Going blended – if I can do it, so can you! Part 1

27 04 2013

Going blended cover

I’ve just returned from the IATEFL Conference in Liverpool, where I gave the talk Going blended – if I can do it, so can you. I hope I’m not being overly optimistic, but it seems that the participants enjoyed the talk, in which I explained how I transformed an existing 100% face-to-face (F2F) Writing Course for EFL teachers into a 50/50 blended variety.

I started out by providing contextual background: the Composition Course is a 32-hour module that is part of a five-semester, 360-hour Teacher Development Course, similar to a TEFL Certificate, attended mostly by prospective and novice teachers, but also by more senior ones seeking professional recycling. The main goal of the TDC Writing component is to:

  • Improve student-teachers’ writing and provide an authentic experience with the process approach – focus on multiple drafts and peer revision

In order to reach this goal, the course enables the students to:

  • Read authentic texts critically, identifying and explaining how a text’s style, structure, and context contribute to its meanings and implications. (discussions, journals, essays).
  • Identify the major types of academic essays and their rhetorical features (Organizational structure; types of cohesive devices; typical vocabulary).
  • Produce different types of well-organized, clearly written essays and texts in the genres that they will need to produce as teachers, based on needs analysis.
  • Use low-frequency, powerful vocabulary and discourse markers.
  • Develop metacognitive awareness of own writing process and skills.
  • Follow the different stages of the writing process, applying strong drafting and revising techniques.
  • Assess content, organization and language use of peers’ paragraphs and essays.
  • Develop a repertoire of relevant web tools to support the teaching, learning, and showcasing of ESL/EFL writing.

One of the reasons for transforming the Teacher Development Course into a blended variety was the fact that most of our own novice teachers weren’t able to attend it due to their busy teaching schedules, which we felt could also be the case of our student-teachers in our ELT community. In addition, we hoped to reach teachers from neighboring cities, where there aren’t so many professional development opportunities. Having face-to-face classes only twice a month, rather than every week, would be beneficial to both busy teachers and teachers living far away. Above all, though, we wanted to experiment with an online component in teacher development, as we have been working with online courses since 2008.

I prepared myself to develop online activities on MOODLE by exploring a myriad of tutorials about MOODLE on YouTube and Slideshare, reading books on online course development, such as Vai and Sosulski (2011) and also taking an online course myself, through a U.S. Department of State E-Teacher scholarship program with the University of Oregon. These experiences were essential in providing me with the necessary expertise to attempt to create a rich and effective online learning experience for my learners that would also be closely connected to the face-to-face ones.

going blended - references

The crucial aspect in developing a blended course is choosing the blend, that is, deciding what is to be done in class and what is to be done online. In the writing course that I piloted, half of the course work hours were to be done online and the other half in class.

We decided to continue using the same coursebook used for the F2F class – Greater Essays by Keith Folse and Tyson Pugh. However, just as in the previous F2F-only course, we didn’t restrict ourselves to the book, but rather, used its organizing structure as a springboard for additional, authentic resources. As the blended-version piloting teacher, I decided to focus the writing topics on learning and teaching EFL, one that unified the group. Authentic models of the different types of texts discussed in the course were provided.

Going blended - the blend

For my thirty-minute talk, I selected a lesson on the Narrative Essay to illustrate the choices of F2F and online activities. Theoretical material and more mechanical exercises, such as reading the introductory remarks on Narrative Essays, checking topics appropriate for narrative essays, and suggesting additional topics don’t need to be done in class and are perfect as independent tasks. Thus, the students were asked to read the introductory pages, take a quiz on the topics appropriate for narrative essays, just like the exercise in the book, and post additional topics on a Forum. They were also asked to read an authentic narrative – How I Became a Teacher – and relate it to the information in the book and in an additional resource on narrative essays, also provided on their course page. Specific guidelines as to what to comment on in their post and minimum and maximum number of lines were also provided.

In the following F2F class, we started out by commenting on the Forum posts regarding the narrative text read and reflected upon, then moved on to an analysis of the suggestions of topics for narrative essays, provided by students in another forum post. Following that, students selected their narrative topics, performed a “free-talking” activity aimed at generating ideas for the essay, and wrote an outline of their essay, with a view to organizing the ideas that had been previously generated. Next, students gave feedback to each other on their narrative essay outlines, using a form provided in the coursebook. They were thus ready to go home and write their essays.

One of the next online activities consisted of a peer review of the narrative essays, using the wiki on MOODLE. Students received an essay by e-mail with a number and had to post their answers to the questions in the peer review form in the book. In the end, there were as many responses in the wiki as there are students in class and each writer was able to identify the response about his/her text by the content of the answers, as neither the reviewer nor the writer knew each other’s identity.

Thus, the work with narrative essays began online, continued in the F2F class, and culminated in their again online work,writing the essay and giving feedback to each other. The online and F2F activities were closely connected and interrelated, forming a course unity. The coursebook and the authentic online resources were weaved into the online and F2F lessons and complemented each other.

Going blended - interconnectedness

In addition, all levels of thinking in the revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy were included in the course activities, as shown below.

Going blended - blooms taxonomy

In my upcoming post, Going Blended – If I can do it, so can you! – Part 2 – I’m going to discuss what my learners in the three blended Writing Course groups I’ve taught say about this type of learning. Stay tuned!

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Steel Wagstaff

Poet, Literary Scholar, Librarian, and Education Technology Consultant

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