Blending in: exploring blended approaches to student engagement

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The paper reports on a research project in progress, premised on the literature review by Arbaugh, Godfrey, Johnson, Pollack, Niendorf & Wresch (2009) suggesting that beneficial 'blends' in the delivery of teaching and learning will become increasingly important, The project reported on in the paper identifies student learning strategies in blended environments and explores the pathways and strategies that enable teachers to incorporate thoughtful and focussed pedagogical planning and support to the enhancement of learner engagement and achievement through blended approaches to teaching and learning. In order to do this, the project team has identified a 'blended strategies' toolkit for facilitating student engagement through the incorporation of effective blended approaches to teaching and learning. The toolkit provides 'blended' mechanisms and identifies strategies for teachers to use when selecting approaches that best help students engage productively in learning. The toolkit includes strategies minimizing barriers to engagement, enhancing the quality of engaged experiences, and supporting the engagement/re-engagement of those who have either never engaged or have become disengaged. In addition to developing the toolkit, the research has involved its testing in courses, an iterative refining and review process, and the collection of evidence of the changing levels of student engagement and and re-engagement leading to more effective teaching and learning and the better realisation of student learning outcomes. These strategies, described in terms of teacher intention and student perception, reflect Bonk, Kim,& Zeng’s, (2009), aspiration that; “the promises (and hopefully, the benefits) of blended learning are extensive”. The research, incorporating quantitative and qualitative methods, goes beyond the one-cohort one-unit case study approach typical of much of the current literature in this field by focusing on a cohort of four classes and up to a thousand students in each of four New Zealand tertiary institutions incorporating a comprehensive, multi-method approach. The study, by identifying strategies enabling teachers to select the appropriate blended approaches to enhancing learner engagement and achievement for their contexts, facilitates the incorporation of these into the planning and teaching of subsequent course iterations and the implementation of the pedagogies that best help students become fully engaged in the learning process. While agreeing with Garrison and Kanuka’s (2004) view that; “At its simplest, blended learning is the thoughtful integration of classroom face-to-face learning experiences with on-line learning experiences”, the researchers recognise that this statement hides the complexity of the blended learning construct and the paper analyses and explores this perspective in moving towards a shared understanding of the term within the New Zealand (and international) tertiary context. The findings as will be reported clearly show that blended approaches to learning and teaching are more than just about the use of technology. They are complex, rapidly evolving and are strongly predicated on good pedagogy .
A plenary presentation to INTED 2011 (International Technology, Education and Development Conference) Valencia (Spain) 7-9 March, 2011.
Blended learning, Higher education, Tertiary education, Student engagement