Can the ISW integrate flexible learning options without becoming less than it can be? That was the primary question I hoped we’d explore when I accepted the invitation to participate in the ISW ProD session at UBC’s CTLT on January 13, 2015. The invitation posed these questions for us to focus on:
- How can flexible/blended/online learning be incorporated into the ISW?
- What elements of the ISW are effective online
Thanks to Jason McAlister, Lucas Wright and Isabeau Iqbal for taking the initiative to plan and facilitate this event. And for bringing in off-campus attendees through their videoconferencing system – talk about keeping the session accessible!
I’ve spoken to many ISW facilitators over the past couple of years and tried to document the different ways people were “flexing” the ISW model (see ISW Models). But I’ve never had a chance to explore the impact of “flexing” with so many facilitators in one place at one time – it was very informative and thought-provoking.
We spent some time in small groups, exploring four questions drawn from the questions participants had submitted in a pre-workshop survey. I don’t have good pics of all the flipcharts to share the answers that were gathered, but I believe that Jason may be compiling them. The questions were:
- How do we motivate participants to participate (in online activities)?
- What do we do if participants don’t participate?
- What technology? for Facilitators? for Participants?
- How can we use f2f time linking to online?
Jason and Lucas (and other UBC facilitators and some participants) shared their experiences of recent ISWs that integrated some pre-workshop online activities and intersession (between days) activities. We’d had the opportunity to explore an example of online activities (nicely designed – used BOPPPS well!) and we had time to pose some really challenging questions. I really appreciated the honest and thoughtful comments from all facilitators. PeterF asked questions I’d heard raised in the past: Can the ISW be a transformative experience if it is stretched out and augmented with online learning activities? (I’m paraphrasing very roughly) Would using a pre-workshop online “getting to know you” activity affect the ability of participants to give honest, constructive feedback in Day 1 face-to-face activities?
One of the ISW facilitators spoke about the frustration he felt in his first ISW as he was asked to hold back while others took time to become familiar with Learning Objectives, Learning Styles, Lesson Planning, etc. He found the flexible learning approach worked well for helping people, who had little background, take the time to get comfortable with the concepts and he found that the activities were more focused and productive. Another participant spoke up, in regards to whether the feedback was affected if a pre-workshop online introductory activity was used; she was emphatic in supporting the idea as she had found she was much more comfortable and able to focus on learning during her workshop, and she didn’t believe it affected her ability to provide honest, constructive feedback. Other participants spoke about benefiting from having the time to think through concepts and how their ability to apply them during face-to-face sessions improved.
We ended the morning with a challenge to develop a plan for implementing flexible learning in an ISW. We divided into groups; my group focused on Active Learning. What we quickly discovered was that it was difficult to pin down what to put online and what to leave for a face-to-face session. We had some great discussions and examples shared and came up with a very rough outline. Other groups did better. Jason asked that facilitators share any flexible learning ISW lessons they develop so that we can all benefit.
And I think the answer to the main question I had was, YES! Based on my own experiences with teaching and learning in flexible learning environments, this approach can enrich any learning experience – as long as it’s applied with care and awareness of the potential impact on different learners. What I learned during the discussions at UBC was, that flexible learning has the potential to enrich even the well-tested ISW face-to-face experiential model – if it’s integrated thoughtfully and with a commitment to improving the learning experience, not just saving budget dollars. It certainly looks as though it is playing out that way at UBC.