Blurred Lines: Course Types

This week we’re talking course types, specifically the 3 major “classroom” environments: face-to-face (F2F), hybrid (or blended), and online.

Face-to-face (F2F) classrooms are most often associated with traditional education – learning takes place during the school day (except for homework) in a single classroom featuring a

Image courtesy of

teacher leading a group of students. That doesn’t mean the students are sitting catatonic in their seats while the teacher drones on in front of the blackboard (or whiteboard or SMARTboard). Plenty of good teachers recognize the importance of active and collaborative learning. Many incorporate engaging technology. Take, for example, the teachers who participate in an adventure learning program called GoNorth! Their students are chatting with field experts, adopting virtual sled dogs, and building actual dog sleds – that they will race in school (Doering et al., 2008)!

Technology integration raises a sticky point about the distinctions between types of class environments: they are, in fact, getting harder to distinguish. The lines between F2F and hybrid/blended classrooms is blurring. The students involved in GoNorth! were in a F2F classroom, yet content was disseminated and explored through the internet. Students collaborated in chat rooms with experts and children around the country, and created projects that were then posted online (Doering et al., 2008). Experiential learning (foundational idea for adventure learning) is ideal for hybrid classes. “Experience rather than osmosis” (p. 25) makes learning authentic and applicable to the real world, and provides numerous opportunities for incorporating technology. The GoNorth! program features audio and video, “collaboration zones”, quizzes, diary-style passages and virtual reality-based tours of the sites featured in the curriculum (Doering et al., 2008, p. 26).

Sled dog team from GoNorth! adventure learning program. Image courtesy

Of the 3 course types, online classes are the most radical departure from F2F. There is no physical classroom. Learning Management Software replaces the daily housekeeping functions of a physical classroom. Perhaps the most important difference comes in the shift of responsibility for learning from the teacher to the student (Bates et al., 2008). Instead of lecturing, the teacher provides guidance and space for collaboration and experimentation. Students must seize the opportunity and “[self-learn] through technology” (Bates et al., 2008, p. 40). This new teacher-student dynamic is perfect for learner-centered teaching. In fact, an online course where the student drives the content according to needs and interests is the definition of learner-centered teaching, according to MERLOT (n.d.). Control over time, pace, and content (to some extent) places the student at the center of the learning experience (Atkinson et al., 2009).

As wonderful as online classes are, they will not be the best fit for every learner or every situation. Working in an elementary school, I see the value of F2F teaching and learning every day. Yet I know that my students are lured by the flashy screens of their mobile devices. My proposed learning activity – a blog – aims to unit the best of both worlds: the confidence and support of a live teacher, and the intrinsic motivation of using technology to write about their own interests.

Do you find your motivation differs based on the type of course? Does content influence your motivation more than environment or delivery method?


Atkinson, T. (2009). Second Life for educators: Teaching and learning. TechTrends, 53(3), 30- 32.

Bates, C. & Watson, M. (2008). Re-learning teaching techniques to be effective in hybrid and online courses. Journal of American Academy of Business, 13(1), p. 38-44.

Doering, A. & Velestianos, G. (2008). Hybrid online education: Identifying integration models using adventure learning. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41(1), 23-41.

MERLOT Pedagogy Portal. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Do-it-yourself PLC

During convocation at the end of August our district administrators kept saying “we are a Community of Practice.” The phrase must  have been bandied about over a dozen times. With no clue as to what they were talking about, I let it slide, and looked forward to actually getting into my corner of the classroom to finish setting up.

Less than a month later, behold! The topic for class this week is none other than Communities of Practice. Turns out, I did have a clue what the phrase meant – I knew CoPs as PLCs (Professional Learning Communities). While their origins and implementations are slightly different, in the end CoPs and PLCs are a group of people come together to learn from each other. Sharing ideas, getting feedback and self-reflection are enhanced when you can view teaching through a different set of eyes. If you enter collaboration with the goal to serve your students and look – honestly – at your teaching, you will find the new ideas and support you need to improve (Graham, 2007, p. 10).

PLCs can bring about wonderful changes. That is, if you are given the chance to participate in one. Interventionists in my school are not given the time to meet and collaborate. Knowing from past experience that reviewing data and adjusting instruction in a group has benefited me greatly, I’ve had to make my own “PLC”. Since we aren’t given any common planning time, we’re often catching each other in the hallways or in each others’ “cubicles” between groups. Even at this incredibly informal level, collaboration makes a huge difference.

Read More from Flickr via Wylio
© 2013 Starry Raston, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

It is this collaboration that I hope to bring to the learning activity of my final project. I work with the big kiddos in my school, grades 3-6, and the one thing they all have in common is excitement about books they love. I’m proposing a blog, set up and run by the oldest students and me, where anyone of my kiddos can share the books they love with the whole school – and the world. Whether they want to write, video, create a slide show or podcast, they can broadcast to their teachers, families and peers that they are readers. And, with the specter of world-wide readership, I hope to push the quality of their thinking and writing farther than it’s ever been pushed (Bonk, 2009, p. 331).

It occurred to me that this blog is a kid-sized CoP – people read and contribute to share their knowledge of books and create a culture infused with reading. Could you implement a CoP with the learners (students, employees) in your context? What would it look like? What benefits would it reap?

Adams, C. (2009, August). The power of collaboration. Instructor, 119(1), 28-31.

Bonk, C.J. (2009) The world is open – How web technology is revolutionizing education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Graham, P. (2007). Improving teacher effectiveness through structured collaboration: A case study of a professional learning community. Research in Middle Level Education Online, 31(1), 1-17.

The big find for this post is Wylio! Wylio is an image search engine that helps you use and cite Creative Commons licensed images. There is a 15 day free trial, and after that you can choose the free account or pay a $36 subscription fee (subscribers have citations done automatically – maybe it will be worth the cost?).