The role of the social mechanism in social transformation: a critical realist approach to blended learning.
Pratt, Deirdre Denise
Gutteridge, Robert Geoffrey
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This paper deals with ongoing curriculum development in mixed mode, focusing in particular on student response to blended learning at a multicultural University of Technology. This is currently the subject of a masters research project investigating the possible ways in which learner access and response to blended learning might be affected by socio-cultural elements. The research investigates the impact of socio-cultural factors on blended learning in the development of academic literacy in a tertiary vocational context, and, it is hoped, will identify some of the factors which contribute positively or negatively towards blended learning in multicultural settings. The research orientation is critical realism, which is highly compatible with the scaffolded constructivist learning approach used in the Department of English & Communication’s Comm. Skills Online course, but has additional ontological dimensions which are helpful in pointing the way to social transformation. A key concept in critical realist research is that of the social mechanism, which can be seen as having two aspects, formal and practical: Franck’s modelling process represents these as theoretical and empirical models respectively. A tentative empirical model of blended learning based on a theoretical model of course design is discussed: socio-cultural factors impacting on both affect and access issues in blended learning can be represented as input into the system inherent in the social mechanism. The merits and disadvantages of the video protocol analysis as a possible research tool for capturing data on student response to blended learning are also discussed, and the paper concludes with the implications of this type of modelling for social transformation.