Our world keeps changing and evolving. With the rise and spread of information and communication technologies, virtual teams and communities of practice have become an integral part of the lives of professionals in many industries. Consequently, our job as educators is to effectively prepare our students for entry into a digital workplace by mirroring this world in our curricula.
To succeed as professionals in a digital world, our students will need:
- initiative, self-reliance and independent learning skills
- the ability to collaborate effectively in teams
- creative, higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills for analysing and solving real-world problems
- competent levels of discipline-related and relevant interdisciplinary, technical and professional knowledge
- effective communication skills
- Information and Communication Technology (ICT) skills
When we bring methods such as Problem-based Learning, the Case Method and e-Learning together, we have an excellent way to get our students using the tools of our digital world while developing the necessary flexible cognitive skills to succeed in it. Through the use of interactive narrative, multimedia, simulations and discussion groups, courses using e-Learning can illustrate problems effectively and support the communication and collaboration necessary for effective problem solving.
Learning is a social activity; people need people. The initial bonding and setting up of relationships is more effective face-to-face. Once this is done, the relationships can continue to develop online using discussion forums and email, with occasional face-to-face sessions to touch base as required. Online asynchronous activities allow time for reflection and provide a platform for process modelling, support and the presentation of media-rich content within a set context. An online environment also makes activities transparent which encourages independent learning.
Problem-based Learning & the Case Method
In a world where everyone is constantly bombarded with information, the ability to integrate new data and to understand the underlying connections and their implications is essential. But traditional courses, in which students are first given large amounts of material to read and then asked to solve problems using that information, do not facilitate such skills. Traditional problem-solving activities often take the form of presenting neat, verification-style problems with an expected model answer: this practice does not effectively prepare our students for the professional problem solving they will face in the workplace where an often ill-structured problem comes first and is a catalyst for inquiry and learning.
Consequently, a move to student-centred learning requiring the learners active involvement, where the learner plays an authentic role carrying out complex tasks using ICT, is needed across curricula. Problem-based Learning and the Case Method provide students with opportunities to grapple with realistic, ill-structured problems. Students are put in the role of professional problem solvers by designing instruction around the investigation of ill-structured real-world problems.
Designing a Blended Activity
When designing a blended activity, we must look carefully at the processes inherent in the activity and decide what are most effective online and what are most effective face-to-face. In the online component, we need to make the process explicit. Within the classroom, teachers can easily provide explanation and feedback to guide the students through various activities. But when learning moves online, such direct guidance often disappears: students are all too often thrown into an online environment and asked to just complete the given exercise. If the process is mapped out, this lack of guidance can be avoided.
Two possible blended examples are:
- read case study
- discuss & identify issues
- allocate tasks
- analyse & define the problem
- generate questions & learning issues
- allocate research tasks
- share findings
- identify alternative strategies
- make & justify decision
- conduct research
- share findings
- propose & justify solution
The final decision on the type of blending should be based on the nature and complexity of the activity and its learning outcomes.
For such an approach to be effectively implemented, careful preparation is required. Lecturers must be trained in e-moderation and a culture of collaboration must be nurtured. Initially models for a variety of blended designs should be provided to help meet the varied needs of subjects across disciplines. Educational design and technical support is also required. In this way, we will be able to be more effective in preparing our students to make the most of opportunities offered by the digital world.
References & Resources
AAHE Joint Task Force on Student Learning. (June 1998). Powerful Partnerships: A Shared Responsibility for Learning. http://www.aahe.org/assessment/joint.htm.
Baskin, C. (2001). The Titanic, Volkswagens and Collaborative Group Work: Remaking Old Favourites with New Learning Technologies, Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 17(3), 265278.
Brennan, M. & Anderson, C. (March 2001). eLearning in Practice: Blended Solutions in Action, IDC White Paper, http://www.idc.com.
Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs. The Electronic Hallway. http://www.hallway.org.
Goldman, Susan R. et al. (1999). Technology for Teaching and Learning with Understanding. Boston, M.A.: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Gongia, P. & Rizzuto, C. (2001). Evolving Communities of Practice: IBM Global Services Experience, IBM Systems Journal, 40(4), http://www.research.ibm.com/journal/sj/404/gongla.html.
Jonassen D. (2000). Towards a Meta-theory of Problem Solving, Educational Technology: Research & Development, 48(4), 6385.
Lynn L.E. (1999). Teaching and Learning with Cases. New York: Chatham House Publishers.
Stough, S.; Eom, S.; & Buckenmyer, J. (2000). Virtual Teaming: A Strategy for Moving Your Organization into the New Millennium, Industrial Management & Data Systems, 100(8), 370378.
University of Delaware. Problem Based Learning. http://www.udel.edu/pbl/.