Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Creativity in Curricular Design: Designing Curriculum to Promote Blended Learning

Creativity in Curricular Design: Designing Curriculum to Promote Blended Learning
 – Dilip Barad

How to Cite this Article:
MLA Citation:
Barad, Dilip. "Creativity in Curricular Design: Designing Curriculum to Promote Blended Learning." e-Reflection I.2 (2012): 53-64.
APA Citation:
Barad, D. (2012, May-June). Creativity in Curricular Design: Designing Curriculum to Promote Blended Learning. (R. G. Kothari, Ed.) e-Reflection, I(2), 53-64.

Curriculum is not only the core of the teaching-learning process, but it is also the life-blood for student - teacher development. If it is true that the students can be as better as their teachers are, it is also true that the teacher is as better as the curriculum he teaches.
Curricular design in higher education by and large, still follows traditional footsteps. The innovations brought in various walks of life through ICT are yet not creatively incorporated in designing curriculum. Teachers, here and there, disseminate education through ICT; some of the Universities have attempted new designs; yet looking at the larger picture of higher education, we find that a lot still have to be ploughed in designing curriculum to harvest the rich dividends of ICT.
One of the best and easy ways to design curriculum is to promote blended learning. It is proven by various researches and projects that blended learning has positive impacts on the process of learning. But still the question of how creative we can be in designing curriculum in such a way that we can make best use of available technology along with our traditional scaffolds need to be addressed. We should think about curriculum design, which can help us in giving space for self-learning along with the changing role of teachers as facilitators. This paper aims to explore such possibilities. It also aims at sharing a few innovative changes made in the curriculum design where in by incorporating ICT into traditional curriculum design, teacher-student autonomy, self-learning, peer interaction and language skills were found to be improved among the students.

Wordle image of Abstract of this Paper
Part I
John Franklin Bobbit in ‘The Curriculum’, which is said to be the first textbook published on the subject, wrote that the curriculum, as an idea, has its roots in the Latin word for race-course, though it has nothing to do with the idea of horse race. He tried to explain curriculum as “the course of deeds and experiences through which children become the adults they should be, for success in adult society” (1918). In this idea of the curriculum, it can be read that it encompasses entire scope of formative deed and experience not only occurring in school but in and out of school; experiences that are unplanned and undirected, and experiences intentionally directed for the purposeful formation of adult members of society (Curriculum, 2012). Though it is difficult to say if the researchers like Philip Jackson (Jackson, 1992) and William F. Pinar (Pinar, Reynolds, Slattery, & Taubman, 1995) of today agree with Bobbit’s idea of the curriculum or not, yet it has a grain of truth when he writes that the curriculum is a social engineering arena. One of the many arguments, which may be of some interest in this paper, is that curriculum defines and controls the deeds-experiences the student ought to have to become the adult he or she ought to become. To put it in simplistic terms, we can ask, what do we expect our students to become after their studies? Our answers may be too idealistic or too pragmatic. But we can zero down our answers to the golden mean wherein we expect the sorts of skills ranging from ‘how to make living’ to ‘how to live’ to get inculcated among our future custodians of culture, society, economics, politics and above all academia. Thus, the importance of curriculum design is decidedly crucial in making the future of the world after us better than what it is today.  It is not only the core of the teaching-learning process but it also is the life-blood for student - teacher development. If it is true that the students can be as better as their teachers are, it also is true that the teacher can be as better as the curriculum s/he teaches.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that this vital part of the education system by and large remains unexplored so far as scientific methods and social engineering is concerned. Possessions of relevant knowledge, creation of new knowledge, and the capacity for its application have become the determinants in the strength of a nation. Consequently, technical education has come to the centre stage and is today the most important agent for change and development. (Lal, 2000). However, if we have a birds-eye-view over the curriculums of the higher education in Gujarat and in most of the traditional Universities of India, we find that we have ‘miles to go before we take pride in making our young generation’s future brighter. Most of the curriculum is designed from the perspectives of 20th century ways of teaching and learning, which again was nothing but revised model designed on Western curriculum framework, which was modeled on the idea of Industrial Revolution (Robinson, 2010). If we are thinking in terms of social engineering to prepare new generations for the future, how can we rely on the means and ways of the past? The educationists who are actively involved in the process of designing curricula belong to the time, which was quite different from the time in which today’s kids are growing. Today’s kids are living in digitally wired world wherein screens are flashing information in the torrent of signals. When the curriculum designer of today was a kid, there was hardly, single channel TV, and the number of newspapers and magazines were quite negligible as compared to today’s plethora of TV channels, mobile phones and latest technological gadgets. The kids, growing amidst such an attack of information from all vistas obviously, have different psychological tendency towards learning. For instance, multitasking or learning from various sources at a time becomes their habit. There was a generation who learned only from ‘books’, there is a generation which is learning from ‘screens’. The book is changing its form and hence eReaders, eBooks & mobile books are much in demand than traditionally printed books. Now, the million-dollar question is how the people who are designing curricula will understand the psychological needs of the new generation, which does not share common experience of teaching / learning?
Therefore, the innovations and creativity in curriculum designing should become a buzzword. A lot depends of the imagination of the educationist to think out of the box and be bold and experimental in trying out things that have yet not even thought in pedagogical discourses. One of the ways of doing so seems to be in looking toward the concept of blended learning with a novel way. 

Part II
Let us see, first of all, what does this phrase ‘Blended Learning’ signify? Blended learning is not a new concept in the pedagogy. The recent buzz around the word ‘blended learning’ and the number of articles in books, magazine and journal, major thrusts in conference themes, and campus initiatives focusing on ‘blended learning’ would lead one to believe that a new educational phenomenon has been discovered. It is well observed in EDUCAUSE Research Bulletin, “In actually, the blending of face-to-face instruction with various types of non-classroom technology-mediated delivery has been practiced within the academy for more than four decades (Dziuban, Hartman, & Moskal, 2004). Thus, it is not exaggerated statement to say that ‘no teaching is possible without blended learning’. It is always found that all teachers, down the ages, have incorporated various approached and methods in teaching. None can ever say with a guarantee that any single approach in teaching was adopted by any teacher at any given moment of time in history of pedagogy. Blended learning was always in practice and will always remain so in the classroom interaction. We may use different names like ‘mixed-mode’ or ‘hybrid’ for what is described here as blended learning. But still it is not so easy to use these words interchangeably and conclude that blended learning as an idea does not offer any new dimension in social engineering and pedagogical concerns of 21st century. The way the term ‘blended learning’ recurrently used in the present context signifies its meaning.   
The Wikipedia entry on Blended learning defines it “in educational research as something that refers to a mixing of different learning environments. It combines traditional face-to-face classroom methods with modern computer-mediated activities. According to its proponents, the strategy creates a more integrated approach for both instructors and learners. Formerly, technology-based materials played a supporting role to face-to-face instruction. Through a blended learning approach, technology will be more important” (Blended_learning, 2012). Well, this widely accepted definition seems to say that technology is extremely crucial for the concept of blended learning. A nexus for the development of such a model has been online environment. DeZure, Buckley, Barr and Tagg, and others note that the confluence of new pedagogies (for example, the change in emphasis from teaching-centered to student-centered learning paradigms), new technologies (for example, the rapid spread of the Internet, World Wide Web, and personal computers/tablet PCs), and new theories of learning (for example, brain-based learning and social constructivism) are enabling entirely new models of teaching and learning and that this change is of sufficient magnitude to be described as an educational transformation or paradigm shift (Dziuban, Hartman, & Moskal, 2004). The new learning environment is heavily transformed and is influenced by web-based learning, e-learning, and asynchronous learning networks, among other similar forms. Thus, the concept of blended learning refers to curriculum design that combines face-to-face classroom interaction with online learning environment (virtual learning environment – VLE).
The question that pop-ups at this juncture is ‘why, what and how to ‘blend’? Information and communication technology (ICT) has brought in paradigm shift in every walk of life. We have already entered the second decade of so called 21st century. The 21st century in its significance incorporates ICT as a part of life. Teachers, who are supposed to be the torchbearers of social change, unfortunately, are followers so far as this social change is concerned. This is a noteworthy observation because most of the ways of dealing have changed and this change is brought in by ICT, whereas the teachers still are not so enthusiastic about incorporating ICT as a part of their lives. Teachers, here and there, disseminate education through ICT; some of the Universities have attempted new designs; yet looking at the larger picture of higher education, we find that a lot still have to be ploughed in designing curriculum to harvest the rich dividends of ICT.
This answers to our question of ‘why’. The kids of tomorrow, the custodians of the future are growing in a different environment. As it is already discussed in part I of this article that ‘netizens’ have different psychological needs for learning, we are not repeating it again. Instead, let us discuss some research outputs to prove our point. The research by Garrison and Kanuka proves that blended learning increases the options for greater quality and quantity of human interaction in a learning environment, and offers learners the opportunity ‘to be both together and apart’ (2004). Another theory is that of ‘separate and connected knowing’ (Clinchy, 1989). This theory may help to look at human interactions in different amounts at different times and results are used to help improve communication and learning. It is because of such tendencies among learners to be both together and apart, and separate knower and connected knower, happening almost simultaneously that we are in need of blended learning which is provided by VLEs.

Second, very significant concern is ‘what to blend’? If I am allowed to borrow words from ECAR (Dziuban, Hartman, & Moskal, 2004), I would like to put it as ‘What proportion of each is required to label a course as ‘blended’?’ Well, blended learning retains the face-to-face element, making it – in the words of many faculty – the ‘best of both worlds’ (Dziuban, Hartman, & Moskal, 2004). At times, teachers do not understand where to stop and where to elaborate? Some topics would have been wind up in a few lectures were as some would have been dealt in with elaborated discussion. Time, space constraint and pressure to complete syllabus in the stipulated time, at times, create hindrance. Thus, maximizing success in a blended learning initiative requires a planned and well-supported approach that includes a theory-based instructional model, high-quality faculty development, course development assistance, learner support, and ongoing formative and summative assessment (Dziuban, Hartman, & Moskal, 2004). At every point, it should be kept in mind that blended learning is not to fill in the gaps of teachers. Teachers cannot be replaced by VLEs. Blended learning redefines role of teachers and makes teachers available to students on virtual world and thus total hours of interaction between teacher-students does not decrease, in fact, it increases. It helps teachers in better understanding of their teaching methodologies and students progress.
Lastly, ‘how’ to ‘blend learning’ to gain maximum benefits? There is no panacea for this riddle. It is difficult to give one definite model. The research scholars like DeZure, Buckley, Barr and Tagg discussed various phenomena but it is worth mentioning that the final selection of model for implementation depends on the local environment. This local environment includes existing curriculum, space in the curriculum to experiment, teachers’ aptitude, learners’ readiness and existing infrastructure. Here again, it can be suggested to ask following questions on the onset, which are proposed by ECAR (Dziuban, Hartman, & Moskal, 2004):
Key Questions to Ask:
·         What programs in your institution are best suited for blended learning?
·         What models of blended learning are most appropriate for your campus?
·         What support mechanisms are necessary to ensure the success of blended learning on your campus?
·         How can blended learning become an effective mechanism for meeting some of your institution’s strategic initiatives?
·         How will you assess the impact of blended learning?
Before we end this discussion, it becomes necessary to take a case study of blended learning and test the validity and reliability of these questions in our educational environment, which is by and large traditional in its methods of implementing curriculum objectives.

Part III
A case study: Experimenting Blended Learning in Post Graduate Teaching at Department of English, Bhavnagar University, Bhavnagar (Gujarat – India)
The research article would sound like hollow words if the ideas and concepts discussed are not proved by its practical implications. Let us have an overview of a case study on blended learning. The working paper on this project was presented as digital poster presentation in AsiaCALL International Conference (Barad, Poster Presentation: Using Web Tools in Convergence with Traditional Learning, 2010).

The academic initiatives enforced by UGC led all Universities to make specific changes. The Bhavnagar University had been one of the leading Universities in Gujarat to implement such initiatives when it was proposed by UGC Regulations 2009. In 2010, semester system, with continuous internal assessment with weightage of 70:30 grade points/marks was, introduced. This single change made dramatic changes for the curriculum designer and faculty members. We, at Department of English, took maximum advantage to bring in innovative changes. It was made mandatory by Bhavnagar University to have three components in 30 marks continuous internal assessment (now onwards mentioned as CIA), viz., Presentation, Assignments and Test. We designed curriculum to give ample space for incorporation of ICT into the teaching-learning process. Our learning objectives along with ‘developing understanding of world literature and universal humanism’, were to make students ‘future-friendly’. We wanted to make them techno-fluent. We observed that most teachers of Arts faculty have a kind of aversion towards technology as a pedagogical tool because they have ‘never seen their teachers using it’ and were never ‘taught with technology’. Thus, we wanted to make ICT integral part of teaching – learning process.

We made following innovative changes: (all these changes are made without disturbing face-to-face interaction)
·         Assignments should be submitted as blog entry. Students are supposed to submit at least 21 assignments during the M.A. (English) programme.
·         Presentations shall be made only through PowerPoint and it shall be video recorded. All students shall be given videos of their presentations. Students are supposed to make 21 presentations during the M.A. (English) programme.
·         The test shall be the combination of ‘Online’ and pen – paper mode. All objective type tests shall be on Moodle VLE.
·         At the end of the fourth semester, all these (i.e. blogs, videos & presentations) shall be indexed on the students’ personal website. Google site was used for this task.
·         For instructions and teacher-student communication, SMS group and Google email group were used.

This was part of curriculum design and as it was mandatory, no students were excused from it. The students were given extra benefit of these online activities. In the CIA, students were offered bonus marks/grade points for successfully carrying out these online activities. We have to admit that until and unless, teaching and evaluation are not incorporated and each and activity (whether face-to-face or online) is not converted into grade points/marks, students will not participate enthusiastically. Thus, the bonus point idea clicked well with the students. Many students got the benefit of it. Some of them were physically ill or ill-prepared on the day of presentation or test. But they did exceptionally well in ‘online’ activities to save them from failing in CIA.

The obvious outcomes of this blended learning project (Barad, 2012) are as under:
·         It supported the argument that learning is an active, social process. According to Kliebard (1992), John Dewey (1859-1952) created an active intellectual learning environment in his laboratory school during the early 20th century. Neuroscience now supports this form of active learning as the way people naturally learn. Active learning conditionalizes knowledge through experiential learning (Kliebard, 1992) (Construvtivism(learning_theory), 2012). The students were found actively involved in the computer laboratory. Students naturally acquired online skills and learnt some valuable skills like ‘writing for web’. It was not part of curriculum to teach them e-skills but they naturally learnt it from the environment, which was created because of innovation in curriculum design.
·         It proved what Smith wrote while exploring John Dewey’s viewpoint. John Dewey believed education must engage with and expand the experience; those methods used to educate must provide for exploration, thinking, and reflection; and that interaction with the environment is necessary for learning; also, that democracy should be upheld in the educational process. (Smith, 2001). It was quite surprising to see that students were keen to stay more at Department and were found engaged in discussion about studies before, between and after the face-to-face lectures. What was incredible to observe was that students were involved in active learning, exploration, thinking and reflection. They were asked to make comments / raise questions/doubts / initiate discussion under the blogs and presentations. This provided them space for interaction with the environment. More importantly, the level of transparency was so high that it helped to upheld democratic values in the environment. Internal marking systems are always marred by charges of corruption. As the entire internal evaluation was shifted to VLE, the parents as well as classmates can view and openly comment on the marks/grades allotted by teachers to the students. This amounts to greater transparency and helps in establishing trust in the education system.
·         The outcome of ECAR (Dziuban, Hartman, & Moskal, 2004) found its support in this project. Hence, we agree to say that it helps instructors evolve as designers of active learning environments, thus becoming much more facilitative in their teaching. Interestingly, this phenomenon is consistent with what Carl Rogers (1983) called the ‘facilitative teacher’. Initially, teachers found it awkward to work and interact with students on virtual environment. However, later it was realized that being facilitator is quite different from being a teacher. The ideals that we have attached with teachers as being friend, philosopher and guide are normally not fulfilled in physical traditional environment. The virtual world certainly helps teachers being friendly facilitators rather than being ‘dictators’ in the classroom. Mostly, teachers feel that they are creating a conducive environment for the students but if students were asked, they would reveal how frightened they are to interact with teachers in the physical world. Nevertheless, on the virtual world, such inhibitions are broken and students feel better off with their teachers.
·         The environment created by blended learning brings in mixed reflections from students. Many students lament the loss of face-to-face contact and a few have techno-phobia, which averts them to respond on VLE. Thus, it was observed during this project that students must learn to ‘unlearn’ the habits of learning in traditional methods before ‘relearning’ how to learn on VLEs. We agree with the observations of ECAR - “the rhythms of blended courses differ from those in face-to-face classes, forcing students to stay actively engaged and connected. For students, the landscape of learning is drastically altered, although they are still to anchor their learning experience on the familiar face-to-face class meetings”. (Dziuban, Hartman, & Moskal, 2004).
·         Lastly, let us conclude with the benefits of using Moodle Virtual Learning Environment. As the design and development of Moodle is guided by “social constructionist pedagogy", it helps a lot in fulfilling the objectives of Constructivism (Moodle, 2012) From a constructivist point of view, people actively construct new knowledge as they interact with their environments. Moodle’s Philosophy web page mentions – “Social constructivism extends constructivism into social settings, wherein groups construct knowledge for one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings. When one is immersed within a culture like this, one is learning all the time about how to be a part of that culture, on many levels” (Moodle, 2012). Teachers as well as students experienced this during this project. Teachers became more creative in teaching. The time of interaction increased in the classroom, which, in traditional mode, was wasted in the dissemination of information only. The process of information turning into knowledge was experienced as more time was dedicated in interpretation and reflective thinking.
·         One of the major limitations of this project was infrastructure. We felt that students of Arts faculty (especially of our Department) still are not able to get personal computer with hi-speed internet at their residences. Therefore, the institute has to provide all these facilities and time to work on these tasks. Fortunately, the department of English can make provision for 1:2 computes with hi-speed internet connection, and the lab was kept open on holidays also so that students can spare ample time to complete their online tasks.

In spite of issues related to students, faculty and institutes, the impact of blended learning is positive. It is difficult to disagree with ECAR (Dziuban, Hartman, & Moskal, 2004) when they conclude: “The process is always formative and sometimes opportunistic. The outcomes are most effective when participants share an inspiring vision; seek maximum possible involvement; bring out the best in others; celebrate accomplishments; and model behaviour that facilitates collaboration.” The synergy of traditional face-to-face methods with that of an online environment helps in fostering positive realignment in HEIs.

Works Cited

Barad, D. P. (2010, January 12). Poster Presentation: Using Web Tools in Convergence with Traditional Learning. AsiaCALL International Conference 2010. Vallabh Vidya Nagar (Dist. Anand), Gujarat, India.
Barad, D. P. (2012, April 11). Project Blended Learning 2012. Retrieved April 24, 2012, from Google Sites: http://sites.google.com/site/projectblendedlearning2012
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Smith, M. (2001, May 8). John Dewey. Retrieved April 7, 2012, from The Encyclopedia of Informal Education: http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-dewey.htm

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