The middle of the road with mixed-mode

The middle of the road with mixed-mode
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Part IV in an exclusive five-part series regarding the future of education. Don’t miss next issue for the final installment

Nowadays, students can have their presence felt in class without leaving the comfort of their own home.

As colleges and universities continue to experiment with online education, some students remain apprehensive about the learning experience. This has created demand for a hybrid classroom that lets students choose how they learn.

Mixed-mode classrooms combine the best of an online and face-to-face learning environment to provide students with flexibility. On any given day, they can decide whether they want the physical in-class experience or to participate via their computer from home.

Alex Kushnir has taught mathematics and physics at Centennial College for over 15 years and throughout that time, he has embraced technology use in his classroom. He is currently participating in a pilot project that evaluates mixed-mode classrooms.

Kushnir’s primary concern when using technology is student attendance and involvement in the learning process. He uses Wimba, a Skype-like communication platform in order to broadcast his lectures live during class time. At the same time, he can call upon any of the students participating online to join in the class discussion live using the same program.

“Everything is interactive,” Kushnir said. “My goal is to have 100 per cent attendance (either) sitting in class or at home.”

The mixed-mode platform also gives students increased access to their professor. If a student wants to have a meeting with Kushnir outside of his assigned office hours, he or she can organize a time to meet him on the Wimba platform and have a live discussion. Students can do this indivdually or within a study group. Kushnir said students frequently take advantage of this option, especially right before a test.

Kushnir said that overall student feedback has been positive. While some students have no interest in the online option for the course, they are still able to come to class. At the same time, some students feel the learning experience is rich enough online that they only need to come to class for the exam.

“They’re saying, ‘I never had so good understanding and so high marks in mathematics like I have now because whatever I miss in the lecture I can go back and look through it,’” Kushnir said.

Zafar Syed has taught for over 20 years and for the past three has filled the position of Dean of Organization Learning Academic Development at Centennial College. He oversees training programs offered to faculty who want to increase their use of technology in the classroom and online.

The workshops are optional and faculty decide whether or not they want to take advantage of them.However, this may change in the near future.

Centennial College is currently assembling an e-learning strategy, expected to be ready for implementation next year. Currently, every teacher at Centennial College must post the course outline to Blackboard. As part of the e-learning strategy every teacher will have to go beyond this and consider what technologies could best enhance the delivery of their course.

“(It) looks at how technology based tools need to be incorporated or embedded into our practise here,” Syed said. “The purpose of the strategy is not to suggest one mode as the definitive mode but to consider all of them depending on the needs of the program, the student and faculty.”

Kushnir said that teaching a mixed-mode class is more involved than simply putting a video camera in front of you while you lecture.

Syed agreed that a very different kind of exchange takes place online and face-to-face. As a result, the curriculum for any given course must evolve to fit the delivery.

Students can expect to see more teachers take advantage of mixed-mode delivery in the future.

This will provide access to course materials and lectures around the clock. This ease of access has spurred Kushnir to adopt Nike’s successful slogan to encourage his students.

“Just do it,” Kushnir said. “Now you don’t have any excuses.”

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