Transparency Leads to a New View of Blended Learning

I recently had a few interesting and reflective Twitter exchanges with Wes Fryer, while he was attending a presentation. His Tweets were basically stating that the media being used to share ideas became a distraction in and of itself. The experience of overhead projector slides with 10 point type left him with the feeling that he was back in one of his 1980’s high-school classes. He reported (tongue-in-cheek) that he was somewhat relieved when the presentation was enhanced by PowerPoint and the use of a videotape. He also observed that he was the only person in the room who was taking notes (and Twittering) on a laptop, while all others were taking notes with paper and pen.

For the sake of fun and a bit of a reality check, I challenged Wes to flash-forward 20 years: 2028, and envision comments he might hear, such as: “Remember when Mr. Fryer actually carried a computer to the class?” This prompted a story by Wes, about his 8 year old son’s reaction to their viewing of some YouTube clips which promoted the Commodore 64 computer. His son could not believe that was ever “cutting edge technology”.

I’ve observed over the years that new technologies and contemporary design are always challenging and sleek in their own time. However, like Wes’s son, in a few years, I can hardly believe the thing I’m reviewing was ever “sleek,” “sexy,” or “cutting edge.”

New technologies usually capture our attention and cause us to focus on the tools. However, there seems to be a natural progression of our focus from tool to function (or promise) to transparency and back to tool again as its ability to meet our ever-growing demands begins to fade. I have long held that for technologies to be used effectively, they must become “transparent.” For a long time, I considered the telephone as an example. For most of us, the telephone became a part of our everyday experience and a means to communicate. As we integrated this into our life, it became transparent. This “transparency" represents the second step in the evolution of the use of a technology. It serves to accomplish a task or solve a problem, and in that capacity, it ceases to be an object of attention, but an extension of our lifestyle. When our needs for tools can no longer be served by our current technologies, we begin to notice them in light of their weaknesses. We seek new or improved tools to meet our new demands. It’s after we finally replace a technology that we look back and see it as clunky and wonder how we ever functioned with these early tools.

This notion of “transparency” is important as we incorporate technologies into teaching and learning; particularly in the online arena. For some time, I’ve heard the term “blended” being used to represent classes which incorporate some online resources. However, I argue that the focus of these “blended classes” is generally on a tool, such as Blackboard or a specific task. I now think that a real “blended” class arrives at that distinction when the mixture of delivery methods and tools becomes “transparent.” At this point, the focus is on learning and communication of ideas.

I suggest that embracing this transparency becomes a Personal Learning Style (PLS) and that learning can and does occur at any time and in any place. It is aided by a multitude of media and tools which can become so blended into our lifestyle that we accept them as part of our life. This notion is reflected by one of Britt Watwood’s students in his blog posting,
Thick and Chunky Instruction, when she equated the “internet” and “oxygen” as co-equals - both necessary for life. What an exciting contrast to the experience in which the media that was being used to share ideas became a distraction.

1 comment:

  1. Bud: This was an amazing conversation in that it took place at all, and we are able to continue to dialog here. I share your desire for technology tools to become transparent, like the telephone. I've used that word "transparent" before in presos and workshops, including one I put together a few years back titled "Dynamic Classroom, Transparent Technology. I found your discussion of how we vary from a tool focus, to a more function-based orientation, and sometimes back to a tool focus thought provoking. In schools today, what I find amazing is that more people are not realizing that we can't have a 21st century learning environment if we don't all have 21st century tools. This is the case for 1:1. I am cognizant that in making this case, I am emphasizing the tool over the function I hope to see it used for, but this is a bit of a chicken and egg problem. Without the tool it's basically impossible to have the digitally transformative conversation.

    I agree that if people are talking about "blended learning" and really just wanting to get people to use a learning management system like Blackboard as a digital attachments/dropbox system, and the traditional tasks/assignments in the course remain relatively unchanged, we're wasting oxygen and dollars moving toward this brave new digital future. I totally agree we need to be working toward transforming people's entire conceptions of what it means to LEARN. Blended learning SHOULD be the norm and not the exception, When it does, I think it stands a chance of becoming transparent. Until that time, I'm afraid it will still stand out like a sore thumb.

    I'm looking forward to 2028 BTW. After playing with 1st generation iPhone web apps this week a bit, I am absolutely blown away by how fast our digital learning landscape is changing. I wonder if we'll recognize ourselves when we look back in 20 years. What is that Commodore64 and the graphics it could render going to look like then?!

    Thanks for the conversation! :-)

    If you run into Dr Glen Bull at UVA, please tell him hello for me! I saw his email regarding SITE this year and do plan to reply here before too long... I find myself very "email challenged" these days. :-)