Last year, I developed and taught a hybrid class (blending online and face-to-face learning).
The purpose of the class — Inquiry and Application in Developing Secondary English Pedagogy (TCH 421) — is to introduce students in secondary English education to historical trends in the teaching of the English language arts. The students end up creating a curriculum. Rather than just telling them everything they needed to know, I designed the hybrid approach to encourage the students to articulate their own perspectives, no matter how raw, while recognizing a bigger world of people with relevant experiences and opinions. For them, this class would be the “next step” in thinking about — and talking about — what it means to be a teacher.
The students were divided into three groups (reading, writing, and language): each group used digital technology to develop on online module for teaching in-service and pre-service teachers about how the subject was taught in the past, how it’s taught today, and how it could (or should) be taught tomorrow. During the first two weeks, we laid the groundwork with class readings; after that, the students started their research, meeting in class only every third week. They were also required to post their work in discussion threads on SITE, an open forum developed in the College of Education for people interested in issues within education.
My hope was that the class structure would force students to answer important (and often neglected) questions: “What is the value of particular knowledge or practice? And who benefits from how that knowledge or practice is taught?” To do that, they’d have to consider the relationship of content-to-pedagogy-to-technology. My job was to give the students just enough information to get started, and then provide feedback, address misconceptions, introduce new concepts, and assess their progress.
The class succeeded in three ways.
First, the students did what teachers do at their best: research content, create learning objectives and curriculum, and identify how best to deliver that content to engage learners. Each group’s module dealt with some aspect of teaching reading, writing, and language. The groups chose to create curriculum materials to help others understand historical and political influences on bilingual education, the history of young adult literature and its relationship to the canon, and how the writing process has been translated from theory to practice.
Second, the students worked from a position in which good teachers strive to find themselves: that is, pushing beyond the “given” of the profession, not just to learn more content but also to explore new pedagogical possibilities and the moral implications of their work. They explored possibilities and value in ways that will inform their further professional development. For example, they asked and began to answer questions like these: Who benefits from particular bilingual education policies and practices? How can young adult literature be used to engage and support struggling readers? What are the limitations of writing process instruction and how can these best be addressed?
Third, the students participated in conversations about the teaching of English language arts, not just among themselves but also with other educators via SITE. In doing that, they learned how to advocate for particular positions and back up their opinions with the force of research.
Not that the class was without struggles. In the beginning, the students didn’t know where to look for content or what to do with it once they found it. They were unsure about how to evaluate and critique the content they deemed important and then how to use multimedia to present it effectively. But as they worked through these frustrations, they discovered for themselves all the content that I would have given them in a conventional class — in effect, learning content by creating content — and they came to conclusions about pedagogy that put them well within the community of practice.
By the end of the class, they were well on their way to becoming teachers; they had collaboratively constructed knowledge and successfully articulated what they’d learned to others.
If you’d like more information about constructing authentic e-learning opportunities, I recommend “A Guide to Authentic E-Learning” by Jan Herrington, Thomas Reeves, and Ron Oliver.