Blended learning in action, culture change required.

Reminding myself of the excellent work done at Borders College on developing and delivering online learning, it really is worth checking out their online toolkit BOLT (I’ll find the link when I’m not cramped up on a train with rubbish signal). I’ve entitled this reflection blended learning in action, culture change required because none of the great practice at Borders College, or elsewhere, just happens because they have the technology.

One provider I worked with invested really heavily in interactive white boards, as did/do many. When it came to carrying out a skills audit in the region of 80-90% (the exact figures elude me now but I remember it was high) didn’t know how to use the whiteboard beyond projecting onto it. Without the change in culture and the time to develop staff so they understood why and how the interactive whiteboard could be helping them deliver a more interactive session and save them time. How simple is it to annotate the screen the capture those notes electronically so all you have to do is share those notes with your learners after the session without doing anything extra. It’s also a richer medium to share than just a presentation for learners who were absent from a taught session.

As well as training staff they need support to change their teaching practice, peer mentoring with someone already confident at using the technology, coaching and giving them time to experiment and support when the tech lets the down. It will, it’s the problem solving skills we need to make it work again because the previous tutor hadn’t let anyone know that the bulb had gone in the projector/ changed the settings/ unplugged something and on ad nauseum. It’s through this time and support that they fully develop their digital skills. Think about learning to drive: you learn to pass the test with a minimum level of competence; then you take the time to learn, often by trial and error, how to adapt to different driving conditions, driving with the radio on, motorway driving. See where I’m coming from here?

Once you’ve embraced the culture change the outcomes can far outweigh your expectations. As well as training adult volunteers I’m also a beaver scout leader (the youngest scouting section at 6- to 8-years-old). As part of a space themed sleepover we’d planned to go stargazing. The good old British weather is not the most reliable for planning these type of things, so utilising a small bank of old donated android tablets (Motorola Xooms) loaded with the Google Skymaps app we went out on our walk to the park and played a running around game to burn off some energy. Then sharing the tablets, one between four, the adults showed the Beavers how to use the app. Between us our combined knowledge of astronomy was look at the moon, the twinkly things are stars. Within a short frame of time, this was a group of small excited children with short attention spans, they were identifying the trajectory of the sun, differentiating between planets and stars and constellations and coming up with their own names for the constellations. Lady Luck was with us and the beautifully clear night meant that they were translating what they saw on the tablet to what they could see in the sky without any prompting from the adults. This had become self-directed learning at its most rewarding. All I had to do to facilitate it was ensure the tablets were charged, switched on and occasionally help them find the app again if they accidentally came out of it. The following week, out our usual meeting, the Beavers who’d been on the sleepover demonstrated to those who hadn’t how to use the app and what they’d learnt. Unprompted peer teaching happening in mostly 6-year-olds. This is blended learning with technology at its best. The technology enhanced the learning, the Beavers learnt far more about astronomy that I could teach them, they were engaged and immediately transferred the knowledge from the augmented reality to the real world. The social constructivism is strong and the example robust. We were in a playing field, with no internet access participating in a very traditional scouting activity and yet blended learning just snuck in there without anyone noticing.

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