Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Let's try blended learning

In this post, I wish to address the question of e-learning as course delivery method. Over the past month, I have used Moodle CMS to make my courses for available for my students at the College of Letters and Humanities of Sfax. There's a lot that's exciting about e-learning, not least of which is its relative novelty in the Tunisian context. There is nothing more reassuring for a student than to find their teacher lectures notes available in one specific space, with readings, activities and assignments. It is also very reassuring to be able to talk to peers in this space, chat with them, know their ideas using the forum, see pictures and video from the instructor, and have all the work based in one public place. Great, isn't it?

Well, yes and no. As a teacher, I realize that an internet connection is not equally available for all students. Some do have easy access to a computer and the internet, but for others, hard as they try, access is by no means granted or automatic. I am glad that those of them who have access to my online course have it, because at the very least, we can claim that our students have had experience with online learning during their four-year course of study at the College of Letters and Humanities of Sfax. I personally consider this to a step forward, regardless of all other considerations.

I am however concerned on behalf of the many, possibly more than half of my students who do not enjoy easy, equal, free and unconditional access to my online course. I know some of those who have already enroled for the course must have been to an internet cafe to do so. I respect this, and appreciate it. I know ability to pay for access in this manner takes money, not an awful lot if you wish to belittle the sacrifice, but it's more than some or many people can or would like to spare. I am very sympathetic to this position, and it is my express goal that students who do not have access to the course online not be made to pay a price of any kind.

Herein comes blended learning. Simply put, the equation is the follwoing. The way we used to conduct business, three to four years ago was to have only traditional, face-to-face teaching. In September of 2007, I was hoping to have a course that is 90% online, with only token (phyical) presence, such as during the first two contact hours. With weeks passing, I am now more of the view that there should be a mixture of the two kinds of learning: (face-to-face) + (online). What does that equal? It equals (blended learning). This means that my online course will stay on. Students who have the desire and the will to take it online can do so, and they are more than welcome. Students who wish to see me in class, talking and walking, clearing my throat and cracking the odd joke with them can also have this option.

For this term, it just brings me joy to say that more than 40% of 4th year students have already registered for the online course in Sociolinguistics, and they know pretty much what online learning is about. We have reason to believe credible promises that our online situation is going to improve tremendously and that access will be a lot easier from within the College in the next few weeks or months. Meantime, I will be available both online and offline so to say. My two colleagues, Pr. Chokri Smaoui and Pr. Saloua Mrabet Abid will also continue to do the tutorials in-class. This is, however, not an invitation for those who have not had a chance to access the online course to drop the plan. I hope that this continue to be a priority for them. Very soon, we all realize how valuable this online experience has been. Ali H. Raddaoui, University of Sfax. November 14, 2007


A. said...

A great job & full of great ideas ... Thank you teacher .

Ali H. Raddaoui said...

Hi there, A. Thank you for the comment, short though it may be. The privilege is all yours, and the pleasure all mine.