Blended learning as a response to change in a merged technikon: an account of three modes of delivery in a web-based Communication Skills semester course designed for Engineering students at DIT
Pratt, Deirdre Denise
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The degree to which people are facing revolutionary technological changes in the near future is matched only by the degree of inertia evinced by educational institutions, particularly tertiary institutions. Even when such institutions undergo sweeping changes, as in the case of the recent merger between Technikon Natal and ML Sultan Technikon, the reaction of most academic departments is to make desperate attempts to adjust and consolidate, and to think with nostalgia of “the good old days” rather than to introduce innovations. Yet as Taylor (2001) points out, an institution’s survival in the face of imminent widespread technological change depends not only on changing the way it does things, but on changing the things it does, and a common factor in innovation is often the introduction of new learning technology systems (Kenny, 2002). The “Fourth Generation” learning model described by Taylor is already a reality for educators, involving interactive multimedia online, Internet-based access to World Wide Web resources, and computer-mediated communication. While Taylor is writing in the context of distance education, the “flexible learning model” described is just as appropriate for blended learning, i.e., a mixture of face-to-face and computer-mediated instruction (also referred to as “mixed mode”). Moreover, when a merged “super-technikon” such as the Durban Institute of Technology swells its student numbers to over 20,000 and sprawls over a number of campuses, some of the techniques used for distance education might well apply. However, as Glor (1997) points out, effective innovation is “not just a question of coming up with ideas, but also of developing and realising them successfully”, and the transition “from strategic vision to university wide teaching change is ... a complex and largely uncharted one” (Lines, 2000). The Fourth Generation model of instructional delivery is in fact well within the capabilities of a growing number of the DIT staff who have completed the Pioneers Induction Programme to web-based learning (Peté et al, 2002), initiated in 2000, and are going from strength to strength with the current Pioneers 2003 group. This paper looks at an initiative by one of the Pioneers 2002 group (the author) to introduce a Communication Skills course in blended learning mode, mainly in the interests of enhanced delivery, but also in an attempt to find creative solutions to problems such as larger classes and diminishing resources. It will show that, while the assumptions about enhanced delivery were justified, in one case the initiative was all but sabotaged by the unfortunate convergence of multiple “merger glitches”, which individually could have been relatively easily overcome, but collectively posed a serious threat not just to academic quality but to course continuance.