I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to complete all my graduate studies at a distance. I’ve seen(been) it all, from the self-paced learner flipping book pages to the distance learner in asynchronous mode to the virtual learner in synchronous mode. I feel very lucky because this gives me an insight into all aspects of online learning.
My doctoral courses were the most enriching and satisfying, thanks to innovative teaching methods. I had the privilege to study in a blended online learning design (BOLD) environment. I’ve touched briefly on BOLD in an earlier post but I believe it’s important to explain in further details what BOLD is exactly. Please note that you can also refer to this website for more information. It is student-maintained so nothing flashy there but you’ll find interesting info and many of Michael Power’s talks and presentations.
Blended online learning design is based on a socioconstructivist approach, combining learning resources hosted on a learning management system (LMS) environment and a synchronous desktop conferencing (SDC) learning environment (Power 2008). The resulting blend represents a completely online course delivery system. While the asynchronous component (class forum) fosters a deeper reflection among learners, the synchronous virtual classroom allows for real-time discussion, rich interaction and immediate feedback. This synchronous digital learning environment leverages webconferencing tools such as Elluminate, Adobe Connect, Webex, Centra, Dim Dim, the latter one being open source.
What did a regular class look like? Exactly like a face-to-face class on campus. Students would meet for three hours at a set date and time weekly for a discussion-oriented course. Prior to class, they’d have done required individual work and collaborated with their teammates in either asynch or synch mode as they wished. During the weekly class, teamwork activities were reviewed and deepened through faculty-student interaction.
As a student living 1000 kms from my university, blended online learning design really helped me develop a sense of community with my colleagues. I remember using the 15-min. pause to catch up on all the excitement instead of taking a break.
This is not to say that BOLD is the THE solution to the multiple challenges of online learning. Back in my Master’s years, I was very happy with the flexibility of 24/7 learning. And while I am passionate about synchronous learning, I am very well aware that for a lot of people, it’s not an option (shift workers, foreign students…). But with some insight, I also realize that this came with a severe lack of incentives. It didn’t matter at all if I hadn’t written that paper – I could do it the following week. I became the queen of procrastination and repeatedly asked for extensions. That’s the same girl who never skipped a virtual class throughout her doctoral studies and always kept up with the workload.
So to me, virtual classes in synchronous mode at the graduate level really deserve greater attention in today’s world where bandwidth issues are less of a concern, at least in my part of the world. It just seems to make sense to reproduce the traditional classroom so familiar to students and professors alike in the virtual world. That’s why I am passionate about blended online learning and virtual graduate seminars, to the extent that they’ve become the topic of my doctoral thesis.
I would certainly welcome your views on this.