In this second module of the BlendKit 2016 course, the reading discussed blended interactions.
Of the four perspectives presented about the role of the educator, the one that stuck out most to me was Clarence Fischer’s notion of educator as network administrator. In this model, the idea is that the instructor bridges connections for students, creating a network of ideas. Any gaps in the network may be filled either by other students or the instructor. From the instructor’s perspective, I imagine this would entail backtracking periodically to see the larger context and providing a metaphorical “You are here!” pin for students to track their progress as they proceed in the course.
This model appeals to me on two levels. My background is in computer science, and I was always very interested in networks in particular; how data travels between points on a network, how data may be intercepted on a network, and how sub-networks allow for greater complexity. It also reminded me of the “Memory Palace” technique for remembering things. Speaking of thinking and memory, the other reason this “network admin” role appeals to me is that as far back as I can remember, I have always enjoyed creating web diagrams before writing papers. I don’t always think logically enough for an outline, so the flexibility of adding in random thoughts and seeing how everything connected was always helpful for me to organize my thoughts. For me, the “network admin” model was a novel way of approaching teaching.
Another interesting idea from the reading targeted some of the initial aspects of the course. The authors suggest having an ice-breaker activity for the students to get to know one another, similar to what Quality Matters suggests in their rubric. However, whereas the usual questions for student introductions include asking students to state their name, major, and some interesting facts about themselves, the reading suggests “asking students to review the syllabus and then to write one or two things that they would like to get out of the course, how the material could be made more meaningful to them or for their goals, and even their preliminary opinions about some of the main course themes or topics.” The reading also suggests asking students “to state how the class will help them meet academic or professional goals, or what they expect to achieve personally.” Using the student introductions for a substantive conversation about personal and professional goals, and how the course fits into them, helps the instructor get to know each student on a very deep, personal level. It helps the instructor tailor the course for future semesters, as he or she better understands what students ultimately expect from the course. Student introductions can provide a great opportunity to engage with students, beyond the usual icebreakers.
Finally, one last suggestion from the article that was interesting was group problem-solving using the whole class: “The first part of the assignment could be for each student to state the best way to solve the problem, to provide a rationale, and to vote on the one the group will use. For problems with more than one solution pathway, this could generate some interesting dialogue.” I can see this working in my undergraduate programming course, where it will naturally lead to questions about best practices, coding standards, and readability of code. It can also lead to a discussion about which approaches to a problem make the most sense.
In general, I found this Week 2 Reading much more informative than Week 1’s reading. There are a lot of good take-aways that I hope to include into my course in the fall. Did you find anything interesting in Week 2’s reading material? Let me know in the comments!