What’s in a name?

I’ve been thinking lately about some of the terms that we use to describe various forms of teaching with the Internet. It seems to me that we use these terms somewhat interchangeably, at least in the literature about teaching online.

The Sloan Foundation published definitions of types of online courses that I have seen most often in the literature:

  • Online courses (80% or more of content delivered online)
  • Blended or hybrid (30-79% of content delivered online)
  • Web-enhanced (1-29% of content delivered online)

This breakout was initiallly helpful for me because it helped me to understand that there are different degrees of online-ness in courses.  I soon started to wonder, however, about the real difference in a course with 79% of content online versus a course with 80%.  Are those really courses really in separate categories?  Also is a course that has 20% of content delivered onsite, is that really a fully online course?  Is content delivery the key goal anyway?

I like Ko and Rossen’s distinctions based on coures activities rather than content delivery. It helps me to clarify at least in my mind Web enhanced courses really may only have support materials offered online, whereas blended requires both onsite and online activities.

What works for me then is to think of fully online courses as those that truly occur all online, without onsite meetings; blended courses as those that use both online and onsite components; and web-enhanced courses as, well, pretty much onsite courses that have attending and supporting materials available online, with maybe the occasional online activity.

So here’s the one that is currently stumpping me: the flipped classroom. From what I’ve been learning about it, the idea is to have the content delivery done online, likely in the form of a video lecture, as homework, and to bring the activities or the homework into the classroom.  I’ve read articles that suggest that the flipped classroom is a form of blended learning which would imply that some activities/interactions with others happen online, and I’m not sure that’s the case. Is the flipped classroom really a form of Web-enhanced learning?
Photo credit: Gatheringzero

It may sound like hair splitting, but it seems to me that the terms we use are important. They can potentially help us to communicate and to understand each other, or alternately if we are using the same terms to talk about different things or different terms to talk about the same thing, well it seems to me like the language could potentially contribute to misunderstandings. Isn’t it important for us to share a common language so that we can really discuss the issues?

6 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. By meeting do you mean onsite meeting? Or does an online class that requires students to join pre-scheduled synchronous sessions (say, in google hangouts) no longer qualify as fully online in your label sequence?

  2. Hi Claire,
    When I think about my course with its “pre-scheduled synchronous sessions” (as Jim described) and whether or not it was flipped or blended, I’d say it doesn’t get either label. I think effective teaching has always created the conditions for students to be engaged, and a lecture (even if it is a highly produced, rock star performance) is still usually instructor-centered and controlled. If flipping is having students prepare for a highly engaging, transactive class then I think Constructivist teachers have always done that.

    Now the beauty of the Web-enhanced course is that you can design experiences so students can explore resources, share their responses, and engage with other students to prepare for class where problem-solving/discussion activities can be layered on to elevate the thinking to the next level. And if the class is blended and meets “on the ground” (as Ko and Rossen describe it) then it’s blended. If not, then it’s just nondescript like mine.

    So flipped isn’t really anything new to many of us. Shelly Wright, a teacher-blogger I much admire, wrote a great blog last year about her disillusionment with flipping. When I googled to find it, I got lucky and found Audrey Watters’s post on flipping –http://hackeducation.com/2012/11/28/top-ed-tech-trends-of-2012-flipped-classroom/ Shelly and Audrey agree — it’s all about who owns the learning.

    I think Miller and Seller (1990) whose work I referenced in the video have a pretty good approach to helping students own their learning by balancing transmission, transactional, and transformative experiences. Of course, the appropriate combination and how the actual/virtual is used will always vary according to who, what, where, when of learning.

    btw thanks for kicking off the discussion on this week’s topic. I hope there will be lots more to come.

    • Hi Cris,

      This is so interesting! Thanks!

      Does your class meet at all onsite? If not, then that sounds like online to me.

      If it does meet onsite for some sessions, then wouldn’t it be blended? If not, why not?

      Maybe the term flipped will drop off the landscape. Its usage is certainly not clear.

      Your comment has made me wonder whether web-assisted is really a different animal that teaching online. What if “online” may be either fully online or blended.

      What if web-assisted is either to a small degree or a large degree (so either lots of stuff online or just a little like a syllabus).

      On the other hand, what if it’s all becoming so blurred, it doesn’t matter after all?

  3. Hi Claire – I agree with Cris that the idea of a ‘flipped’ classroom isn’t new in terms of what many teachers have been doing for years. But I do think that the term is helpful if it relates to ‘flipped’ thinking. I’ll try and explain. I used to teach science to trainee teachers. My students used to get a 2 hour session each week, and each week we would have to cover a science concept, e.g. gravity

    Pre-internet as we know it now, I remember the pressure I felt under in these sessions to not only cover the content of a concept like gravity, which is fraught with misconceptions, in 2 hours, but also to teach trainees how to teach the concept.

    When I finally started teaching using online affordances, it was an enormous relief to know that I could put the content online and then have time to focus on the misconceptions in class. I always thought of this as social constructivism – but as Cris says it’s now thought of as ‘flipping the classroom’.

    For me the term ‘flipped’ classroom is useful because it is catchy, and it will make teachers who are concerned about covering content and as a result often talk too much (there is plenty of research to evidence this), think about the balance between covering content in lecture style, and disucssion of ideas and misconceptions.

    • Great response, Jenny. Many thanks. I read an interesting bit in the Chronicle a few days ago (I think…am catching up on reading). The author described some of the student comments, some of which suggested that if they had wanted an online class, they would have taken one, which I think is interesting. Is it really a form of blended learning or something different entirely?

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