Virtual School Meanderings

March 8, 2011

SITE 2011 – New Zealand Students’ Perceptions Of Blended Learning

The first session that I am blogging about at the annual Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education (SITE) International Conference was New Zealand Students’ Perceptions of Blended Learning. The session was described as:

New Zealand Students’ Perceptions of Blended Learning
ID: 32103
Type: Full Paper Topic: Virtual Schooling

Room: 3
Tue, Mar. 8 10:15 AM-10:45 AM

Authors:
Keryn Pratt, University of Otago, New Zealand
Ann Trewern, University of Otago, New Zealand

Abstract:
In New Zealand, students are increasingly taking subjects in multiple formats from multiple providers. This paper reports on 12 students’ experiences of this blended learning in one region. Thematic analyses of the interview transcripts identified a number of key findings. While students would have preferred a traditional style of learning, they were generally successful at managing this blended learning, gaining in learning skills as they did so. It appears that a blended learning approach is a viable alternative for schools for unable to provide students with personalised learning experiences within their programmes.

View PowerPoint Presentation

Keryn began the session with a description of the New Zealand context and some of the challenges faced by the K-12 system in New Zealand, along with some background on OtagoNet (which was developed back in 2002).

The session was actually about research that Keryn and her team had conducted over the previous year on a blended learning model of education.  The term blended learning was chosen by the program itself and is used to describe a variety of education delivery models used to offer different courses (which includes traditional school-based classes, videoconference (i.e., Virtual Learning Network), correspondence school, work-based learning, tertiary study).  So students select to do a complete course in only one of the formats listed above.  It is important to note that the Virtual Learning Network e-learning clusters, such as OtagoNet, are set-up so that the students have one hour a week of synchronous videoconferencing and then four hours a week of asynchronous instruction.

The data came from 12 students from Years 11-13 at four different schools (two rural and two provincial).  These students were:

  • self-rated independence as a learner ranged from 1-5
  • doing a variety of courses
  • variety of future intentions

Each of the students were interviewed at the beginning, middle and end of the year. (also a teacher/employer).  Two of the 12 students withdrew from the study.

Interestingly, the students did not differentiate classes based on the format or the provided.  The students described them based on the nature of the instruction (i.e., in this class we do a lot of lecture, in this class there is a lot of group work).  The students seemed to view these various blended learning models as simply “what was done.”  The students selection of courses were based upon their interest in the course content, not based on the format that the course was offered.  Most students would have preferred to have done all of their courses in a face-to-face format, largely because they missed both a teacher in the room and other classmates.  But the students did appreciate the fact that the schools were working hard to accommodate their learning opportunities.

There was one student of the ten who participated that particularly appreciated the distance learning opportunities – and wished more of their courses could have that level of flexibility.  This student particularly enjoyed the ability to learn at their own pace

The students performed about the same in their online or non-classroom-based courses as they did in their face-to-face courses, and when that was not the case they blamed their own effort (and not the format – although the lack of teacher in the room or classmates was also raised again).

The students reported that in some instances the school’s allocated a school-based teacher to assist their distance learners, although the students assessment of these individuals varied.  The school-based personnel, who was able to provide generic academic support, were most appreciated by those less able students.

Overall, there were large variations in the kinds of support that were provided.  The distance learning teachers were quite available and had numerous resources that they provided to the students.  On the other hand, the school support – in terms of teacher support availability, study space, quiet work space, and even equipment – varied much more.  It was the school-based support that appeared to have more of an impact on student satisfaction (and potentially student performance).

The view of many of the teachers involved in this system was that this model of learning would better prepare students for their future career and studies.  This was particularly mentioned in relation to the independence that they gained from the experience and also many of the technology skills (both to learn online and in terms of hardware set-up and troubleshooting).

Some of the takeaways from the data included:

  • most students preferred traditional learning (primarily due to the access to the teacher)
  • multiple formats for delivering education is a viable alternative (the challenges are worth it if it allows them to take the classes they want to do)
  • difference in enjoyment and effectiveness due to variation in support rather than format
  • role of the school-based personnel is very important

On the final point, the rural schools seem to have bought into the system much more (largely due to the necessity of this model of learning).  Interestingly, the distance options have actually had significant impacts on the school’s teachers’ classroom-based teaching practices.  On the other hand, many of the teachers in the larger or more urban schools have actually hindered the development of these options.

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