"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Online Schools Fail So Why Not Blend?

Blended learning is something between online and traditional schooling. Being a hybrid with no strictly defined combination, it can be anywhere between. Dwight Carter of Gahanna Lincoln High School in Ohio depicts blended learning on his blog with the following picture:

Yes, it does look like trying everything to make learning happen. And perhaps, this is simply the reality.

Although reforms may be advertised as reducing costs or increasing access, there is no reform out there that does not cost money and time. Blended learning, defined legally in the state of Ohio as “…the delivery of instruction in a combination of time in a supervised physical location away from home and online delivery whereby the student has some element of control over time, place, path, or pace of learning.”, requires investments in technology infrastructure. It requires investment in time. And these investments are not small. Technology is attractive because it is usually seen as an enabler. However, if technology simply looks like additional work on the part of both teachers and pupils, technology loses its enticing nature. Technology does have a role to play in education, it has to add something that was either impossible or tedious before.

The cost of education reforms should never be ignored even if the reform is promising. Reforms must always be based on evidence. It is alright to have ideas, to be creative and innovative, but for general application, well designed studies are necessary. Otherwise, failures which translate not only to financial waste but more importantly, loss of opportunities or even a generation, are going to happen.

With regard to blended learning, good research and studies are currently lacking. This is not surprising since blended learning, being a hybrid, is nebulous in nature. The following are excerpts from the section on blended learning in the US Department of Education Study "Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies":
Blended Compared with Pure Online Learning 
...The descriptions of some of these studies, provided below, make it clear that although conditions were labeled as “blended” or “purely online” on the basis of their inclusion or exclusion of face-to-face interactions, conditions differed in terms of content and quality of instruction. Across studies, these differences in the nature of purely online and blended conditions very likely contributed to the variation in outcomes. 
Keefe (2003), for example, contrasted a section of an organizational behavior course that received lectures face-to-face with another section that watched narrated PowerPoint slides shown online or by means of a CD-ROM. Both groups had access to e-mail, online chat rooms, and threaded discussion forums. All course materials were delivered electronically to all students at the same time. On the course examination, students in the purely online section scored almost 8 percent lower than those receiving face-to-face lectures in addition to the online learning activities. Keefe’s was the only study in the review that found a significant decrement in performance for the condition without face-to-face instructional elements. 
Poirier and Feldman (2004) compared a course that was predominantly face-to-face but also used an online discussion board with a course taught entirely online. Students in the predominantly face-to-face version of the course were required to participate in three online discussions during the course and to post at least two comments per discussion to an online site; the site included content, communication and assessment tools. In the purely online version of the course, students and the instructor participated in two online discussions each week. Poirier and Feldman found a significant main effect favoring the purely online course format for examination grades but no effect on student performance on writing assignments.  
Campbell et al. (2008) compared a blended course (in which students accessed instruction online but attended face-to-face discussions) with a purely online course (in which students accessed instruction and participated in discussions online). Tutors were present in both discussion formats. Students were able to select the type of instruction they wanted, blended or online. Mean scores for online discussion students were significantly higher than those for the face-to-face discussion group.

As a group, these three studies suggest that the relative efficacy of blended and purely online learning approaches depends on the instructional elements of the two conditions. For the most part, these studies did not control instructional content within the two delivery conditions (blend of online and face-to-face versus online only). For example, the lecturer in the Keefe (2003) study may have covered material not available to the students reviewing the lecture’s PowerPoint slides online. Alternately, in the Poirier and Feldman (2004) study, students interacting with the instructor in two online discussions a week may have received more content than did those
receiving face-to-face lectures.
The question is: would a candidate drug be approved with results or trials similar to the above. The answer is "not yet". Education should be no different from healthcare. Lives of so many children are at stake.

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