Research of Information Literacy and Blended Learning (BL) is in an early stage with the current body of knowledge consisting of case studies and small action based research projects. BL offers the promise of higher scores on summative assessments and lower requirements for physical space and instructor time if implemented using best practices. Some BL best practices include a significant investment of time and effort in course redesign, and close collaboration between library and faculty instructors during the redesign.
Unlike Information Literacy, what constitutes BL is still being defined. Currently, one of the major obstacles to evaluating BL research is the wide range of operational definitions for the term BL. Those definitions range from a traditional face-to-face (FtF) class with some add-on online quizzes and supplemental materials offered through a learning management systems (ie: Moodle) to classes conducted almost completely online with limited FtF interaction (Graham, 2012). With the same label being applied to such divergent pedagogies, it is difficult to draw strong conclusions from any meta analysis of BL studies.
That said, there is evidence that BL generally leads to higher scores on summative and formative evaluations than fully online or FtF classes (Means et al., 2010). Unfortunately, given the makeup of the underlying studies, it is not possible to determine causality from a meta analysis. Some of the advantages of BL are likely rooted in "differences in content, pedagogy, and learning time" rather than attributable to the delivery media (Means, Yoyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2010, p. xv). The Flipped Classroom model, not invented but popularized by the Khan Academy (2012), can expand the amount of class time that can be devoted to constructivist activities and meaningful learner-instructor interactions (Khan, 2012).
One of the main reasons Constructivist or Problem Based Learning (PBL) is desirable for most academic instruction is that 50 to 80 minute FtF class blocks do not allow the typical student to "reflect and retain the information" (Chen, Lin, & Chang, 2011, p. 520) they are presented with. If PBL activities are well designed, they present learners with "real-life, open-ended, and multifaceted problems for students to discuss, analyse, and solve," (2011, p. 520) which often prove to be much more memorable than information delivered in a lecture format. It should also be noted that it is not the amount of time that students spend engaged in PBL activities that translates into better student outcomes, but "the quality of the learning activities themselves" that leads to student achievement (McNaught, Lam, & Cheng, 2011, p. 284).
It should be noted that in order to effectively blend a class, a significant up front investment of time and effort is required on the part of the instructor or from a campus support group dedicated to assisting instructors (Goertler, 2012).
In the case of information literacy instruction, best practice is to integrate BL into the curriculum of a first year course with a strong research component. As Parker, Lyn, and Freeman (2005) observed, "high impact on student's results was achieved by integration and contextualisation, when the information skills resource was firmly embedded into the course." Further, Wilson (2010) suggests that collaboration between librarians and faculty in order to integrate library information literacy resources into the class rather than as, "stand-alone module," is a strategy that leads to the resources being used more heavily by students.
For my thesis project I will explore Information Literacy learning outcomes, specifically between a control Face to Face condition, a Blended Learning Flipped Classroom condition with Problem Based Learning, and a Blended Learning Flipped condition with group Problem Based Learning activities. I will also examine whether or not expanded study time is a contributing factor to the "learning advantages" that generally attends Blended Learning instruction (Means et al., 2010, p. xviii). My goal is to contribute to the educational technology field by conducting a research project on Blended Learning in Information Literacy instruction with larger treatment and nontreatment sample sizes so results can guide academic libraries as they re-imagine and redesign their Information Literacy instruction materials in collaboration with their faculty partners.
Does a Blended Learning, Flipped Classroom Pedagogy Help Information Literacy Students in the Long Term Adoption of Research Skills?
From the first time I taught a blended / flipped class I have been interested in learning whether the anecdotal evidence of increased student engagement and longer term retention of skills I observed would be borne out by a rigorous research study. The primary purpose of this literature review is to summarize the current state of research surrounding the efficacy of Blended Learning (BL) and Flipped Classroom (FC) pedagogies, as well as current best practices for developing and implementing BL and FC curriculum.
Currently, one of the major obstacles to evaluating BL research studies is the wide range of operational definitions for BL. Those definitions range from a traditional face-to-face (FtF) class with some add-on online quizzes and supplemental materials offered through a learning management systems like Moodle, to classes conducted almost completely online, with limited FtF interaction (Graham, 2012). With the same label being applied to such divergent pedagogies, it is difficult to draw strong conclusions from any meta analysis of BL studies. Thankfully, most research conducted after 2009 has more specific definitions of what BL means, making it possible to compare outcomes across studies where the pedagogies employed are similar.
When trying to determine if a technology contributes to the effectiveness of instruction, the issue of "no difference expected" made famous by the Clark, Kozma debate on the subject in 1994 needs to be addressed. Clark (1994) argued that "media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction" and that "student achievement [is not influenced] any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition" (p. 22). Kozma (1994) countered that while Clark's argument is often correct, "if media are going to influence learning, media must be designed to give us powerful new methods, and our methods must take appropriate advantage of a medium's capabilities" (p.16).
Of all the BL models discussed, there is significant evidence from the US Department of Education Meta-analysis of and Review of Online Learning Studies, that BL generally leads to higher scores on summative and formative evaluations than fully online or FtF classes (Means et al., 2010). Unfortunately, given the nature of the studies included in the meta analysis, it is not possible to determine causality. There may also be differences in learner performance between academic disciplines. Some of the advantages of BL are likely rooted in "differences in content, pedagogy and learning time" rather than attributable to the delivery media (Means, Yoyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2010, p. xv). The Flipped Classroom model, not invented but popularized by the Khan Academy (2012), can expand the amount of class time that can be devoted to constructivist activities and meaningful learner instructor interactions (Khan, 2012). Multi-Access Learning enables "student choice and agency" by allowing learners to participate in a class where and when it is convenient or most conducive to their learning (Irvine, Code, & Richards, 2013).
BL models not only appear to lead to higher scores on summative assessments in most cases, they also usually have lower requirements for physical space and faculty time (Davies, Dean, & Ball, 2013). This potential for freeing up class space has made BL particularly attractive to schools with expanding enrollment and a lack of room to grow (Graham, 2013). It should be noted that in order to effectively blend a class, a significant up front investment of time and effort is required on the part of the instructor or from a campus support group dedicated to assisting instructors (Goertler, 2012).
In the case of information literacy instruction, best practice is to integrate it in the curriculum of a first year course with a strong research component. As Parker, Lyn, and Freeman (2005) observed, "high impact on student's results was achieved by integration and contextualisation, when the information skills resource was firmly embedded into the course." Further, Wilson (2010) suggests that collaboration between librarians and faculty in order to integrate library information literacy resources into the class rather than as, "stand-alone module," is a strategy that leads to the resources being used more heavily by students.
The majority of the articles I included in this review came from the University of Victoria Library's Summon search engine, Google Scholar, and the Education Resources Information Centre (ERIC) database. I iterated through 20 different search formulations between 2013-10-08 and 2013-11-02, and ended up using the following search phrase for both Summon and Google Scholar: ("blended learning" OR "hybrid learning") AND ("information literacy" OR "research skills") NOT ("virtual reference" OR "distance learning" OR "technology literacy"). In addition I used the following delimiters: Journal Articles, Peer Review, Not Book Review, Between Jan 2002 and October 2013. This Summon query yielded 133 articles. The same search in Google Scholar produced 1770 articles. I attempted the exact same query in ERIC, but it returned no results, so used the following search query with no limiters: ("blended learning" OR "hybrid learning") AND ("information literacy" OR "research skills"). This search produced 21 results.
I also put out a call to my Personal Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter and via email, asking my colleagues to suggest their favourite articles on BL. In the end, three colleagues suggested five excellent articles for my consideration. My graduate advisor suggested three articles indirectly related to technology and BL that were very helpful. I also searched the Zotero.org citation library for citations tagged with "blended learning". Lastly as I read the journal articles I selected, I made note of references to other interesting articles, adding some of them to my list of articles to evaluate.
The criteria I used for selecting articles from my Summon, Google Scholar, and ERIC searches was:
- Is there significant BL coverage in the article?
- Is there some Information Literacy coverage in the article?
- Is there an attempt to compare effectiveness of BL with other transmission modes or pedagogies?
- Is the article peer reviewed?
- Is the article from a quality journal, reputable institution, or reputable scholar?
After reading all 133 abstracts from the Summon search and applying the criteria above, I selected 26 articles to read. From the Google Scholar search of 1770 articles, I read the first 200 abstracts and selected five articles. It should be noted that many of the Summon articles I selected, were among the 200 Google Scholar articles I reviewed. Of the 21 articles from my ERIC search, I selected one to read based on my criteria. As with my Google search, I had already selected a number of the 21 articles.
The evaluation criteria I employed for the articles suggested by my PLN, graduate advisor, Zotero.org search, and selected bibliography reviews were somewhat different. Instead of insisting on some discussion of information literacy in the articles, I selected articles that had the strongest evidence based research on BL regardless of whether or not information literacy was discussed. Using this criteria, I included all the articles from my PLN and graduate advisor. Here is a link to my working spreadsheet for my literature review where I archived all my searches and infomation collected about the articles I included and considered for inclusion for this literature review: http://goo.gl/iLP5YX
Defining Blended Learning
Unlike Information Literacy, what constitutes Blended Learning (BL) is still being defined. As Graham (2013) points out, "much of the current research [around BL] has focused on attempting to describe and chart its boundaries" (p. 333). Some BL researchers and practitioners are advocating for a pedagogical rather than delivery mode based definition for BL in order to make the definition meaningful for cross study comparisons (Dziuban, Hartman, & Moskal, 2004). More radically, others argue that a new BL definition should only include transformational blends that use technology to radically transform pedagogy (Guidry, 2010). Two examples of transformational blends are Constructivist Flipped Classrooms and Buffet Blends.
What is Blended Learning? At its most basic level, BL is when a portion of learning takes place FtF and a portion takes place online. It should be noted that the blending of FtF classes with instruction delivered by technology outside the classroom has taken place for more than 40 years. The adoption of internet and web based technologies, along with low cost laptops and tablets, has made possible and economical interactive multimedia tools for learner instruction that were only possible in the realm of sci-fi novelists two decades ago (Dziuban et al., 2004).
From my perspective as a researcher, BL has been applied to such a wide range of pedagogies that it no longer has meaning in a comparative research context. For example, it makes no sense to try to compare a FtF class that uses a website to distribute its syllabus with a class that combines reduced FtF instruction with an added rich mix of online video and collaborative online simulations. Unfortunately, it is probably too late to try to redefine BL more narrowly. Assuming this is the case, researchers and practitioners need to use the term BL in conjunction with additional categorizing definitions so that a common nomenclature can be shared.
In 2010, Guidry used an effects based lens through which to view BL by sorting different types of blends into three categories based on the impact the blend had on pedagogy. He came up with three categories:
- Enabling blends: Improves student access to course materials in both time and space.
- Enhancing blends: Allows for "incremental changes to the pedagogy."
- Transforming blends: Facilitates a "radical transformation of the pedagogy."
While Guidry's (2010) categories are helpful in conceptualizing different types of blends, Graham's (2013) more descriptive attempt at categorization is helpful for researchers wanting to group together BL models in higher education based on broad pedagogical groupings:
- Supplemental: Online quizzes, activities and materials.
- Replacement: Reduction of FtF class time and replace with online activities.
- Emporium: Eliminate class meetings and use learning resource center with online materials and in some cases use on demand personal assistance services.
- Buffet: Student learning options - lecture, online, discovery labs, individual projects, and group activities.
- Fully Online: All online learning activities. No FtF required but sometimes optional FtF help.
While not exhaustive, both Graham's (2013) and Guidry's (2010) taxonomic categories are helpful in conveying a more precise meaning to BL. For example, it is immediately clear that a "BL Supplemental" design is quite different from a "BL Emporium" approach to class design. That said, there is still room for a wide range of design choices and pedagogy in a "BL Emporium" class, but the philosophy will be quite different in all those cases from a "BL Supplemental" design.
Finally, Dziuban et al. (2004) describes the difference between supplemental and transformational BL designs in these terms: A transformational blend is "a pedagogical approach that combines the [FtF] classroom with the technologically enhanced active learning possibilities of the online environment, rather than a ratio of delivery modalities. It should not be thought of as a delivery mechanism, but as a new pedagogy with the following characteristics: 1. A shift from lecture to student-centered instruction. 2. Increased in interaction between student-instructor, student-student, student-content, and student-outside resources. 3. Integrated formative and summative assessment mechanisms for students and instructor" (p. 3). While this does not describe all non-supplemental blends, it might help teachers and instructional designers to think outside of their favourite pedagogical box.
What is Information Literacy? Information Literacy (IL) is not just a library based skillset that assists people in finding the information they are looking for, but also includes cognitive tools and mental frameworks to help them think critically not just at school, but in all aspects of their lives (Walton & Hepworth, 2012). Related to IL is the concept of Information Fluency. Information Fluency is a combination of traditional IL and technology based skills that allows individuals to not only find, access, and evaluate information, but also to publish and collaborate in digital environments through a variety of devices (Gibson, 2007).
In the context of envisioning a transformative blend for IL instruction, Walton & Hepworth (2012) argue that "for an IL teaching intervention to be successful in engaging learners' higher cognitive states it seems self-evident that current thinking in pedagogical theory should be discussed and best practice incorporated into its design" (2012, p. 56). This would include using Constructivist approaches in both the FtF and online portions of the class.
Constructivist / Problem Based Learning. One of the main reasons Constructivist or Problem Based Learning (PBL) is desirable for most academic instruction is that 50 to 80 minutes FtF class blocks do not allow the typical student to "reflect and retain the information" (Chen, Lin, & Chang, 2011, p. 520) they are presented with. If PBL activities are well designed they present learners with "real-life, open-ended, and multifaceted problems for students to discuss, analyse and solve," (2011, p. 520) which are usually much more memorable than information delivered in a lecture format. It should also be noted that it is not the amount of time that students spend engaged in PBL activities that translates into better student outcomes, but "the quality of the learning activities themselves" that leads to student achievement (McNaught, Lam, & Cheng, 2011, p. 284). As Parker et al. (2005) related in the case study of their successful BL trial, "high impact on student's results was achieved by integration and contextualisation, when the information skills resource was firmly embedded into the course" (p. 6, 2005). One only needs to see the look on the faces of learners at the end of a well designed PBL activity to see that quality PBL's can be highly effective at deeply engaging students.
Flipped Classes. Classroom Flipping is one method of freeing up FtF class time for more PBL activities. As a Replacement blend, typically one third to one half of instruction time is changed from FtF to out of class work. "Rather than the teacher providing synchronous in-class group instruction, students are expected to use the video resources provided, along with other materials, to learn concepts and complete tasks on their own at their own pace and at location convenient to the student" (Davies et al., 2013, p. 3). Class time is then free for Constructivist / PBL activities to build on what they have learned on their own, while encouraging critical thinking and problem solving. If any students are struggling, the instructor has more time to provide individual help during class while other classmates are working on their PBL activity (Davies et al., 2013).
The structure of successful Flipped Classes is not monolithic, but there are some features that appear in many successful classes, and in particular, successfully Flipped Information Literacy classes:
- Project based, using driving questions to motivate with authentic research tasks.
- Public artifacts, or a place to publicly published finished works, to help motivate some reluctant learners to do their best work.
- The instructor should be acting as a mentor and facilitator.
- Blending online and FtF by using discussion boards, blogs, and social media.
- Provide scaffolding for complex cognitive tasks. High quality user guides can provide Just-In-Time learning for research tasks, showing learners effective strategies and tools.
- Use writing as learning process. "Writing is a unique way of learning because it relate new knowledge to preview our experience, engaging students in the process of articulating ideas and re-coding knowledge graphically through language" (Fogleman, Niedbala, & Bedell, 2013, p. 76).
A Flipped, PBL pedagogy is uniquely suited to integrate and contextualize learners with digital learning objects.
Multi-Access. A Multi-Access pedagogy gives learners a real choice when it comes to how they want to engage with the course instruction, class materials and their co-learners by giving them the option of meeting with their class FtF, in a synchronous video conference mode, as well as an asynchronous video mode (Irvine et al., 2013). It also opens up new opportunities for students who are not physically proximate to the institution hosting the course, allowing them to take a class remotely where there was no possibility of participation before. Working students also have the option of taking classes that, although physically close by, were not possible to attend because of work commitments. In short, Multi-Access Learning enables much "student choice and agency" than traditional FtF classes afford (Irvine et al., 2013, p. 172). Multi-Access, as a pedagogy, can be combined with many of the other BL formats and pedagogies, including Flipped Classroom, PBL, Emporium, and Buffet.
No Difference Expected
When trying to determine if a technology contributes to the effectiveness of instruction, the issue of "no difference expected" made famous by the Clark, Kozma (1994) debate needs to be addressed. Clark (1994) argued that "media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction" and that "student achievement [is not influenced by a new delivery technology like video] any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition" (p. 22). Kozma (1994) countered that while Clark's argument is often correct, "if media are going to influence learning, media must be designed to give us powerful new methods, and our methods must take appropriate advantage of a medium's capabilities" (p.16).
A Historical Perspective. When Clark (1994) defended his argument that the delivery media for instruction usually does not make a difference in, the technological landscape was much different. VHS video tapes were the primary means of watching on demand educational videos. Microsoft Windows 3.11 was the dominant desktop operating system, and dial-up modems using phone lines achieving speeds of 0.028 Mps were state of the art (compared to 2-20 Mps in 2013). At the same time, educational content was just starting to be distributed through relatively expensive multi-media CD-ROM applications for Windows and Macintosh. I suspect that in his era, Clark's assessment that technology does not improve instruction was close to 100% true. On the other hand, with 20+ years of maturation and significant improvements in bandwidth, hardware speed, and authoring tool usability improvements, technology is now in a position to make a large positive impact in the delivery of instruction by enabling new pedagogical approaches to instruction, like Flipped Classrooms and PBL's with virtual simulations and collaboration (Becker, 2010).
Pedagogy, Not Technology Key. While the passage of time has been kind to the pro-technology arguments of Kosma (1994), it is important to remember Clark (1994) was correct in arguing that no matter what new technology we use, if we do not also change pedagogy, the educational outcomes will stay the same (Oblinger & Hawkins, 2006). An example of this is a study that was conducted at the University of North Texas where a comparison of student retention of IL skills was measured between sections instructed in a traditional FtF class, a blended class, and an online class. In each of the three classes, the instructional materials and pedagogy were kept as uniform as possible. Not surprisingly, the researchers found that there was no significant difference in IL skills retention between the three different lecture delivery methods (Anderson & May, 2010).
In the large meta-study conducted by the US Department of education by Means et al. (2010), blended classes were found to have a statistically significantly higher summative assessment scores than FtF classes (2010). Given the lack of information about pedagogies used in the hundreds of studies they analysed, they stated that "the observed advantage for blended learning conditions is not necessarily rooted in the media user per se and may reflect differences in content, pedagogy and learning time" (p. xv). Happily for researchers, most post-2010 studies disclose more details about both media and pedagogies employed.
Typically, early in the adoption of new technologies, we do not take advantage of all the new capabilities available to us and tend to mimic activities that we are familiar with (Oblinger & Hawkins, 2006). A recent example of this is educators creating instructional materials for Massively Online Open Courses (MOOC) by videotaping complete FtF lectures and putting them online rather than taking advantage of the flexibility of the digital medium and dividing it into a number of shorter segments, adding extra audio and visual elements to enrich the instruction.
Generally Positive. The majority of studies looking at the effectiveness of BL have found that students in online classes "perform modestly better" on formative and summative assessments than students in FtF instruction studying the same material, and that students in BL classes "perform better" than FtF (Means et al., 2010, p. xiv). The Sheridan College study on BL in a wide range of classes on their Ontario, Canada based campus concluded that students performed on average 1.2% worse on their formal assessments than FtF students (Walman & Smith, 2013). Frustratingly, like the US Department of Education meta-analysis, Walman & Smith (2013) did not report what pedagogical approaches the classes used in blending their courses so we are left in the dark as to why their results differ from the larger US based study. There are, however, two clues that may point to reasons for their lack of success. First, 25% of students had technical problems with the software needed to do their course work, including incompatible web browsers, and browser plugins that would not load properly (Walman & Smith, 2013). Second, a student quote seems to indicate that in at least some of the courses, the blending of online and virtual course work was not optimal. The student reported that, "the material in class feels rushed. I felt that we spent 2 hours [in class] on theory and all the practical work was left to teach ourselves" (Walman & Smith, 2013, p. 24).
In one of the few BL studies with a large sample size and a well documented pedagogical approach, Chen & Stelzer (2010) at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign Physics Department report on a BL Replacement curriculum for teaching first year physics students. In the entrance course a number of Multimedia Learning Modules (MLM) were created, to be watched by students at home before class, to help them understand how to apply difficult to learn physics concepts. The learning management system they created for their class allowed them to track which students were watching the videos and which were not. After the MLM's were viewed, but before class, students were expected to complete their readings, and then take a short quiz. The MLM-viewers scored 33% higher than students who did not view the MLM's. It is interesting to note that the non-MLM viewers scored almost identically to the whole class in the year before the MLM's were introduced (2010). This is one of the clearest examples of a digital video and online quiz system contributing to higher scores on a formative assessment instrument. What is not clear is whether the videos and quizzes contributed directly to the better test scores or whether they facilitated an increase in the number of study hours students engaged in.
While BL classes tend to perform better on formal assessments, most studies are not able to make conclusions or even put forward strong suspicions about the direction of causality. For example, Guidry (2010) found that there was a positive relationship between students who utilize the internet technologies in their learning and higher scores in traditional student engagement measures, but because of the way the study was designed no causal direction could be determined.
Multi-Access enables people who are either physically distant or unavailable to travel locally to the institution hosting a class to participate as equal participants. While this may not necessarily lead to higher grades, it opens up opportunities for learning that were not previously available before. A number of students report appreciating the flexibility of having fewer hours of campus based instruction (Dziuban et al., 2004).
Pedagogy Paramount. It may seem obvious at this point but new educational technologies and BL, "are not a panaceas but, if used wisely, can help improve student learning and allow schools to offer a greater selection of interesting courses" (Friedman & Friedman, 2011, p. 162). It is the pedagogy that will make the difference. Some new technologies can enable novel pedagogical approaches, like the MLM's in the Physics Department above. One of the major challenges for BL researchers is to determine what computers, and what instructors do well so their strengths can be blended into pedagogies to provide students the best possible learning experience (Graham, 2013).
Davies et al. (2013) employed a "technology enhanced flipped classroom" in their study, and found that this pedagogical approach was both effective and scalable for their spreadsheet skills class (p. 1). It better facilitated learning than the simulation based training, as well as the FtF control group. Students found the flipped pedagogy to be more motivating as it allowed for greater differentiation of instruction (Davies et al., 2013).
Technology enhanced Flipped, PBL or Multi-Access classes that make extensive use of a LMS lend themselves to the use of learning analytics. Learning analytics can be helpful in tracking student progress and, over time, can start to identify trends that identify students at risk of not succeeding in class. A great example of this in action is at Purdue where their "Course Signals" system gives real time feedback to students on their progress and performance in their class. Their learning analytics system, "relies not only on grades to predict
students' performance, but also demographic characteristics, past academic history, and students' effort as measured by interaction with [the LMS]" (Arnold & Pistilli, 2012, p. 267).
Can Blended Learning Save Money?
The prospect of changing instruction so that students perform better and reduce the classroom load on campus is enticing in times of shrinking budgets and increased enrolment. As Kozma (1994) predicted, computer hardware and networks have opened up opportunities for simulations at a much lower cost previously possible. While this might not necessarily save money, it does open up opportunities for more engaging activities and deeper learning for students.
Lower Requirements for Physical Space and Faculty Time. Several studies have been published over the past three years that report institutions reducing the hours of BL classroom space by 30-50%, and in some cases adding more sections of a class taught by the same number of instructors as before (Friedman & Friedman, 2011). One of the early institutions to reduce costs and achieve "quality improvements" for students is the University of Central Florida (Graham, 2013, p. 345). By reducing FtF class time and improving scheduling efficiencies, they have reduced the need to expand their physical infrastructure as the number of students taking BL courses has grown (Graham, 2013).
Davies et al. (2013) found the Flipped Spreadsheet skills classes they studied achieved slightly better grades than the regular instruction classes and much better than simulation software classes. The real advantage of the flipped approach in their case is that it can accommodate much larger classes with fewer teaching resources than their regular FtF class. If an institution's goal is to increase FtF time between individual students and instructors, a Flipped pedagogy is one way to achieve that without hiring more teaching staff (DaCosta & Jones, 2007). It should be noted however that it takes a significant up front investment by faculty and instructional design staff to create Flipped Class materials (including videos and PBL activities) before the savings can be realized (DaCosta & Jones, 2007).
Challenges Implementing Blended Courses. Change is almost always hard. Goertler (2012) identified areas that institutions and instructors often find challenging when implementing BL courses of a technology enhanced flipped pedagogy:
- Logistics: Access, reliability, and usability of technology, especially web applications and proprietary web browser plugins - plugins should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
- Time, space and money: While there should be savings in the long run, there will be significant upfront expenditures of time and money to set up a BL curriculum or Flipped Class.
- Preparation: Not all faculty are prepared with the technical skills to blend their courses using new technologies or to change something that they perceive as working well enough. It may seem obvious, but instructors who are not forced to teach BL or Flipped Classes, and who are given appropriate training, are more likely to be happy teaching the new classes (Graham, 2012).
Embedding Information Literacy in Curriculum and Collaboration with Faculty
In many institutions, Information Literacy instruction is offered as a single stand alone lecture while first year students make a "field trip" to the library as part of another class, most often English composition. Pedagogically speaking, this is not ideal as many of the tools and concepts covered in the Information Literacy class will not be used by the students until much later in the semester, increasing the likelihood that the information will forgotten or remembered incorrectly.
Embedding Considerations. One potential solution to ameliorate this unfortunate course design is to create materials for students to use later in their course which will assist them at their point of research need. Traditionally, these materials have taken the form of handouts given to students at the end of their field trip, and more recently in the form of screencast tutorials (Trail & Hadley, 2010). The problem with these tutorials is that they may not be at hand when students really need them as they work on class assignments weeks later.
To be effective, handout information and tutorials need to be available proximate to the point of need for students, which in many classes is the assignment information in the Learning Management System (LMS). Embedding the research guide handout or the screencast tutorials relevant to the assignment in the assignment instructions would be one way to make sure that students have the help they need, when they need it (Wilson, 2010, p. 30). While this alone would not be the best approach for embedding information literacy in a course, it would be a significant improvement in pedagogy at institutions where, because of departmental politics, the "opportunities for developing anything beyond the traditional 'one-shot' library session are rare" (Borrelli & Johnson, 2012, p. 175).
Collaborating for Student Success. While a single lecture and embedded research guide in subsequent coursework can work well for helping students develop research skills, it may not be as effective for helping students master critical thinking skills. Ideally instruction and activities would be embedded and interwoven into the curriculum with librarians and faculty collaborating to develop curriculum and PBL assignments to facilitate student acquisition of critical thinking skills (Wilson, 2010).
At the University of Rhode Island, librarians and select faculty members collaborated to integrate information literacy into their courses over a four year period and observed increasingly positive results. At the beginning of the collaboration, 76% of students used library resources for their research and 44% used commercial websites (Fogleman et al., 2013). Four years later, 92% of the students used library resources in their research papers (a 16% increase) and only 5% of the students used commercial websites (an amazing 39% drop from 2007) (Fogleman et al., 2013). As Parker et al. (2005) pointed out, "a strong partnership between academics and librarians is one of the key factors in the effective integration of technology and pedagogy."
To create effective partnerships, librarians need to build strong working relationships with faculty members responsible for the development of curricula in courses where information literacy instruction is present or potentially included. Once relationships are in place, librarians should work with faculty to evaluate the IL needs of the course and plan PBL information literacy activities (Chen et al., 2011).
Discussion and Critical Summary
The US Department of Education Meta-Analysis (2010) of online learning studies makes clear that, in general, BL approaches to instruction at colleges and universities tend to produce "learning advantages" for students (p. xviii). While there are documented exceptions to this, including Sheridan College in Ontario (Walman & Smith, 2013), because of the wide range to pedagogies that have been labeled as BL, it is not possible to say with certainty what causal factors contributed to the success or failure of specific BL implementations in the study. In my assessment, using BL without modifiers such as supplemental, replacement, enabling, enhancing, or transforming, leaves the term "Blended Learning" so vague that it is almost meaningless from a research perspective. Thankfully, since 2010, most BL research studies have been more explicit about the pedagogies they have used in blending their courses. On the other hand, many of the BL studies on information literacy were action-based research that often did not have control groups and tended to have statistically small sample sizes.
Even in the studies where information about the pedagogy employed is detailed, there is currently no peer reviewed research that has identified causal links between specific pedagogical practices and better learning outcomes for students. Some suppositions have been made as to what reasons might be behind the higher scores on summative assessments, including additional learning time and increased opportunities for collaboration, but no strong causal links have been proven to support these hypotheses to date (Means et al., 2010).
BL appears to be able to save some universities and colleges money in two ways. First, some BL pedagogies reduce class time by 30-50%, allowing more students to be taught in the same building. Using existing space more efficiently, while serving more students, allows institutions to forestall capital expenditures (Friedman & Friedman, 2011). The second money saving method is to increase the number of students taught by each instructor either by having larger sections of a class, or more sections taught by the same instructor (DaCosta & Jones, 2007). Care must be taken when designing a blend if instructional cost savings is a goal, so that assessment loads on instructors are reasonable while at the same time sufficient formative and summative assessment are provided to students.
For an institution to successfully blend courses of study they need strong buy-in from instructors. It should be noted that while a BL curriculum has the potential to save money in the long run, they do take significant time, effort, and resources in the short run to create a new curriculum, train instructors, and to finally implement. Only when we look at the full envelope of outcomes for students, staff, and instructors, can we truly measure the desirability, at an institutional level, of a new pedagogical program like BL and Flipped Classrooms.
Currently the most significant gap in BL research is a lack of rigorous research to identify the causal factors that allow BL classes to score higher on summative assessments than completely online and FtF classes. Potential candidates for causal factors include increased PBL, increased group PBL, and expanded study time. PBL is of particular interest because in many BL courses, PBL is a common constructivist-grounded pedagogical tool used in class time that has been freed up by moving lecture materials outside of FtF time. Social theory would seem to suggest that group PBL's could be effective in engaging students in deeper learning. More research is required in this area in which I hope to make a contribution.
Because of the different pedagogical requirements for teaching a range of academic disciplines, research needs to be done across academia to ensure that best practices are developed that meet the specific needs of those disciplines. Different age groups and academic levels may also respond differently to a particular BL pedagogy in the same academic discipline, because the underlying causal factors may be somewhat different. For example the BL pedagogy that works best in an undergraduate Information Literacy class may be quite different from the ideal pedagogy in a middle school science class or, yet again, in a graduate Philosophy seminar. One shoe does not fit all.
Research into Information Literacy and BL is in an early stage with the current body of knowledge consisting of case studies and small action based research projects. My goal is to contribute to the field by conducting a research project on BL in Information Literacy instruction with larger treatment and nontreatment sample sizes so that the results of the research are statistically significant. I will also explore the different learning outcomes between a control FtF condition, a BL Flipped Classroom condition with PBL, and a BL Flipped condition with group PBL activities. Finally, I will also examine whether or not expanded study time is a contributing factor to the "learning advantages" that generally attends BL instruction (Means et al., 2010).
Re-published with the permission of the author via document url: http://goo.gl/oOJLNW
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