Blended Learning: Student Voices

Today at the edX global forum there is a panel with students, really nice touch to hear their perspective. The panel is moderated by Martin Irvine (MI) and unfortunately the student’s names are no on the slides, so I will just label their responses as S1 to S6.

2015-11-10 10.01.22

MI: can you describe your experience with blended learning in the classroom? What worked well and what did not?

S1: I took three courses in the ‘flipped style’ Typically, students follow the lectures online, and in class the professor talked about issues that arose in the lectures, but also we solved harder problems in class. I think we would not have been able to do so in a traditional setting.

S2: Comparing all flipped courses and blended courses, the commonality is that the idea was that students prepare before the lecture. Either with videos or with reading books, and then in class, or on an online platform, students get feedback on what they understand and what they don’t, such there is a more room in class for discussion and applications.

S3: One of the things I liked with an online course is that it allowed the professor to talk more about very new research developments. The book for our course is 5 years old, which in biology already is old! New things are invented everyday. Also, getting direct feedback online is really valuable, as we are in a class with 300 students, there is no way that professors can take pop quizzes and understand what all students do and do not understand, but with online learning, as a student, you know where you’re at.

S5: What I love is the personalization. Sometimes you don’t understand, and you can pause the professor and try again. Imagining asking a professor to pause in a room with 400 students? That is not possible. It also allowed me to focus on another course for 2 weeks, but still be able to catch up using videos.

MI: Thanks for that! To me these different experiences show that there is not a binary division, but a whole continuum of different ways in which we can blend. But, can you elaborate a bit on where things did not learn out? There are always these issues.

S1: When it was first introduced, students were afraid that watching the videos would take more time, they thought the hour spent watching the videos would be added to the things they already needed to do. In the end it was not the case, but students thought so.

S2: For some teachers, the ones not really passionate about it, it is very hard to do flipping or blending. Those teachers, maybe more research oriented, they might not be very good at teaching, but they have experience doing it the classical way, so forcing them even more outside of their comfort zone is not going to make it better. Also, for some topics, ones that require creativity, like hard math problems, flipping might be the best way, as you want to be able to connect with the professor all the time. But those are rare, I think in general, most topics can be done flipped.

S3: There are topics, like chemistry, where you have to give sketches as an answer, molecule or atoms. These are hard to grade, typically you get feedback that it is entirely wrong or right, and there is would be useful if it was easier to get feedback.

S4:  The discussion board is an issue! If you are the type of student, like me, that wants to interact, ask questions etc, it is very hard to keep track of the forum, as edX does not allow easy filtering or tagging or threads (Yes, improve this!!! — Felienne) Also, there is an edX app now, but it is not yet presenting a user experience that encourages learning. That could be improved.

S5: It can be hard for students to keep track of what exactly what to do and where, as there are many different learning platforms and even within edX courses, the organization can be different (I have gotten that feedback too, surely room for improvement there– Felienne)

S6: There are some great professors that are not exactly, ehm, great on video. In blended courses, it could be better to have different professors making the videos and other ones doing sessions in class. (I agree, those skills are different and they need not necessarily be present in the same person)

From the audience: I want to know how you watch videos. With a hand raise, who watches at 1x speed (no one) Who 1.5? (5/6) The final student said that it would be either 0.5 or 2x.

From the audience (same person) How active are you? Are you on the couch or taking notes?

S2: Sometimes I am active, I love doing puzzles in the video and reading along with the captions, that is a very very good feature.

From the audience: What is your attention span?

S2: It depends, but there is a cap which is about 15 minutes. It is fine if you have short videos mixed with questions, but not 2 consecutive 30 minute

From the audience: How do you feel about sponsored content?

S2: It really depends. I am not against it by principle, but a course on the environment by Shell is a clear issue. A computer science course by Google on the other hand could be fine, I would love that!

From the audience: Let’s talk about speed a bit more. I made a MOOC and indeed my students all watch 1.5x speed. When we had a guest lecture, I could almost feel the students looking for the button: ‘where so we speed up this guy?’ Is this where the efficiency comes from?

S5: It is that, but also the case that sometimes you need prerequisites to understand something. Let’s say the first 10 minutes are about summation and then the rest is about multiplication. If you misunderstood the first 10, the remaining 35 will be a waste of your time. In that way online learning is more effective too.