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More Than the Sum of the Parts

“We were always able to sing and blend well together; that’s our gift. But aside from that, we’re really two different guys.”           — Paul Simon

I can think of many things that taste great when they’ve been in a blender.  To me, blending does not result in parts that are indistinguishable from one another, but hold a particular character or harmony of the parts, better once joined.  This is where I’ve been struggling a bit.  I want to create a course that blends well – not just in the elements of online versus face-to-face, but one that truly builds a strong knowledge base for the learner, regardless of their level of teaching proficiency.  The real test will be if the teacher teams can, like Simon and Garfunkel, ‘sing and blend well together’ but also individually benefit  professionally from the experience.

As I worked this week on the right ‘blend’ for blended learning, I turned again to one of the readings I posted earlier in the semester by Jared Carman, Blended Learning Design:  Five Key Ingredients.  In it, he describes these components of a good blend:

  • Live events – synchronous, instructor led
  • Online content – individual experience
  • Collaboration – learner to learner
  • Assessments – measure of knowledge / understanding
  • Reference materials – to enhance learning (incidentally, found a new one for all – George Siemans book on elearnspace)

This really gave focus to the weekly sessions, where I want to have three distinct components, but not information overload.  With this focus, the sessions are shaping up to be a great example of constructivist learning and the validity of connectivism.  Dave Cormier, in his video Success in a MOOC, describes a MOOC as a “way to connect and collaborate while developing online skills; a way of participating in the learning process that engages what it means to be a student.”  Without the MO (massively open), I hope my course can do the same for the teachers – help them to engage again as a student so they can become a better teacher.

My biggest issue was providing for diverse learner needs, based on skill/knowledge level. Each of my course modules now has a Live Session.  This may be an Elluminate session or Face to Face.  This is designed to be relevant to the whole group, and contains content sharing as well as active learning.  The Elluminate session will be archived for either review or follow up if participants just want an update rather than full instruction.

Another component of the Live Session is break out groups.  In all but the pre-session, these groups will be based on experience level with Group 1 having beginner information, Group 2 taking it to a practice level, and Group 3 being more evaluative or critical review.  The groups will create a product to report out and archive for the remaining groups.  A third component is sharing of ‘cool tools’ – digital tools to incorporate into teaching.

The PLN portion of session is application of cool tools in groups.  This application is most often is the assessment of learning for the day. Participants will also be developing their personal PLE/N using Symbaloo as the course progresses.

Finally, participants will be working in their school-based teams to develop and build an Authentic Integrated Project Unit (AIPU) over the six weeks of the course using a Design Studio model.  The team can choose their combination of F2F and online work done through a project wiki. This AIPU will be implemented during the first semester following the course.

I really like this model. I feel the teachers will find it good professional development. While it is a lot to pull together and will need some collaboration to make it stronger, I believe the blend truly is better than a sum of its parts.

“A nice blend of prediction and surprise seem to be at the heart of the best art.”    — Wendy Carlos


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