Thursday, April 22, 2010

Put Me in Charge

As the UC system contemplates founding an "11th campus," a "virtual campus," and the UC Commission on the Future explores outsourcing more of its teaching to distance education, potentially of foundational courses, the history of the difference between "distance learning" and "hybrid learning" can be painful to recall. At one time, in the pre-Yudof era, the UC Office of the President was interested in hybrid approaches, on the assumption that they offered the best of both words, but now the logic is of substitution not supplementation. Mid-decade the now defunct Center for Teaching, Learning & technology championed uses that were meant to encourage faculty creativity and a range of collaborative approaches engaging different campuses rather than the false efficiencies proposed by IT "experts" promising efficiency through centralization in which faculty would easily port-in "content" without much pedagogical reflection.

For another viewpoint, check out John Seely Brown's "Blended Learning Revisited" for his perspective on the present moment in "blended" education.

The typical college lecture class frequently gathers many students together in a large room to be ‘fed’ knowledge, believes Brown. But studies show that “learning itself is socially constructed,” and is most effective when students interact with and teach each other in manageable groups. Brown wants to open up “niche learning experiences” that draw on classic course material, but deepen it to be maximally enriching.

In basketball and opera master classes, and in architecture labs, he has seen how individuals become acculturated in a “community of practice,” learning to “be” rather than simply to “do.” Whether performing, creating, or experimenting, students are critiqued, respond, offer their own criticism, and glean rich wisdom from a cyclical group experience. Brown says something “mysterious” may be taking place: “In deeply collective engagement in start to marinate in a problem space.” Through communities of practice, students’ minds “begin to gel up,” even in the face of abstraction and unfamiliarity, and “all of a sudden, (the subject) starts to make sense.”

What the UC system seems to be contemplating is very different from this communities of interest model.

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