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Blended Learning and Online Tutoring: Planning Learner Support and Activity Design

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Lyn Parker does not consider that the second edition has changed considerably from the first edition despite the publishers' blurb to the contrary. Nonetheless, she feels there is much of value.

Blended Learning and Online Tutoring: Planning Learner Support

Blended Learning and Online Tutoring: Planning Learner Support and Activity Design. By Janet Macdonald, Gower Publishing, 2008, ISBN 978-0566088414, 222 pages.

When asked to review the second edition of this book, I willingly accepted as I considered the first edition to be "easy to read, full of practical advice, whilst challenging me to reflect on my own practice". [1] In addition, the interest in blended learning in HEIs shows no sign of abating with several textbooks [2] [3] [4] appearing since 2006 and the Blended Learning Unit, a Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) with an annual conference, being established at the University of Hertfordshire[5] [6].

The promotional material provided by Gower Publishing promises that the second edition incorporates many new examples of Web 2.0 technologies, such as blogs and wikis, and 'many new exemplars of learning activity design' to support 'the development of critical, independent learners'. [7] As I am involved with various projects to develop information literacy and student engagement through the use of Web 2.0 at the University of Sheffield, I was keen to see how Janet MacDonald had incorporated the use of new technologies into her original text. She defines blended learning as a mix of e-learning with face-to-face contact but recognises/d that it can also be applied to the mix of synchronous and asynchronous technologies used. She maintains her view that we should concentrate on supporting networked learners effectively rather than focusing too much on a particular technology or blend, a view that I share especially given the pace of change in the technologies.

Content

The second edition retains the same overall structure as the first with 3 parts:

Part I concentrates on current practice in blended learning with particular reference to the Open University, the SOLACE (Supporting Open Learners in A Changing Environment) Project (from 2004) and various case studies taken from Europe and Australasia. However, despite it still being labelled current, I could only find minor amendments to this section. The words blogs and wikis have been added when listing types of asynchronous communication and one additional case study from the University of Strathclyde has been included. [8]

Part II covers online tutoring and details various practical tools and methods, updated in the second edition to cover Web 2.0 technologies. Chapter 6 is now entitled Supporting Students using Asynchronous tools: Forums, Wikis and Blogs with a couple of examples of each but the emphasis is still on choosing the most appropriate tool for the academic purpose and the size of the group. Techniques for moderating blogs and wikis respectively have been added to Chapter 7 Handy Techniques for Moderators – Online Asynchronous Groups. Chapters 8 and 9 on synchronous tools have not altered but the first edition already included examples of using chat and instant messaging services.

Part III is entitled Developing Independent Learners: Activity Design. It includes an overview on blended learning design and the experience of blended learning from the learners' perspective with chapters on Developing E-Investigators, E-Writers and E-Communicators. Again only a few changes have been made in the second edition; a case study on using a wiki for collaborative writing from the OU and some more recent references now being included. As MacDonald states: "There is really nothing new here: these ideas are based on a wealth of knowledge and understanding built up over years of experience in student learning with and without learning technologies" (p.133). Given the pace of change in the technologies keeping a book up to date will always be an issue. Indeed some new books on Web 2.0 use blogs and wikis to supplement their original text [9] [10].

Conclusion

Overall, therefore, I do not agree that the second edition contains many new examples of good practice and many new exemplars of learning activity design and if you already have a copy of the first edition there is no need to rush out to get a copy of the second. However, I did still find the book easy to read, and worth reading again. The practical advice given in the case studies and bright ideas is relevant and applicable to various new technologies, not just blogs and wikis, and the few additional examples are useful. Personally I would be interested in more case studies of students setting up their own tools to support group activities, both formally as part of the course, but also informally as part of their social learning; the inclusion of the student voice reflecting on this use and their particular concerns; and the addition of other Web 2.0 technologies; particularly networking tools such as Facebook [11] and Ning [12],bookmarking tools such as Digg [13] and StumbleUpon [14], and tagging as used with del.icio.us [15], Furl [16] and flickr [17]. I consider that it is this social nature of the tools, enabling collaboration and sharing of information, which is crucial to their use in an educational setting and raises a number of issues for discussion such as security, privacy, ethical use and the merger of social and academic space online. It is my experience that it is these issues which are concerning academics as they introduce them to their courses [18].

References

  1. Parker, L (2006) "Blended Learning and Online Tutoring: a Good Practice Guide" Ariadne Issue 48. http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue48/parker-rvw/
  2. Allan, B. (2007) Blended Learning: tools for teaching and training, London, Facet Publishing.
  3. Littlejohn, A. and Pegler, C. (2007) Preparing for Blended E-learning, London, Routledge.
  4. Randy Garrison, D. (2008) Blended Learning in Higher Education: Framework, Principles and Guidelines. San Francisco, Wiley
  5. University of Hertfordshire. Blended Learning Unit. (2008) Home page. Available from http://perseus.herts.ac.uk/uhinfo/info/blu/blu/blu_home.cfm
  6. University of Hertfordshire. (2008) Blended Learning conference 2008. http://perseus.herts.ac.uk/BLU-conference-2008/home.html
  7. http://www.gowerpub.com/default.aspx?page=637&calcTitle=1&title_id=10611&edition_id=11260
  8. Baxter, J (2007) A case study of online collaborative work in a large first year Psychology class. REAP International Online Conference on Assessment Design for Learner Responsibility 29-31 May. http://www.reap.ac.uk/reap07/Welcome/tabid/72/Default.html
  9. Bradley, P. (2007) How to use Web 2.0 in your library. London, Facet Publishing.
  10. Godwin, P. & Parker, J. eds (2008) Information Literacy Meets Library 2.0. London, Facet Publishing
  11. Facebook http://www.facebook.com/
  12. Ning. Create your own social network for anything http://www.ning.com/
  13. Digg - All News, Videos, & Images http://digg.com/
  14. StumbleUpon http://www.stumbleupon.com/
  15. Delicious http://del.icio.us/
  16. Furl http://www.furl.net/
  17. Flickr http://www.flickr.com/
  18. Parker, L. & Webber, S. (2008). What does your Facebook say about you? University of Sheffield workshop http://www.slideshare.net/sheilawebber/what-does-your-facebook-say-about-you

Author Details

Lyn Parker
Quality and Development Team Manager
Academic Services Group, University Library
University of Sheffield
Western Bank
Sheffield

Email: l.a.parker@sheffield.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.shef.ac.uk/library/

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Date published: 
30 July 2008

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How to cite this article

Lyn Parker. "Blended Learning and Online Tutoring: Planning Learner Support and Activity Design". July 2008, Ariadne Issue 56 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue56/parker-rvw/


article | by Dr. Radut