A Couple of Experiments in Blended Learning

I have been experimenting with blended learning since early 2008. The first experiment was with a  batch of interns and the second is a batch of final year students in a software institute. Both the batches are trained using Problem Based Learning techniques. My inspiration comes from our original idea of setting up a Software Academy.  Some notes from the experience.

1. For the interns I set up a wiki (based on pbwiki)

2. Each student created their own home page and a Learn log and Project Log

3. The wiki home page pointed to Projects, Resources and student pages

4. The students were given a series of  problems. A link to the problem and the skills needed to solve the problem were outlined. For each skill, there were a list of resources (on the web) provided. These include ebooks, articles etc. A student reads the problem, reads the list of skills required. If they do not possess one or more required skills, they turn to the resource pages and learn those skills. Otherwise they proceed to solve the problem.

5. Each student records their learning and project related notes ( I gave them a link to a programmer’s diary wiki page as a guideline). This was the rough part. Software students don’t like to write and I had to keep asking them to expand what they express and finally ended up giving them a wiki page template.

6. Pbwiki sends automatic notification when a page changes. We used this to stay current on the activities. Pbwiki also shows you the recent changes (like most wikis do) and this allowed to me to take a quick look and see what pages I had to visit for review.

7. Once a week we would meet for half a day and discuss face-to-face any issues and plans for the following week.

8. We supplemented the wiki with chats (on demand) so that students can clarify any questions immediately. I spent about 30-60 minutes every day chatting. Some times we would do group chats. We also used email for asynchronous communication.

I found this to be very effective method of training. At the end of the six month period, the students produced reasonably good software and gained experience with a couple of programming languages and a few libraries.

For the second batch we are using a Social Network  created  on Ning, another free resource. This experiment is a bit more fun. Unfortunately Ning does not have a wiki. We plan to supplement it with an external wiki.

Given a choice, I would recommend using a social network since students are very comfortable using them and after some initial hesitation start participating actively.

The students I teach are in a southern city in India called Chennai. They come from rural areas and English is their second language. Most of their parents do not speak English and the students writing  skills are not very good. This holds them back a little, initially, but after a while, they start participating. In this experiment:

1. Students started customizing their own pages

2. Creating their own sub-groups

3. Started posting messages and create new discussion in the forum

4. Even send me direct messages (when they want a one-on-one conversation).

5. They can blog, but they have not started doing that yet.

I visit them twice a month and spend a whole day with them (may change to half a day every week).

The best part of the second experiment is that students have become teachers. We encourage students to help other students, create project groups (for tighter interaction). Like in any other community there are a few people who take the lead and participate more than others.

Overall I am happy with the results.There are several areas I want to experiment. Some higher level goals are described in the last slide of this presentation (Research topics).

Here are a few next steps:

  1. Create our own social network using open source content management systems (we are looking at Drupal and Plone)
  2. Make students build a few modules for Learning (portlets or Drupal modules)
  3. Include projects where student just pick one topic to teach and create it in the social network (student-as-a-teacher)
  4. Expand the experiment to include more institutions
  5. Try it in a couple of different countries where students speak English

I hire some of the students from each batch and they work on improving the network and also teach a few topics.

Meta:

This posted started as a comment to a discussion on LinkedIn. Then I decided to post it for a larger audience after a few corrections and improvements.

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2 thoughts on “A Couple of Experiments in Blended Learning

  1. This is interesting stuff Dorai. Definitely makes a lot of sense and hope that the educational system adopts it as well in India.though a few educational organizations are using such methods ( though not to the details you have mentioned here) but i guess the real difference can come when we start adopting and mixing technology,innovation and education right from the primary schools. I am looking forward at discussing all this with you when we meet 🙂
    Thanks
    Vaibhav

  2. Vaibhav,
    Thanks. Will be happy to share my experiences in detail.

    Here is a deal. Find an institution in Bangalore and I will be happy to try it there with the support of at least one local techie in Bangalore. That way, we can grow the idea. I am looking at a couple of other institutions as well.

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