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Blending in

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Wayne Trotman reviews a book outlining a sensible approach to blended or ‘flipped’ learning

Best Practices for Blended Learning,
Pete Sharma and Barney Barrett
ISBN: 978-1-911028-84-0
Pavillion Publishing

The authors of this title point out early on how the term ‘blended learning’ (BL) seems to mean all things to some and perhaps nothing to others.

The general consensus, however, is that BL combines traditional face-to-face classroom teaching with an online component.

After an introduction to key terms used, such as ‘Learning Management System’ and ‘Virtual Learning Environment’, the authors first critique several early definitions of BL.

They then move onto its positive and negative connotations, and, all importantly, the expectations in the minds of potential users of BL.

But we are not done yet with the ever-expanding lexical set of the BL phenomenon: the authors take time to explain how words such as ‘disruptive’, ‘redundant’, ‘sustainable’, ‘mobile’ and ‘flux’ take on a variety of meanings in the digital arena.

After chapters on the brief history of BL (the term seems to have first been used in 2000) the authors give their thoughts on research into this area and urge us to be cautiously optimistic in terms of its value to language learning.

When a course actually becomes ‘blended’ is a matter for debate.

The authors present us with a variety of models including ‘dual track’ and the ‘flipped classroom’.

‘The what?’, did I hear you ask? Flipping your classroom is a case of role reversal, when the online element provides the input (at home) and the teacher follows this up in the classroom with related tasks.

You won’t be surprised to learn that the latter radical approach is still very much up for debate. Several advantages and disadvantages are provided, including ‘how much to flip?’ The recent consensus suggests not all the time.

Considering the likely disruption to the status quo, I was keen to read chapter five: ‘Why run a blended learning course?’ Flexibility, adaptive learning and living up to learner expectations appear to be the positives. In line with my own recent experience with BL, however, the authors point out how teachers often end up doing more in terms of looking after online learners than expected, and although extra payment would be appreciated, it’s not always forthcoming.

Further challenges of BL are also underlined, such as implementation time, available financial resources and teacher knowledge of IT. To succeed in the light of such challenges, the authors recommend a focus on four critical factors: appropriacy, complementarity, attitude and training.

Implementing a BL course requires a framework and a platform, and the two chapters covering this area are perhaps the most enlightening in the whole book.

The authors’ vast experience of working in this area is clear here as they expertly run us through fourteen possible platforms, including Moodle, Facebook and Wiki.

After exploring ten case studies of practitioner experiences of BL in action around the world, this title presents a principled approach to adopting it.

It then presents individual detailed chapters that cover using BL to teach the core skills, introduce games and projects and provide assessment and evaluation.

The final section on resources discusses the future of BL, one which, the authors suggest, involves virtual reality and artificial intelligence. The authors have done superbly well to reduce what might appear to be a complicated area to one that even IT dunderheads such as myself could appreciate with ease..

Wayne Trotman is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Çelebi University, Izmir, Turkey.