I am an Online Learning Consultant (OLC) at the Centre for Extended Learning at the University of Waterloo. As OLCs we pride ourselves on a scholarly approach to course design and, as such, 20% of my time is allotted to research. One of the research projects that I began in Winter 2016 is a case study examination of a blended learning opportunity jointly offered by Wilfrid Laurier University and UOIT. In this case, not only did I have the opportunity to conduct research, but also to teach and contribute design changes to the course being researched. Both the research and teaching dimensions of this experience have been invaluable, greatly enhancing my perspective as an instructional designer.
The blended course was developed collaboratively between two Faculties of Education. With funding provided by the Ministry for Training Colleges and Universities (MTCU), a team was established that included an instructional designer, internal consultants in music and education, administrators, and the course author. The blended course was envisioned and developed over a two-year period. This course focused on building theoretical and practical skills necessary to teach music at elementary and secondary levels. Topics included: teaching for creativity, community building, principles of conducting, instrumental and vocal techniques, digital tools for composition, curriculum development, and cross-curricular planning.
Pockets of Innovation
This course has been recently featured by Contact North as one of a series of “Pockets of Innovation.” There are three selection criteria for Innovation projects, including: (a) they represent a new approach, (b) they support students, and (c) the developers are willing and interested to share the challenges and opportunities encountered. With these characteristics in mind, I will share some unique and common themes from the data that respond to these innovative aspects of the blended course.
How did this course represent a new approach?
This project developed a blended model for a music pedagogy course with both development and instruction to be shared between two institutions. The project drew upon the expertise of faculty members from both universities and provided greater access to the music as a teaching subject, which traditionally has been a low enrolment course. Creating a blended course in music for prospective teachers was a novel venture, as this type of course has rarely if ever been taught in this manner. The longer-term vision for the course aims to include students from additional participating universities, up to and including the 13 other faculties of education across Ontario.
How did this course support students?
Students reported the following elements as being both present and vital to supporting their success in the online environment: (a) consistent online teacher presence (i.e., email communication, Skype meetings), (b) ongoing opportunities for feedback from peers and instructor, (c) the building of a community of practitioners through activity and dialogue (discussion board with differentiated roles, day of workshops, conducting and composition activities), and (d) offering a combination of asynchronous and synchronous opportunities.
What were the challenges and opportunities?
In terms of challenges, several students commented that they found the course to be too theoretical at times and were hoping for even more practical opportunities to apply their knowledge. Another challenge for some students was familiarizing themselves with the Learning Management System and the digital tools that were used to complete certain tasks and assignments, especially if they were new(er) to online learning. In terms of challenges with course development, the collaboration among so many stakeholders was extremely time-consuming, as was the organization and coordination of technology to run a day of music workshops offered via distance and in a face-to-face setting.
Students reported that the assignments were well designed, as they encouraged collaboration, creativity, and were relevant and valuable in terms of content. In many cases, students were asked to connect the ideas presented in the course with a variety of classroom, community contexts, and scenarios. Therefore, in this sense, all learning became hybrid in nature as it was not mediated entirely through the digital space. Also, all students engaged enthusiastically in the day of workshops facilitated by a series of guest musicians. Half of the students experienced the workshops face-to-face and the other half via teleconferencing by their own choosing with comparable degrees of enthusiasm observed across the two scenarios. Last but not least, many students noted that the course was responsive to their interests and needs as learners with several opportunities to personalize, negotiate, and co-create the online curriculum.
Meagan is an Online Learning Consultant at the Centre for Extended Learning. She teaches as an adjunct professor at the University of Guelph and at Wilfrid Laurier University. Meagan holds a PhD in Education from Queen’s University. Her research interests are in adult education and development, particularly as it relates to creativity, transformative pedagogy, and user experience design for learning.
What is Contact North? Contact North is a non-profit organization funded by the Government of Ontario and serves as a repository for blended and online courses and a hub for resources and professional development (webinars, instructional training, conferences) related to teaching and learning in the digital space. There are seven themes for “Pockets of Innovation” namely:
- Faculty Development
- Hybrid Learning
- Institutional Change
- Online Course
- Online Programs
- Open Educational Resources
- Partnership Opportunities
- Technology Leaders
To learn more about Contact North | Contact Nord visit: teachonline.ca
Photo used by permission of Jesse Kruger under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 license.