Blended Learning: A Fundamental Redesign of the Learning Experience
The term “blended learning” has gained much currency in Hong Kong and elsewhere. “Blended” may be simply perceived as a mixture of modes in which students learn both online and face-to-face, but a more complex definition includes the transformative potential of blending:
“Blended learning is the thoughtful fusion of face-to-face and online learning experiences…such that the strengths of each are blended into a unique learning experience…Blended learning is a fundamental redesign that transforms the structure of, and approach to, teaching and learning” (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008, p.5)
Are Hong Kong universities meeting the needs of current students in terms of providing flexible and engaging online learning environments? Are teachers in higher education in Hong Kong equipped and supported to respond to the challenges of rapid change and required pedagogical innovations for quality learning and teaching? Given Hong Kong’s dense urban population, and its mainly traditional campus-based universities, blended learning is particularly appropriate and attractive as an approach to pedagogical innovation. Blended learning may encompass and enable emerging pedagogical practices such as “flipped” classrooms, which enhance teaching and learning practice – and may also be of logistical benefit in the management of learning spaces and the pressure of student numbers.
Professor LIM Cher Ping, from EdUHK and the co-leader of this project, writes of the difficulties of “the scaling up of blended learning” even when the research literature convinces us of its benefits, and that this process represents “an enormous challenge” (Owston, 2013):
Front-line teaching staff may not share the same vision (Bohle Carbonell, Dailey-Hebert, & Gijselaers, 2013), and there can be a gap between the staff’s existing competence and that required by the innovations (Fisher, 2005). As teaching staff play a pivotal role as gatekeepers to innovations, their professional development is the key for innovations to be effective and scalable (Dede & Honan, 2005). (Lim, 2013, BOLT project proposal Appendix B, p.18)
While all Hong Kong’s higher education institutions are very aware of such challenges and tackling them in their own ways, the BOLT project supports pedagogical innovation and learning and teaching quality by sharing resources, experiences and expertise inter-institutionally.