Earlier in the year, I undertook an course on teaching foreign languages to dyslexic students with FutureLearn and the University of Lancaster.  Although I don’t teach foreign languages, of course, I do teach dyslexic students and indeed one of my children is severely  dyslexic. It gave me some really useful insights into supporting all students with their learning, not just the dyslexic ones, and many of the ideas were just as applicable to every subject.

At the moment, I am undertaking FutureLearn’s ‘Blended Learning Essentials’ course.  I thought it would be particularly helpful in supporting and extending the techniques I’ve been employing teaching on Liverpool Hope University’s ‘Foundations in History’ course at Holy Cross College, Bury.  As I come to the end of the FutureLearn course, I have to admit that it has turned out to be interesting for many, many more reasons.  I’ve been using my blog posts as a sort of reflective log for the course, and I thought I might as well share them here.  The following entries were written back at the beginning of the course [definitions in italics are taken from the FutureLearn course]

The first week was a little disappointing, as it alternated between being rather anodyne (“learners really like digital technology” and “digital technology helps learners to engage”) and assuming that you knew enough already to suggest digital teaching techniques that could be used in specific situations.  It got a lot better in week 2 though, when we started to look at pedagogy.

Constructivist pedagogy is based on learners constructing their own knowledge and meaning through experience.  My initial thought was “But how do I apply this in a history course?”  Actually, it’s not as bizarre as it sounds – it’s less about living for a day as an Elizabethan as it is about helping the students to improve their work through formative assessment.   The course suggested using  the ‘I Observe’ app – the qualifications which you want the students to achieve are embedded in the app so the students can watch their performance and see how they completed the aims of the task.

Social constructivism is a hypothesis that states that individuals learn as a result of social interaction and collaboration with others.  Learners can share ideas and knowledge in a collaborative space.  This sounds to me much like the online sessions of the course I was teaching for Liverpool Hope, but it also includes things like collaborative tools and social media.

Problem-based learning encourages active learning, use of real world scenarios, social learning and the application of knowledge to new situations.  The speaker in the video commented on the fact that the teenagers are shy about being creative, and I think it’s often the same with getting students to share their own ideas and opinions.  I’m not clear, though, on how mobile devices help other than the oft-stated belief that ‘students like them’.

The course pointed out that because students use a variety of devices,  the teaching tools need to be available across desktop, laptop, tablets and mobile devices.  Apps like Nearpod and Dreams can be used to introduce topics before traditional teaching and learning activities (a process they  call ‘flipped learning’).  It strikes me that ‘flipped learning’ isn’t all that unfamiliar to undergraduate history courses, where we often expect students to read up on subjects for tutorials before they’ve heard the lectures.

The Borders College case study was interesting because it demonstrated how they have developed Moodle to fit their blended learning needs: including more documents, videos and even online quizzes.  They also use an eLearning platform called Mahara, which allows the students to submit other types of material than word documents in order to capture evidence of their learning.  They use the interactive whiteboard a lot, which I think is fairly common these days. My only experience of trying to use the interactive whiteboard, however, was a nightmare because it wasn’t properly calibrated!  It’s interesting, too, that the college say that the students are involved in the creation of materials.

My main reservation about the first two weeks, though, is that all the case studies are based on vocational courses.  Also, the Vice-Principal of Borders College points out that blended learning has become part of the culture of the college, and I suspect that that is vital for its success.

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