Quality and Development Team Manager
Academic Services Group, University Library
University of Sheffield
Book Review: Blended Learning and Online Tutoring
Blended Learning and Online Tutoring: A Good Practice Guide. By Janet Macdonald, Gower Publishing, 2006, ISBN 978-0566086595, 160 pages.
Many universities have adopted a blended learning approach to learning and teaching rather than adopting totally online methods, as strategies for delivering campus-based and distance learning courses converge. Blended learning has been variously defined as 'a mix of e-learning with traditional learning and teaching methods'  or learning that is characterised by 'the interdependence of pedagogy, learning technologies and technology' . Janet MacDonald, in her book 'Blended Learning and Online Tutoring' considers that blended learning has arisen from 'a general sense of disillusionment with the stand-alone adoption of online media'. Her view is that we should concentrate on supporting network learners effectively rather than discussing 'the appropriate blend'. Thus her book is aimed at providing practical ideas on introducing online activities into courses and integrating online tutoring into current academic workloads.
As the Learning and Teaching co-ordinator for the Open University in Scotland, with particular responsibility for blended learning, a PhD on online course design and management, and first-hand experience both as an online student and tutor, Janet is certainly qualified to write this introductory guide. It is very easy to read with summaries at the end of each chapter listing the main points, inset boxes with 'bright ideas' and case studies, and pragmatic advice on setting up e-learning activities. It is written from a reflective perspective, posing questions as much as providing answers, with liberal quotations from tutors and students involved in 50 different case studies.
The book is divided into 3 parts:
Part I concentrates on current practice in blended learning; with particular reference to the Open University in chapters 2 and 3 but then broadening the scope to cover Europe and Australasia in chapters 4 and 5.
Part II covers online tutoring, both asynchronously and synchronously and details various practical tools and methods. Chapters 7 and 9 are particularly useful in providing 'handy techniques' for moderators for online conferences and online synchronous sessions respectively.
The final section of the book is entitled 'Developing independent learners' and is the area where personally my interests lie. I would agree totally with the statement ''encouraging students to develop independence and self-direction in learning is an objective that may involve a lengthy and gradual process" but that the "introduction of online use in courses has tended to accelerate the timescale of learning development for students" (pp. 110-111). In chapter 12, "Developing E-Investigators", MacDonald acknowledges the need for students to be information-literate but, perhaps tactfully, does not offer an opinion as to whether a generic course, such as SAFARI, the OU's online information literacy course, or embedding information literacy within the curriculum is preferable. She does offer some useful potential activities for students suggesting that they be closely aligned with the assessment. Chapters 13 and 14 cover the developing E-Writers and E-Communicators but the emphasis is on note taking, mind maps and collaborative Web pages rather than mentioning the use of blogs or wikis explicitly. The book finishes with a chapter on staff development emphasising the need for academic staff to participate in an online course as a student before acting as an online tutor.
Overall, I found the book easy to read, full of practical advice, while challenging me to reflect on my own practice. The book is clear about the challenges involved in blended learning and online learning and offers suggestions of best practice and 'bright ideas' as possible solutions. It is a very useful introduction to the subject.
- Hunter, R., Clarke, S. and Shoebridge, M (2005) Change Management. In Maxine Melling ed. Supporting e-learning: a guide for library and information managers. London, Facet Publishing, ISBN 1-85605-535-8.
- OCLC E-Learning Task Force (2003) Libraries and the enhancement of e-learning http://www.oclc.org/index/elearning/default.htm Accessed 21 July 2006.
Date published:30 July 2006