Virtual Composition. Enhancing learning in a practical course of Graphic Composition by introducing the use of blended learning. Mikael Paajanen Development Project Report Teacher Education College JYVÄSKYLÄ UNIVERSITY OF APPLIED SCIENCES Author(s) Mikael Paajanen DESCRIPTION Date _________ Type of Publication Development project report Pages Language 38 English Confidential Until_____________ Title Virtual Composition – Enhancing learning in a practical course of Graphic Composition by introducing the use of blended learning. Degree Programme Degree programme in Teacher’s pedagogical Education Tutor(s) Eila Burns, Kirsi Murtosaari, Irmeli Maunonen-Eskelin Assigned by Eila Burns Abstract This paper explores how blended learning can be introduced into a practically orientated course in art. Proceeding from a starting point of no prior experience on creating a course on a virtual environment the writer goes on to examine what it takes to create a pedagogically useful blended course in artistic composition focusing on developing the areas of feedback and the recognition of prior learning. By creating a blended learning course the writer is able to evaluate the process in practice conveying through experience his findings on the subject. Subsequently research on feedback and transfer of knowledge is used to develop the course effectively in the virtual environment. These vital pedagogical areas were chosen with the aim of enriching the course by providing new means of remembering prior learning and getting the utmost of the working process through proper coaching. The methods described in this paper are a first step in the direction of developing practically orientated courses with modern learner orientated paradigms. Keywords Blended learning, Learner orientated methods, Recall – transfer of knowledge from one year to another, Neutral feedback. Miscellaneous Appendices 3 pages 3 Contents 1 Introduction .............................................................................................................4 2. Why Blended Learning? ........................................................................................6 2.1 Pinpointing specific areas where blended learning is and is not needed.....7 2.3 Other benefits of blended learning: ................................................................9 3 “Visual design and illustration 2” – The face-to-face course in composition ..10 3.1 The content of the course...............................................................................10 3.2 Pedagogical principles....................................................................................11 3.3 Evaluation in the face-to-face course............................................................12 4. Moving towards Learner orientated methods:..................................................13 5. Optimizing structure, time and content of the course ......................................13 6. Transfer from first year to another. ...................................................................14 6.1 Creating “Bridges” for transfer....................................................................16 7. Providing feedback on the online / blended course. ..........................................18 7.1 Feedback without the support of physical presence....................................19 7.2 Experience = Event + interpretation. ...........................................................20 7.3 Being neutral...................................................................................................22 7.4 Feedback on the blended learning course. ...................................................24 8. The Blended Learning course. ............................................................................25 8.1 Learning the basic technical skills. ...............................................................26 8.2 Re- shaping the original course.....................................................................28 8.3 Planning, storing and creating new material for virtual environment. ....28 9. Evaluation of my development project – did I achieve my aims?....................29 10. Conclusions .........................................................................................................31 11. References ...........................................................................................................34 12. Appendices ..........................................................................................................35 Appendix 1: A PowerPoint presentation to help recalling the content of the previous course. ....................................................................................................35 Appendix 2: A gallery of students’ artwork to inspire and help recalling previous assignments............................................................................................36 Appendix 3: The online course............................................................................37 4 1 Introduction I am a teacher of Art and Design with 10 years of working experience prior to my Pedagogical studies at Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences. I work for Seinäjöki Polytechnic, School of Culture and Design; and for Taiku school of Crafts, Design and Culture, in Jurva. In both institutions the curriculum is designed in such a way that learning by doing is prioritised. I would therefore state that my teaching methods up to now have been based on traditional lecture styled sessions combined with stress on practical working periods. During my pedagogical studies I have become acquainted with some concepts and methods that I am sure will improve my teaching, such as diverse learners, different intelligences and Kolb’s paradigm of learning, just to mention a few. Also the one that I will use as a basis for my development project: blended learning. In considering the needs of pedagogical innovations in my institution there were basically two external factors on which I based my choice for my development project: namely that of the constantly changing content of education and also the schools necessities, aims and strategies for the near future. The fact that the Ministry of Education is currently stressing that e-learning and blended learning are to be introduced and developed as soon as possible in all schools and institutions has been duly noted where I work and definitely been included as an aim to be attained without further delay. There is no question that the goals and expectations in our society for schooling are evolving dramatically. A new science of learning is developing where people take control of their own learning and technology plays an important role in helping to gain access to knowledge. Personally, I believe that it would be a mistake for anyone who wants to teach in the future not to become familiar with these modern methods of teaching. However, working as I 5 am, in an environment where practical know-how is very highly regarded I could not help asking myself if it would make any sense at all to introduce elearning to my teaching. Furthermore whether it would be effective for courses that are short and intense (My courses are mainly made up of periods ranging between 24 to 40 contact hours). I am sure these questions are currently of interest to more than one teacher in Jurva and probably any other institution where learning by doing and practical training have been the methods to rely on for generations. I think at these early stages of modernizing our teaching it is of utter importance to discuss the following questions: • What does it take to create a pedagogically useful course on a virtual platform and is there any use for it when teaching subjects that are based on practical know-how? • How effectively will students who might not have any experience of this kind of learning adapt themselves to the system and will they find it to be enriching and useful? Having no prior experience and understanding about creating a course on a virtual platform I started by attending a course in Seinäjoki designed for teachers with the same need. I got acquainted with how to use a virtual platform (Moodle) where I was able to start to plan the content for my first course. Throughout this process it became clear to me that using the platform would never entirely substitute all the areas of my former teaching paradigm and therefore what I really needed to focus on was how to integrate its use effectively into my course, in other words concentrate on blended learning (My studies in JUAS and the experience gained there of this kind of learning helped me to confirm this thought). Having decided to focus on blended learning I proceeded to investigate what areas I should concentrate on in order to make my courses more effective (facilitate learning). The topics I chose to cover in my development project are the following: • The recognition of prior learning and • Feedback 6 Thus my development project is going to be about the pros and cons related to the process of creating and putting into use a blended learning course. The burning question I would like to answer to is: “Can blended learning be helpful when applied to the pedagogical areas of feedback and recognition of prior learning?” 2. Why Blended Learning? It seems to me that blending is usually a way of preserving things, ideas, or beliefs we approve of and deem effective, combined with new ideas and concepts we envision might be worthwhile trying in order to progress. Blended learning is something I definitely have been practicing in a more restricted sense of the term – without the use of a virtual environment but with the inclusion of modern technology through the use of internet and search engines like Google or AltaVista. I believe blending is a way of introducing variety and as such it is always a source of motivation. Blending is also a careful and therefore sensible way to approach new methods and systems. Technology is advancing fast and so is the way we approach teaching and learning. However, a fast pace does not always mean a stable and effective pace, and I sense that even though we are going to the right direction we should not jump head first into waters that which are not really sure of. “Where the computer was previously considered above all to be a tool for the individualisation of teaching, it is currently thought more and more often to be a tool for social interaction and collective activity. Many studies have reported on the positive effects of computer-assisted collective learning on the learning results. The message of many studies was, however, that the collective learning situations implemented by means of ICT produced quite new kinds of action and learning processes that have not even been aimed at in traditional teaching and the influences of which cannot be directly compared to the results of traditional teaching.” (Sinko & Lehtinen 1998). With respect to my development project I will be using the term blended learning meaning a course that combines regular face-to-face classroom in- 7 struction with online using a virtual environment. As I mentioned above I decided to follow this course of action basically believing that the new innovations and possibilities offered by a virtual platform would serve to bring a new dimension to the course and also help in making more effective the parts of traditional face-to-face learning that I was planning on preserving. Our research (Blended learning, 2004) has shown that while student success and high levels of student and instructor satisfaction can be produced consistently in the fully online environment, many faculty and students lament the loss of face-to-face contact. Blended learning retains the face-to-face element, making – in the words of many faculty – the best of both worlds. The choices I made as to what parts needed modernizing came as a the result of a critical review I made of the original face-to-face course together with ideas that sprung from feedback I got from students and also thoughts and feelings that proceeded from me getting acquainted with the virtual platform during my studies at Seinäjoki and Jyväskylä. 2.1 Pinpointing specific areas where blended learning is and is not needed. After revising thoroughly the face-to-face course I came to the conclusion that I wanted to maintain untouched throughout the process of modernization the following points: The course would be based on a constructivist approach with stress laid on: • Analytical thinking, • Creative practice, • “Out of the box” individual approaches and solutions • Experimentation. I was glad to notice that the points I wanted retain supported efficiently the aims of researchers that had worked with online learning. As for the aspects of the course that I really wanted to develop was to set on constructing a course that would shift away from instructionism and become more learner-orientated, thus embracing the new trends of thought with regards to the use of technology. 8 “Rethinking education from the learner’s perspective has brought a new dimension into education, causing a deep reflection on the whole process of learning and teaching. Within a move from a behaviourist to a constructivist paradigm, educational research changes from a transmission-model that emphasises teaching methods to one that is learner-oriented. Emphasis is now put on more active and exploratory learning”. (Márcia Pereira, 2000). The reason I wanted to prioritise this particular aspect was my firm belief in the fact that learners need to feel, in order to be motivated. Learning has to have personal meaning and it should be related to their views and beliefs in life. According to recent studies; (Charles D.Dziuban, Joel L. Hartman & Patsy D. Moskal 2004) : • • • • • • Students consistently report that blended learning represents a university model that is more congruent to their lifestyles…millenials grew up with cell phones, instant messaging, the world wide web, wireless communication, and advertising without boundaries. The expectations of these students in terms of elimination of delays, customer service, experiential learning, and staying connected. Characteristics that describe this generation include: tend to live for the moment are attuned to the immediacy of technology respond to clear and consistent expectations view money as an immediate consumable will give respect only after they have experienced it tend to question everything. Blended learning offers a mechanism for meeting the needs of these students within the values they embrace. There were other aspects I also thought needed improvement and I was hoping I would be able to do so through the use of the virtual platform. Three of them had been mentioned by students in their feedback: • The course was rich in content but set in a timeframe that was definitely too short and restricting. Too much to learn in too little time (the nightmare of every teacher). • Being a sequel to “Composition 1” and having a year in between the learning sessions meant it was difficult to remember what had already been covered. “Educators hope that students will transfer learning from one problem to another within a course, from one year in school to another, between school and home, and from school to workplace. (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 1999). 9 • Feedback was being given on the spot but still more was needed- especially at the end of the course. “Technology can make it easier for teachers to give students feedback about their thinking and for students to revise their work” (Bransford et al. 1999). One of the targets I set for myself was to create through the virtual platform a strong and well defined structure to support the course and give the students a feeling of security and understanding of the content to be assimilated. According to Yrjö Engeström (1994), one of the four conditions of investigative learning is “proper organization of contents and subject matter”. Even though this has unquestionably been one of my aims throughout my teaching experience I believe that the virtual environment through its capacity for storing learning materials and keeping them organized according to a fixed set of standards will prove to be a positive asset in this sense. I also feel that in modern education one of the things that has been lost is for the students to have a set place/area where they can learn – during their studies they go from one classroom to another depending on what subject that is being covered. The virtual platform seems to me definitely to be a way for the student to anchor himself and feel he has control of where to find what he needs for every respective course he is undertaking. In other words, my aim for the blending learning experience was to explore whether I might develop my current face-to-face course by: 1. Shifting from a transmission model to learner oriented methods. 2. Optimizing: • The structure of the course and its use of time/content • Transfer from one school year to another • Feedback 2.3 Other benefits of blended learning: 10 During my research on blended learning I came across many other aspects that I think will improve and probably come as an indirect but welcome result of this project. Below are listed a few of them: • One of the least-mentioned benefits of students participating in Web based courses, whether fully online or blended, is the increase of students (and probably instructor) information literacy, thus providing students with new abilities that benefit them throughout their entire academic and employment careers. • Blended learning also benefits the institution by improving efficiency of classroom use and reducing on-campus traffic and the associated need for parking places. • ... faculty speak of increased interaction in their blended classes and of the technology competency they have attained using webinstruction. (Charles D. Dziuban et al. 2004 ) 3 “Visual design and illustration 2” – The face-to-face course in composition The Visual design and illustration course consists of one study week sequel (1, 5 ECTS) and belongs to the Degree Programme in Design, 240 ECTS (160CR). The students belong to the specialisation line: crafts and design (fields of wood, metal, textiles and clothing) and are in the second year of their studies. Having completed the first year of the course the students should already be familiar with the topic and know how to express their ideas through the use of line, tone, shape and form and be acquainted with subjects like balance and rhythm. 3.1 The content of the course The course is divided into four sessions each consisting of 4 contact hours and since it covers such a broad subject matter it has to be well planned and definitely also summarised. It is very intense, with the students participating often daily to the course during a time span of one or two weeks. I have to 11 rely on giving them thorough and practical theoretical knowledge combined with short but directed creative tasks during the contact sessions and some more profound and ideologically oriented tasks for their independent study periods. It is crucial to include time to revise the given homework assignments and to allow enough time for students to be able to compare the work amongst themselves or sometimes relate their work to examples by professionals in the field. My aim is to stress the importance of content and the idea behind the design and also to provide enough theoretical background to support the students to express themselves visually with clarity and strength. However, I tend to stress that at this stage, learning to think “out of the box” with an individual perspective and to asses how to develop, is much more important than achieving well rendered results with a lack of content. 3.2 Pedagogical principles My pedagogical methods are of a constructivist nature. I place a lot of importance on problem solving and information processing and I believe personal experiences and emotions are crucial for learning experiences (my own as well as my students’). Experiential learning would basically serve to describe my teaching methods, with visual demonstrations, problem solving exercises and practical and theoretical conversations forming the basic structure of my courses. My aims are to broaden the perspectives on how the students approach the subject matter and to try to incorporate what they learn in a way they can develop designing skills and art as a way of life and of seeing things. Inspired by Cézannes philosophy of “a good design follows a clear mind” I try to involve the student’s creative thinking in a way that it is broad, colourful and indiscriminative but also clear and precise – organized around simple ideas that are well comprehended.. A combination of analytical thinking with creative practice, I guess, are moments where theoretical approaches are combined with instances of creatively free experiments that border the line of total chaos. I believe in the use of cognitive conflicts which sometimes include what I would describe as embryonic abstract thinking (the word embryonic referring to an abstract thinking that is based on working 12 from instinct without really understanding the aims or goals of what is being done – something I find creative and interesting, though sometimes with the risk of being overly challenging and therefore somewhat demotivating). I try to create the sessions so that they include a variety of learning processes. Because of the limited timeframe I have shorter and more spontaneous periods of internal reflection and assimilation during the contact hours and hope the student will develop these later through the more complex tasks they get for their independent input periods. Cognitive problems precede each externalization task, sometimes based on theoretical subject knowledge and others on instinct and creative ability. Shorter practical tasks to improve technical skills and different approaches are combined with somewhat longer and not so intense assignments intended to relax, enjoy and sense a slowing down of rhythm and output. Discussions and storytelling aimed at relieving active performance and analytical thinking are practiced when needed and breaks are never planned but also used in accordance to the progress of the lessons and the need of the students. 3.3 Evaluation in the face-to-face course Evaluating achievements is strongly based on the process of work. I make a point of giving a lot of importance to sketches and plans of approach. Bold and brave attempts with eventual failures in achievement of goals are often of more value than safe and less interesting “better looking” approaches. I also try to estimate the students’ skills at the beginning and at the end of the course, either by what has been produced or (and) by the students own critical assessment feedback. I try to give feedback as much as possible and as soon as possible. Concentration in class and positive active participation throughout the course are of utmost importance (the courses are short so absences are not accepted). The design tasks have to be combined with written observations including sentences describing process of thought and plans of action. Research from different sources is valued as well as artistic ingenuity. 13 4. Moving towards Learner orientated methods: In order for me to be able to develop my course in its new blended version I had to start by clearly organizing and mapping in my mind and on paper the structure of the face-to-face version as well as its contents. Having an overall picture of how the course should evolve and being in control of what parts should come, where and when, has always been essential to me in my teaching. However, I have tended to move freely within a certain set of boundaries depending on the situation, the level of understanding being attained and the mood and spirit of my students. Exposing online, right from the start, an overview of what we would be covering throughout the course in a clear and inspiring way proved to be more demanding than I had expected. I needed to focus on how to get the student actively involved from the very beginning and thus motivated into gradually taking control of their own learning. Collaboration, information acquisition and interaction should have a strong role in the new format of the course. 5. Optimizing structure, time and content of the course The transformations for the structure of my course were mostly based around two main principles: • The idea of the student being able to get acquainted with the subjects before the face-to-face sessions. • The possibility to work on the projects interactively after the sessions – as opposed to having to find the solutions for himself. Regarding the first point what I was hoping to achieve was to motivate the student into getting a “feel” of what was going to be covered and possibly to awaken his curiosity as to what steps were needed to be taken towards a solution (hopefully create a conflict between the students knowledge and the 14 requirements of the new task being faced as a motivational force) in the faceto-face session. In other words I wanted to introduce my course in such a way that it facilitates the constructive process of learning, creates possibilities for students to internalize and ponder on the subject beforehand, and thus creates a stronger connection to the incoming information from the face-toface sessions. As for the second point, being able to use the virtual environments possibility for chatting, forums and discussions meant that I could plan the “independent” study time in such a way that the student did not have to feel being a lonely explorer setting out to conquer wild and mysterious worlds. I believe this to be a way to get a sense of what different options might be considered in the problem -solving phase; a chance to get directions that differ from what the teacher has suggested, and to develop an analytical way of thinking where multiple choices are given and personal solutions and judgment calls are prioritized. Where the computer was previously thought to be a tool to make teaching more individualised, it is now more and more often perceived as a tool for social interaction and collaboration ( Rauno Karjalainen & Esa Niemi. 2000). I had a feeling that succeeding with these changes to the structure of the course would automatically lead to improvements in the dilemma of having a large content to aboard and little time to do so. The mere fact of having “empty” time in between the discovering of task, the face to face session and the independent learning, implied the possibility of better internalization and understanding and therefore made it easier to adjust to the pace of the course. However, following the principle of “less subject matter covered better” and “search for solutions rather than to look at the existing ones” I cut the amount of subject matter and increased time for collective analysis and feedback of the process for the face to face sessions. 6. Transfer from first year to another. 15 I think that transfer, be it from one class to another, a year to the other, from subject-matter to another or from previously gained experience into current tasks and problem solving, is something that really points out to the amount of understanding possessed by the learner and the capacity to perceive similarities between contexts. Thereby transfer seems to me to be a fundamental part of the learning circle and something that we as teachers should really focus on and develop in such a way that we make it as effective as possible. In order for transfer to occur it is essential that the learning process includes internalization, assimilation and externalization where understanding is put into practice. According to J.K. Smart (2003) “Experience = event + interpretation. Very little of what we call our experience is made up of things that happened to us (events); Most of it is about how we interpret (make sense of) those events”. I fully agree with this statement and I believe that what the learner retains in his memory for later transfer is precisely the event + interpretation together with an assimilation of where this has been put in practice (where the practical element is fundamental together with an analysis of results achieved thereby).The University of Victoria (2003) tackles the subject of remembering and transfer in a section of their learning skills programme in the following way: 1) We divide remembering into two basic types: (1) recognizing and (2) recalling, and each requires a different type of practice to optimize learning and memory. We are recognizing something when we can spot it, and pick it out of a set of similar items, as in a multiple-choice question. In recognizing, the focus is on the material rather than on your response to it. We are recalling something when we can produce or reproduce information as in a short answer question. In recalling the focus is on what you are able to do in response to the item. 2) You must learn something before you can remember it. To do this you must pay attention and respond to the material as you are learning. This might mean paraphrasing main ideas and concepts (perhaps in note form) as you are reading or listening to a lecture, relating the things you are learning to other things that you know (perhaps with a concept map), or discussing what you have learned with a colleague or a study group. 3) Recognition and recall of learned material improves with practice. (Learning skills program,2003) From this I believe one can deduce that for transfer to happen effectively we need the learner to recall-instead of merely recognize, thus implying we need active participation during the process of learning between learner and sub- 16 ject-matter. In this way what is internalized is also externalized through individual interpretation and practice - preferably also analyzed through some sort of feedback event (ideally from collective feedback and also self assessment); and thus the learning happens with understanding. It is in other words deep level learning (where the student understands and is able to create an overall picture of the content) that is needed for transfer to be able to take place. 6.1 Creating “Bridges” for transfer. Parting from the idea of a clear overall “blocks” of content matter I realized that in order for me to be able to get my learners to recall effectively from one year to another I needed to organize the content of the first courses around the most important issues so that a strong conceptual framework would firstly be established. It would also be important at this point to emphasise how to use these holistic patterns in different situations, thus creating “Bridges” that help when transfer is needed. Experts have not only acquired knowledge, but are also good at retrieving the knowledge that is relevant to a particular task. In the language of cognitive scientists, experts’ knowledge is “conditionalised” – it includes a specification of the contexts in which it is useful.(Simon, 1980; Gazer 1992). Knowledge that is not conditionalised is often “innert” because it is not activated, even though it is relevant (Whitehead, 1929).( Bransford, et al. 2000). My first steps in this direction – that I think will need years of development – are: 1. To create a strong visual orientation basis to function as a framework of the key ideas and concepts of what Composition is about. 2. Summaries constructed mainly around images of every “block” of information – to complement the notes the students took of the lectures. “…Comparisons of people’s memories for words with their memories for pictures of the same objects show a superiority effect for picture”.(Bransford, et. al. 2000 ). My belief is that by using these in the introduction of the Blended Sequel course they will function as “triggers” that will help to recall the previously 17 gained knowledge before receiving new information. Hopefully the student upon seeing these “maps” of the fundamental concepts of the course covered will associate them to his experience gained throughout those lessons thus “awaking” the knowledge that has been stored away in his long term memory. Studies show that abstracted representations do not remain as isolated instances of events but become components of larger, related events, schemata (Holyoak,1984, Novick and Holyoak 1991). On the virtual learning environment I would also like to include a folder or a data bank where learners could go and look at prior assignments and how they were solved. A major goal of schooling is to prepare students for flexible adaptation to new problems and settings. (Holyoak et. al., 2000). I trust that by seeing examples of how different problems have been solved the student might be able to recall prior experiences and adapt this knowledge to the new problem at hand, thus feeling more confident when putting his ideas into practice. In Art and Design you not only learn from doing but also from exposure to other peoples solutions. By thinking, reflecting and analyzing the learner would broaden his mind and way of solving problems and would be able to asses his capabilities in relation to others. Constructivist theories claim that learners interpret information and the world according to their personal reality, and that they learn from observation, processing and interpretation, and then personalize the information into personal knowledge (Mohamed Ally, 1980) The exposure to other students’ work is much more difficult in face-to face learning, not only because of the difficulties of arranging to store and show finished projects but also because the students among themselves either feel shy looking at their peers work or they simply avoid “to be seen curious and stealing other peoples ideas ”. Additionally there is the problem of limited time. During reflective information, students like to take the time to think and reflect on the learning materials. (Kolb.1984). This data folder might be possible to develop into a permanent exhibition where students are able to see what their peers in different fields have achieved and what kind of projects have taken place in school. Composition and Design vary in some ways in the different fields, but the main ideas re- 18 main the same and therefore the students would be facilitated in their process of “conditionalising” their knowledge – in other words, they would see how the theory they are being given is applied in different situations and this would help them to understand the value and practicality of their learning. I would also like to include with the material some kind of possibility of commenting and giving feed-back so that people entering the data base would not only get visual stimulation but also get a chance to ponder and reflect on how to put ideas into words and also see the variety of opinions that occur when different people discuss the same matter. In the future it might partly be used for people outside the school, like possible interested learners who would like to see and evaluate the standard of the institution as well as see what kind of projects are being done. It might also help learners to asses their own standard of work. Effective teachers also help students build skills of self-assessment. Students learn to asses their own work, as well as the work of their peers, in order to help everyone learn more effectively. Such self-assessment is an important part of the metacognitive approach to instruction (Bransford et. al., 2000). 7. Providing feedback on the online / blended course. This was definitely something I wanted to develop and make more effective. Feedback is essential for a student to understand and benefit of the learning process, by developing his critical thinking and interpretational skills. In relation to art studies feedback is especially complex due to the close relation that exists between the learners work and his feelings. Therefore the teacher should definitely be well versed in the subject so as not to end up inhibiting the learners creativity or, what also happens easily, end up forcing the students individual expression to become a “mirror” of the teachers values and beliefs. The theoretical background for this part of my development project is mainly from J.K. Smarts’ “Real coaching and feedback – how to help people improve their performance”, 2003; the book was suggested to me by one of my senior peers whom I very much admire and know from experience to be very tal- 19 ented in pedagogical issues. The book appealed to me mostly because it is spun around the idea that feedback should always be centred on working from the positive qualities of the learner – as opposed to concentrating on his defects – and effectively describes what steps to take in order to achieve this goal. “Someone talking about EQ (emotional intelligence) once said that the greatest act of caring we can do with someone is to hold them responsible for being their best self” (J.K. Smart, 2003). 7.1 Feedback without the support of physical presence. It has been my experience throughout the years (in face to face teaching) that feedback is an essential part of the learning and is very much needed and expected by the learner. Opportunities for feedback should occur continuously, but not intrusively, as part of the instruction. Feedback is most valuable when students have the opportunity to use it and revise their thinking as they are working on a unit or project (Bransford, et. al. 2000). I have made an effort to include feedback as much as possible in my teaching and I believe in most cases with success. Time, attention and a lot of concentration are the essential elements for good feedback to occur. The first being the most critical from the teachers’ perspective considering that in most cases he already is pressed with relation to time. An important issue that I now had to consider when planning my feedback for the blended learning course was that feedback given online would be in written form, thus requiring a deeper feeling for the subject since written words often miss some of the charm and personality you might achieve when delivering feedback live. The importance of charisma and personality in face-to face feedback can be sensed in J.K. Smarts’ assessment that: “Nowadays, I break all the rules, but it works. The minute I see something I need to give feedback on, I give it there and then and I do not worry about who else hears. But – and this is a big but – I do it with humour and no judgement” (J.K. Smart, 2003). My teaching has always been based on the assumption that classroom climate together with the teachers personality, sense of caring and inspiring approach 20 facilitate the receiving of feedback. Basically following an attitude of “it does not matter what you do but how you do it”. However, now I needed to concentrate on how to develop feedback giving when in written form, where one is not able to judge the individuals reactions and feelings of the moment as happens in live sessions. I hoped to achieve this without loosing any efficiency or having to soften the content of the feedback in order not to hurt the learners’ feelings. I do believe, however, that a key-step in the process of learning is to develop the language skills so that one is able to put into words the positive and the negative aspects of the problems one is dealing with. Language is the pillar of thinking. The master of Composition in art, Cezanne, is said to have stated that what you paint reflects what is going on in your head. A clear mind leads to a clear vision and a balanced and prime composition. By learning to give feedback one develops the skills to analyze and perceive the things one likes and dislikes thus enabling oneself to use them or not when dealing with a problem. The learning environment might be ideal in the sense that both the teacher and the learner must organize their thoughts and ideas before expressing them in written form. This implies a deep understanding of the subject matter and facilitates deep level learning to happen. The students should feel they have time to ponder on what they want to express and also have privacy which might lead them to expose their ideas more freely. Moreover, there is also the fact that online learning should meet the needs of both concrete experience learners (like to interact with peers – chatting) and also Reflective observation learners (like to observe carefully before taking any action – return folders). 7.2 Experience = Event + interpretation. The author of “Real coaching and feedback” states that: “Development, especially in people skills, is not about teaching new skills as much as about unblocking existing ones” (J.K. Smart, 2003). In the case of my blended learning course this is something that I will definitely have to keep in my mind, since being a sequel implies that new information should be con- 21 structed upon knowledge gained in the first part. I will assumedly be in control of some of the students prior knowledge (by knowing what subject matters have been covered and the way they were dealt with) and therefore my aim should probably be to try to understand how former content was interpreted and possibly what might hinder this interpretation from helping the student to progress. In “How people learn” the authors state: “Effective teachers attempt to support positive transfer by actively identifying the strengths that students bring to a learning situation and building on them, thereby building bridges between student’s knowledge and the learning objectives set out by the teacher”. J.K. Smart (2003) also mentions that: “Our beliefs dictate what we notice, how we judge, and the way we chose to interact with people”. This made me arrive to the conclusion that in order to somehow be able to understand how interpretations are made by different learners it might be interesting to focus on some assignments in exploring their beliefs – for example through online chatting and discussions. In face-to face situations I believe this might be more difficult because discussing one’s beliefs in front of others is not always the easiest thing and many times requires also the possibility to think and ponder on the subject before proceeding to express oneself – and time is a luxury one really does not dispose much off in the ever reducing contact hours. One of the reasons for creating a blended learning course instead of a purely online one is, that in order to have a fuller possibility of discovering the learners hindering beliefs and correcting the way he uses his characteristics (a characteristic being described by J.K. Smart as is a piece of knowledge, an attitude, behaviour, a skill, or any single input you bring to a performance), it is essential to be able to have a close, continuous contact with the learner and also to actually see him performing. According to my experiences over the years, one of the greatest blocking agents of good performance is lack of self-confidence (parting from hindering beliefs – often based on wrong interpretations). I strongly feel that in order to promote self-esteem there is nothing to replace face-to face situations such as a dialogue or a conversation. However, since making sense of the events is fundamental in creating an experience that can be remembered and constructed upon, I trust that written feedback in the virtual environment, whether in form of discussions or self- 22 assessment reports, will certainly be a strong contribution to my course in Composition. 7.3 Being neutral. There are two methods I personally think are essential in J.K. Smarts’ treaty on the employment of feedback: • It is fundamental to concentrate ones’ focus on what the learner needs in order to be able to help his performance. • For this to succeed you must understand the learners’ insights towards the issues being handled. With respect to the first I think the author gave me a true insight when he mentions the importance of being neutral when delivering feedback. By carefully observing the students’ performance it becomes possible to assess his working methods and it is through these one should aim at correcting the outcomes provided. It is a matter of concentrating ones’ effort on the different steps the learner takes and how he takes them that helps when assessing the outcomes. By sticking to a neutral analysis of the process one is able to deliver creative feedback as opposed to judgemental criticism. “For feedback to be credible, it has to be given in a way that the neutral observer would have stated it… it is not easy to give neutral statements of cause and effect so it is important to be in the right state psychologically”… “My aim in giving feedback is to help, so I need to remember that it is not about making them feel bad but about generating a useful discussion about how to improve”… “The focus is on what they need to improve their performance, not on how I feel”… and finally … “What works consistently well is to tell people exactly what I see – but only after I have put time, care and attention into my observation and analysis of their performance and the effect they are achieving. In my experience, people feel most appreciated when they feel noticed, much more than they do with even the most fulsome praise. When my input is factual, they take it and use it to adjust their perception for themselves. It is not an instant transformation; it requires mulling over, but I have sown the seeds of a different perception and that seems to be enough. (J. K. Smart, 2003). In order to be able to be neutral when giving feedback the author mentions that an important aspect is to try to understand the “logic” the learner has based his acts upon. Our actions usually are based on a motive that we be- 23 lieve will take us to the right direction. When we perform poorly it might be that the reason lies in something we believed would happen that actually did not happen. The problem might lie in our ability to perform – technique or then in our “logic”. Here J.K. Smart states: “If their discouragement is result based (things not actually going well), then the problem solving is focused on practical things. If it has come from a misinterpreted event, then the problem solving is focused at a belief level”. Finding this misleading “logic” and then helping in the formation of a new “logic” is what coaching is all about. Needless to say, the author also takes care to mention that obviously a frequent error is to assume that both teacher and learner have the same “logic”. We are all individual and therefore we act upon different beliefs and points of perspective. A good way to understand the learner is to assume we do not understand his current line of thought and ask him about it – and do so more frequently than less. Getting the student to relate his train of thought – articulating his belief, is often the only thing needed for him to understand the logic he has used or else find flaws in it. By saying out loud what he has been thinking during the process of creation the student hears himself recreating a former mental story and when his “prose” stops flowing he usually starts questioning what he has been doing – thus rethinking his “logic” and searching for a new one. The experience of the teacher is put to the test at this moment, because he should listen and understand the way the new logic is being created, possibly introducing new and different angles to the problem that the student has not been able to see. J.K. Smart suggests in his treaty that here too, the teacher should try to illuminate the new direction by using questions that lead towards the solution instead of simply stating out the way to go: “People tend to be spoon-fed someone else’s insight instead of being encouraged to arrive at their own, so what they have learned does not stick because it does not integrate with the rest of the experience and insight”. The questions posed should make the student to think instead of closed questions that simply require yes or no for an answer. The importance in concentrating on being neutral during feedback lies on the fact that when the matter is being discussed it relates to the process and not to the student himself. This way he does not see the need of putting himself in what J.K. Smart calls “the defensive”, which he describes as a place where learning can not happen. He also reminds us: “Remember: people may still 24 be defensive even when you are not judging them, because they are either judging themselves or they have got years of experience that have generated a subconscious expectation about being judged”. Neutrality has its strength in that it avoids implying strengths or weaknesses”. As an example it is mentioned that instead of using a word like lazy, one might simply say the person does not like to waste energy. The importance in rephrasing the matter in this light being that the same characteristic can be helpful or hindering, depending on the situation at hand. 7.4 Feedback on the blended learning course. When doing research on the subject I discovered that online environments are definitely being developed in this area and I could also sense that vast new frontiers lie ahead in the near future. Technology is being developed in such a new array of ways that, for a teacher that has recently started updating his instructional methods (like me), most remain unthought-of, unheard off, or is too abstract to comprehend. In the case of feedback it seems to me that the importance is being laid on the process of learning and reflection and the ways for monitoring how these steps are being developed. Sharing and comparing expertise is also a way to develop self assessment and critical thinking but implementing theses will require, aside of the working platform, complex pedagogical strategies to achieve the complete aims desired. ( Rauno Karjalainen & Esa Niemi, 2000). For my blended learning course I opted for using simpler strategies like interaction and reflective thinking that I believe I will later develop further as I get familiar with the virtual environment and its different forms of use. The methods I chose were: • Chatting and discussions: The students will get a chance of discussing the general outcomes of some assignment, assess and comment on their peers’ performance and ponder, revise and analyze their own work and its’ process throughout the course. • Discussions and debates I trust will get a further dimension by promoting the possibility of being able to continue what has started in the face-to-face sessions. I often find that things are left unsaid, superfi- 25 cially handled or simply misunderstood when in face to face learning situations, and so continuing them on the virtual environment after thinking and internalizing the topic will hopefully serve to promote metacognition. Having the opportunity to monitor and evaluate these discussions and forum activities will give me an insight of how the students are interpreting the subjects as well as what is their perspective on their learning paths. This will enable me to understand better their “logic” and hopefully permit me to provide them with positive and constructive feedback with insights into how they can improve their conceptual thinking or methods to develop their technical skills. I especially look forward to the final feedback session because I estimate that the virtual environment might provide a possibility for the students to participate more actively on the receiving of my assessment (as opposed to the way it had been up till now when the student had to look me up and make an appointment with me if he saw the need of commenting on my assessment). 8. The Blended Learning course. This project has been longer and more arduous than I ever could have anticipated. I knew from the start that it would not be easy, me having no other prior experience of virtual environments other than what I had gained during my Pedagogical studies in Jyväskylä – which was obviously experience in using a platform as a learner and not constructing one as a teacher. I programmed myself well for the task, anticipating I would need a lot of time and knowing there would be a lot of steps to be taken along the way. I therefore started getting a feel for the subject already on May 2006, by talking with people who had already created courses on a virtual environment and also by finding out where and when I could hope to get professional training in the technical aspects of using Moodle – which is the system currently being used by my institution. At this point I felt enthusiastic with the project partly due to the novelty of the activities that lay ahead and also because of what I envi- 26 sioned I might accomplish. I also felt a bit disorientated because I was dealing with something that in every way felt to be an abstract concept in the sense that I had really no idea what possibilities the environment would present, and even less how to attain them. This, however, I assumed would only be a benefit for me since it meant that my starting point was similar to many other teachers (of our time) and therefore one of the aims of my development project – to investigate what it takes to create a course online by somebody who is totally new to the idea – would certainly be fulfilled. The results of this phase were that I enrolled to a 12 hour course on the basics of using Moodle for teaching purposes that was held before summer 2006 and it also provided me some advice on different things I should consider and aim for: • Start by creating a Blended course instead of a complete online course – in order to get familiarized with the environment and be able to asses how it works in practice. • Don’t expect miracles – the environment has its limitations and you too! • Concentrate on simplicity and practicality in order to facilitate the learners’ use of the online environment. 8.1 Learning the basic technical skills. While attending the seminars on how to create a virtual course I realized that the theoretical part of it was not really that complicated – assuming the user has some prior experience with computers – it basically just requires time and experience. I had been given access to the platform before the classes started and had tried to acquaint myself with the basics of constructing a course by following the substantial advice and examples provided by the programme. According to these, learning how to use the system was a matter of “playing around” and being bold. I must confess that without the introductory course I would not have got anywhere despite trying to follow their suggested course of action. 27 I found Moodle to be quite practical yet not too artistically orientated – of course this might also be due to my inexperience. I had envisioned colourful and exciting ways to present my course to the learner – believing this would be a strong source of motivation – and ended up having to content myself with a much toned-down version in practice. I also got the sensation that even the “experts” on this field – at least the ones I had access too – not always were sure of the possibilities the platform might have. It seems to me, that virtual platforms being in the dawn of their existence are still a challenge even for the more qualified users – specially when dealing with issues that are a little bit “out” of the ordinary. I am sure that with time the solutions I was envisioning will be available; for the time being I had to content myself with arriving at a result that definitely did not have the qualities I was looking for. In other words, the layout of the course does not really have the personal and artistic qualities I aimed for. This being so I must confess I am a bit disappointed because in a way my course has a “standard” quality in it that I do not like and that I imagine will definitely not be an incentive for the learner – despite hearing from peers visiting my environment that it is much more colourful and alive that the ones they have created themselves. In the process of creating my course I did commit one major error that proved critical with respect to the time-frame I had set myself for this purpose: Having participated in the introductory classes on the use Moodle and a couple of weeks of diligent programming I left the almost ready “prototype” for my course aside in order to concentrate on my written report. The following three months I worked intensively on my development project and did not once return to my online course – trusting it was basically ready and would not need much refining before it was put to use. The result of this was that when I finally returned to check on it I felt like I had practically forgotten everything I had learnt and so I had to search once again for help in order to “re-learn” everything. This did have its bright side in the fact that it helped me realize that one of the problems teachers might have when starting to use the virtual platform will be that of not programming with the constancy needed in order to remember the process. Technology can be a very efficient tool but, like any other tool, it has to be used continuously in order to remain practical and 28 not to become a hindrance. With learning environments barely starting to appear for instructional use I think this will have to be something to consider and if possible avoid happening. 8.2 Re- shaping the original course When I decided to venture into the virtual environment project I had been advised that a good way to start is simply to create an outline of the course (some form of orientation plan) and then develop it with the help of time and experience. I trust the advice was definitely not a bad one but I was much too ambitious simply to settle for an outline without any other form of content. However, I did find it useful in the sense that it was this point where my project began. Planning and imagining what parts of the course should be online and what parts should be left for the face-to-face sessions went quite smoothly. Partly because I had a clear idea where my course needed improvement but also because my learning experience during my pedagogical training gave me an insight into what options the environment would be presenting to me. Having experienced the use of a platform from the learners’ point of view was, I believe, an advantage I had over teachers who might try to go through the process without any prior experience with virtual learning tools. I had had the opportunity to assess and evaluate what I like and disliked about the virtual environment and could therefore use this information effectively when shaping my future blended course. 8.3 Planning, storing and creating new material for virtual environment. One thing that I quickly learnt when creating my online part of the course was how important it has become nowadays to have course information and reference material archived in digital format. Developing a course on the virtual 29 environment is time consuming enough without the extra hours needed for transforming traditional teaching materials into their digital version. I was astounded with the time it took me to prepare my materials for using them virtually. Scanning images and texts, using Photoshop to get the quality and size required for the pictures to be able to be used, creating PowerPoint presentations and Win-Zip for reducing weight and format of the files in order to get them sent smoothly to the platform. All this took a couple of months of my time and dedication. Here I guess I should point out that I actually have been using the computer for storing and archiving to some extent so I did have some parts already digitalized beforehand. I can therefore definitely not envision any teacher of the older generation who still is using traditional teaching methods to be able to create a course online, and for those with very basic computer skills I would say it is a very, very big challenge. As for myself I can mention that I had truly miscalculated the time and effort needed for this stage of the process and on top of this were the times of frustration caused by the computers being jammed, not running swiftly, under repair or any other of the hazards that seem to be part of the modern technological era. I was lucky to have school staff members that helped me along whenever I faced a technological problem but this too, often times, meant having to wait for them to find free time to assist me or else to figure out what steps needed to be taken in order to achieve certain results. It was really painstaking and almost devastating for my motivation, but I am really proud I stuck to my commitment and I am sure the experience helped me in the sense that I will from now on concentrate on collecting and archiving my course materials digitally. I am sure that having this as a standard working method will enable me to facilitate (my) the use of the virtual platform in the future. 9. Evaluation of my development project – did I achieve my aims? The new blended course will be in active use next autumn and so the feedback I have managed to gather so far is only partly representative of what I 30 might expect will happen in practice. In order for me to evaluate my achievements I have had students “testing” and “experimenting” the course and then giving me feedback. The drawback being that these students are not the group I initially intended would be working on the platform and therefore some of my aims obviously were not attained – like the recalling of learning from the unblended course prior to the sequel. The “blocks” of information, the summaries with rich graphic content and the orientation plan that were meant to trigger the recalling process at the introduction of the blended sequel course were obviously intended for students that had lived through the experience and hopefully stored this information in their long term memory. The ones who visited my platform belonged to a group that in this sense were not “prepared” for the experience and therefore had no way of associating the new material with the old one. However, they had participated in other of my courses where composition is dealt with and therefore were able to feel a sensation of knowing what the introduction was covering and evaluate it as a positive experience. Another difficulty the group had to deal with was the fact that they had no experience what-so-ever on working on a virtual environment – whereas the ones that will be taking my blended course will have had a minimum of twenty four hours of practice prior to the event. The test group probably had more difficulties in recognizing the positive or negative qualities of the blended format but they did concur on the fact that it seemed interesting and they thought it would stimulate them in their learning. All of them agreed on the fact that they would like the idea of having the course contents available prior to the sessions as well as to refer back on them when in need to check or remember something. All in all I must say that I am excited about the project and eager, yet a bit anxious, about what will happen when it will be put into practice. On writing this report I am trying to rethink on my learning process and recapture instructions on how to check on the students work; how to follow their discussions and chatting; how to evaluate them plus a whole lot of other things I know I will be dealing with in the future. Now it feels like I am not too sure 31 about which procedures to follow and probably will not feel at ease until having had the chance to test the course and from there start to build up on my experience. I know that some parts of the virtual content will definitely have to be developed in the future like the chatting and discussion areas. Both are fairly basic at this point because I have done them relying on intuition and not on experience. I believe that only when seeing what happens in practice will I have the clues as to how I should phrase and expose my ideas so that the learners really get motivated and also a chance to explore the content through their own insights and thoughts. I am strongly counting on the fact that students will be of utter significance in developing these areas through their input and feedback. 10. Conclusions Considering the fact that the project was a real challenge for me because of the novelty of everything that I had to deal with, I feel proud of my achievements and confident that I have taken my first step into keeping up with the challenges of the futures learning paradigm. I feel confident that my project will improve the quality of my course by giving it depth – in the sense of linking it more firmly to the first year course and thus promoting recognition of prior learning; and variety - facilitating the learning process for students with different intelligences and motivating the learners through new activities that have a young and current approach to studying and growing socially. I am convinced that the project provided an answer to my burning question of whether blended learning can be helpful when applied to the pedagogical areas of feedback and recognition of prior learning. Even though I sense that I am only scratching the surface of the pyramid of possibilities that blended learning has to offer in these areas, I trust the methods I developed and investigated will prove to be effective and what is more important, will serve as a starting point for me to further improve my course in the future. 32 Other possible areas that I would like to explore in the future might be the screening and developing of movies for instructional use. One option could be to film a master while he is working. The movie would help the students to understand what actually goes on during the process of creation. It might motivate them when showing the problems and solutions encountered by a professional as he works and revealing methods and techniques applied in different situations. A second option might be to film the students working on some tasks, thus enabling them to see what they are doing from a different point of perspective as well as getting feedback from their peers as to what they might to do to improve their methods of working. I trust the blended learning course will also provide a whole range of solution to problems I did not actually set out to solve, like: • Reducing the costs of printed material – images and project assignments being online will result in more selective printing. • Facilitate the classroom activities by providing further means for the students to be prepared when they come to the courses. • Possibly it will offer to the institution ways to improve the efficiency of classroom use by providing options in terms of where the course is given. • Probably it will serve the purpose of making the students more active, independent and better prepared for the challenges of becoming lifelong learners and competent professionals of current days. As for the question of whether blended learning is suitable for subjects that are based on a practical know-how I feel that it very much depends on the way the teacher manages to construct the course. Used effectively I trust it will give the opportunity to concentrate on practical training during the face-to face sessions and investigative independent learning during the online sessions, thus actually increasing the amount of hours disposable for practice in times when contact hours are constantly being restricted. I feel that students with no prior experience with blended learning will not stumble when exposed to a blended course because the ways and methods 33 used are familiar to them in the sense that they have grown up in a technological society where chatting, Internet and virtual experiences belong to everyday events. Furthermore I trust it will not take long before the use of virtual platforms become consistent in learning and most students will be familiar with their use. As for what does it take to create a pedagogically useful course on a virtual platform I would not hesitate to say that it is a very challenging, demanding and time consuming task. The teacher not only has to have a thorough knowledge of the contents of his course but also has to be versatile with many different technology related practices; all the Microsoft office settings, the use of scanners, Photoshop, win-zip, and possibly digital cameras. From my experience, I would also say that it is essential to participate in a course on how to use a virtual platform and furthermore to have enough time to get somewhat acquainted with its use and practice before starting the actual process of creating an online course. Ideally this kind of project should be planned well in advance so that there is enough time to gather and store material digitally – this will enable the selecting and organizing of subject material in a way that facilitates the process of constructing the course. All in all I feel that by blending the course I have definitely taken a huge step into becoming a part of an evolving phenomenon that will only increase its momentum in the near future and definitely establish itself as the new way of learning. I trust that students as well as teachers are facing a big challenge – students having to learn how to become independent and profit from the new opportunities provided by technology and teachers having to learn how to guide the students in their independence and how to asses them; It is a challenge that must be taken and one that will prove to be positively transformational in all senses. 34 11. References Bransford, Brown & Cocking (ed.) 2000. Expanded edition: How people learn: brain, Mind, Experience and School. Charles D.Dziuban, Joel L. Hartman, Patsy D. Moskal. Volume 2004, Issue 7. Blended Learning, Edcause center for Applied Reaserch, Engeström, Y (1994). Training for change: New Approach to instruction and learning in working life. Maarit Korva, 2007. Web – based teaching. Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences. Learning skills program. Counselling Services - University of Victoria http://www.coun.uvic.ca/learn/remember.html Copyright © 2003 – Marcia Perreira. Pedagogical principles in web-based learning. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH-Zürich), Architecture and CAAD HP21 F21, CH-8093 Zürich-Hönggerberg, Switzerland. Rauno Karjalainen & Esa Niemi, 08-02-2000. New Learning Environments, Pedagogical Approach. Learning and Reaserch Services, University of Oulu, http://www.kotu.oulu.fi/koulutusteknologia/docs/NLE_pedag_approach2000.p df JK Smart, 2003. Real coaching and feed-back – how to help people improve their performance, ISBN 0273663283 T.Anderson & F.Elloumi. Theory and Practice of online Learning.2004. (ed.).Athabasca University. 35 12. Appendices Appendix 1: A PowerPoint presentation to help recalling the content of the previous course. Composition 1 How we see the world and how we present it Line z z 1. 2. z z z z Part 1 Thinking about what are the most important qualities of a designer, knowing who you are and how you want to develop. My view is that two fundamental aspects would be: Creating a style that brings forth your personality and your values and beliefs. Learning to search for the best and most individual way to present your idea. Developing a project is a slow process that starts from an idea and then slowly, gradually becomes a final work of art. The basic elements to work with are: the point, the line, the plane. Bear in mind that everything you do alters the final result, so do it for a reason! (or don’t do it at all!) Remember: what you are creating is a MESAGE! It has to be CLEAR! 36 Appendix 2: A gallery of students’ artwork to inspire and help recalling previous assignments. Gallery 1: (2004 -2005) 2) Powerful emotion Collage 1) Exotic Interpretation of linear Composition 3) Lustful H Collage 4) Wild swimwear Collage 6) Composition Cover 5) Love: in theory & practice 37 Appendix 3: The online course.