Emergent patterns in nature and society

Topic 4: Design for online and blended learning

Designing blended learning

On topic 4 of my online networking course we discussed blended learning and how to best design for it. Blended learning has components of face-to-face activities with online ones. The advantage of the face-to-face interactions are perhaps obvious given the covid times we’re in, but worth remembering. They facilitate social bonding, stimulates trust, and an environment where people feel comfortable sharing, listening, and disagreeing. Online activities, on the other hand, allow for some additional freedoms such as asynchronous activities, creative use of other media, or the expansion of resources through the internet. That being said, a few caution has to be taken in mind regarding the digital literacy of students and teachers, privacy concerns, and making sure that the virtual environment enable learning from failure, that is, people do not feel exposed if doing an exercise wrong or by supporting / opposing certain points of view.

The topic could not have been more relevant. We brainstormed on how to design a blended course the same week I was informed that I’ll be co-leading a fully asynchronous online course on sustainability science at my department. Exciting and challenging at the same time. It will be open to all countries, all time zones, all context and local realities. The previous professor had it designed fully asynchronous, so no group activities or face-to-face time. It is an introductory course, so it should speak to the prospect student interested on the topic without lots of technicality, as well as professionals who want to update their knowledge in that area of knowledge. It needs to work for parents with kids, people with full time jobs, everyone! It is not the typical course for freshman or sophomores, it should be a course that my mum would enjoy it!

Our discussions centred on how to make that possible. Some of my colleagues (with kids) suggested that instead of lectures with slides and kind of monotonous faces, why not trying a podcast style lectures? Something more conversational that only uses audio, so people can listen to it while commuting or doing the dishes. The average adult with a job does not necessarily have all the time of a normal student in front of a screen. My mind immediately jumped to who can I invite and that would be cool for the student to listen to? Bringing famous professors to the classroom for a lecture is hard, but perhaps more likely if it is a short conversation over zoom.

We also discussed the design of assignments, whether they should be private and perhaps only shared with the student’s consent after it has been reviewed by the teacher. Either way, I’d love to bring components of the student reality to the class, design exercises or “field experiences” that one could do in your city or neighbourhood and that others could learn from. I thought of using perhaps images (e.g. pictures of plants, or picturing ecosystem services) or something that gives the taste of the different realities of the group. One does not only learn from teachers and lecturers, but the experience of other students shared. How do we make sure to have that as well in an asynchronous mode? Last, this very ONL course I’m taking has some good examples to follow of activities and ideas to play around: the website, the webcasts, the twitter conversations, etc.

I’m excited with the challenge of an asynchronous online based course. It will be very different from the teaching I’m used to, but hopefully enable many people to be interested in sustainability science that otherwise would have not made it to the classroom. That democratisation of knowledge and expanding accessibility are two aspects that keep me motivated.