations, use of real-time and asynchronous discussions. In a blended learning method, learning content can be utilized from Webpages or Website-based learning objects or organized as on-line activities. This method is now been recognized as a major methodology for improved student performance in higher education. The explosion of social technologies in education e.g. (youtube,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 kind of learning. Based on the above ideas, my action research seeks to find out the relationship between the use of a blended learning delivery mode and student performance in the MGMT 0344X course module.
2.3 Blended Learning: The Different Perspectives
a) The Student & Lecturer
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. 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 also point to blended learning as a mechanism for improved performance of students taking course modules in higher education (Gray, 1999; Black, 2002; 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 the teaching/ learning transaction. However, there is still a significant role for the lecturer; especially in the beginning of a module when there is need for guidance, direction and motivation; when student-student collaboration and learning community is not yet developed (Greener, 2008). She further asserted 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. Thus 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 or peers in-class and on-line and the ability to develop learning communities are advantages which impact positively on their performance. There is continuing evidence, that blended learning does contribute positively to student attitude and hence their performance in course modules.
b) Higher Learning Institutions & Programmes
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. He also seeks to provide a model for creating what he calls the 'appropriated blend' in such programmes which deals both with the individual course and collectively, the learning experience.
The 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.
Albrecht,(2006) on the other hand concentrates on the attempts by North American higher learning institutions to develop blended learning programmes; He postulates careful planning, institutional support and a willingness of faculty to use technology as the most critical elements for success in any such transformation of course delivery modes; highlighting the need for close attention to be paid the individual differences and learning styles of students to yield improved student performance.
(Francis & Raftery, 2005) advocated the need for rethinking the learning requirements for today's learners in the context of the provision of buildings which will promote learning, including blended learning. They opined that real and virtual learning environments are complementary and should allow for seamless transition between the two by both lecturers and students. They indicated the need for collaboration and access to technology services to provide a blended learning environment which promotes collaborative, student-centred, technology-enhanced learning which is institutionally derived and supported.
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 macro 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 blend 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.
These ideas would be used to determine to what extent blended learning can improve student performance in the MGMT 043X course in 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.
Chapter two contextualises my teaching experience and how teaching.
Methodological issues are the subject of chapter three.
Chapter four deals with the research in detail
In chapter five I examine the main areas of understanding and growth which I experienced as a result of the research
Chapter six concludes my research as I reflect on how I will improve my practice in the future, the unresolved issues which arose during the research, and the strengths I have gained through my involvement with action research which will help me to confront future educational challenges.