Reflection, #ONL202 Topic 4: Supporting students in online and blended learning environments

Language teachers are, according to some, cursed when it comes to online and blended learning. Many language teachers cannot fully focus on the “message” an online text written by a student gives, without an eye on linguistic accuracy. Some teachers who design online courses fall into the temptation of correcting all language mistakes in students’ messages and use online platforms as an opportunity to assess students’ proficiency in writing rather than using them as facilitator of an overall learning experience. I first came to realize this back in 2011, when I first read Mompean’s (2010) piece on meaningful interactions in a blog for second language users. In Mompean’s study, the online presence of the teacher and the feedback the teacher provides to students’ blog posts were found to be very important for creating a good learning atmosphere. However, feedback “provoked paradoxical reactions from the students who were not sure whether they liked it to be public or not” (p. 391). Nevertheless, the message was clear: in an online environment, teacher presence and feedback need to be “felt” by the students. They need to know that the instructor/teacher is with them, reading (and responding to) all the messages, posts, discussions in great detail. In order to maintain your presence throughout an online or blended course and to become a source of continuous feedback, though, you need to design the course in a way that meaningful communication can take place in as many parts of the course as possible. Communication is the main drive in a supportive online course.

Communication is also a matter of design in online and blended learning environment. In the 7C Learning Design Framework (Conole 2015), communication has a central role. The way you design your activities according to who will participate with whom, you can facilitate a stronger community of inquiry. Within these channels of communication teacher presence is quite important, as presence of the teacher and the practices of scaffolding throughout a course are not just motivating, but directly pedagogical interventions to the learning environment. As a teacher, you need to design activities in a way that will allow multiple and varying frameworks of participation, most of which should create room for engagement and learning. I have tried to design a range of communicative modes in my recent online courses: sometimes students think “alone” and annotate the screen to provide responses, sometimes I put them in break out rooms and they brainstorm their ideas that will be drafted on Padlet. In moments of transition, I add whole class discussions. Yet, the design of communication is not the only way to support the learners. I also “planted” online hands-on tasks to be completed in pairs and groups as well as mini reflection assignments. Sounds all positive, right?

Not always. One of the tasks I assigned was not being completed by the majority of the students for instance. I tried to get immediate feedback from the students in a semi-open discussion format and I think it worked. It raised students’ awareness and also clarified the aim of the task to those who probably needed clarification. Therefore, I got to understand that although increased teacher presence and giving feedback are key in creating a supportive online environment, gathering instant feedback from the students on emerging problems, without waiting till the end of the course, is also key in creating a supportive online environment. I should confess, though, that creating a community of inquiry in an undergraduate course where everyone involved (the institution, learners, teachers) are “obsessed” with assessment is a massive challenge. I know that I need to work hard to create a supportive online environment: good that I have 30 years before I retire…Do I really though? 🙂

References
Conole, G. (2015). The 7Cs of learning design. Learning design: Conceptualizing a framework for teaching and learning online, 117-145.

Mompean, A. R. (2010). The development of meaningful interactions on a blog used for the learning of English as a Foreign Language. ReCALL, 22(3), 376.

Published by Olcay Sert

I am a senior lecturer and associate professor at Mälardalen University, School of Education, Culture and Communication (Sweden).

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