The right blend? The use of Blackboard to support international dissertation students
Weller (2011) proposes that it is the responsibility of educators to identify which technologies are likely to be significant to their students in their future careers and integrate them into their teaching practices. For some scholars, this will involve a range of activities including blogging, the cultivation of peer and student networks on social media sites such as Twitter, and the creation of Open Educational Resource (OERs) such as podcasts (Pearce et al, 2010; Veletsianos and Kimmons, 2012). Despite the reluctance of many academics to engage in these forms of ‘digital scholarship’ (Procter et al, 2010; Weller, 2011), there has been an increasing interest in how information and communication technologies (ICTs) might be used by teachers to facilitate student learning. There have been two major conceptual frameworks that have emerged from the widespread adoption of technology by HE institutions in the past decade. First, there is the concept of e‐learning, which has focused predominantly on the use of ICTs and institutional Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) in the teaching of distance learning students (Sangra et al, 2012, Conole, 2010). Second, the ‘blending’ of online and face‐to‐face pedagogic approaches has been conceptualised as an appropriate response to the varying learning styles of an increasingly cosmopolitan student body (see Sharpe et al, 2006 for an overview). A critique of this ‘blended learning’ approach has emerged that suggests that it is ‘ill‐defined,’ focusing on the resources made available to students rather than their actual learning experiences (Oliver and Trigwell, 2005). Nevertheless, there has been some evidence to suggest that online resources have high pedagogic value for both campus‐based and distance learning students. Recent research has indicated that the use of e‐tivities for the purposes of formative assessment can help students develop more effective learning strategies (Armellini and Aiyegbayo, 2009). Podcasts have also been found to be effective in supporting students during the preparation of their assessed work and reducing the number of non‐academic enquiries sent to academic members of staff (Fothergill, 2008; Nie et al, 2010; Sutton‐Brady et al, 2009). This paper sets out to provide further empirical data on ‘blended’ pedagogic approaches through a focus group and questionnaire‐based study of students who had received support for their PGT dissertations via a combination of face‐to‐face meetings with their supervisor and a series of resources uploaded to the institutional VLE at appropriate milestones during their projects. It does so by reviewing the issues raised by staff and students in relation to learning materials in 2010/11, outlining the resources created for the revamped MS7012 Dissertation Blackboard site, and presenting the results from the questionnaire and focus groups conducted between June and July 2012.