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22st Annual OLC International Conference
November 16-18, 2016 | Orlando, Florida | Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin Resort

OLC Innovate 2016 - Innovations in Blended and Online Learning
April 20-22, 2016 | New Orleans, LA | Sheraton New Orleans Hotel

A Serendipitous Journey Into Blended Learning

Robert Andersson (Dalarna University, Sweden)
Joacim Svensson (Dalarna University, Sweden)
Session Information
July 9, 2014 - 10:10am
Blended Models and Course Design
Areas of Special Interest: 
Innovative Blends
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Innovation and Experimentation
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Plaza Court 3
Session Duration: 
50 Minutes
Information Session 5

A tale of three tools: How tools for online learning became tools for blended learning.

Extended Abstract

Our presentation deals with how the needs of both students and teachers drive Dalarna University's development of blended learning and how the implementation of campus-based as well as online education has converged. The target audience includes teachers, educational developers, developers of educational technology and university management.

We would like to present some of our experiences with blended learning. From our perspective, there is little difference between the needs of campus-based students and those of online students. We have learned that online courses offer new possibilities as well as challenges. What we have gained from our experiences in overcoming these challenges is now helping to systematically benefit and improve campus-based education as well. Our efforts have improved, increased and promoted blended learning despite the fact that blended learning was not our original goal. To illustrate this, we would like to highlight three specific examples of tools that facilitate blended learning that are currently used by students and teachers.

At the turn of the millennium, the number of students registering for campus-based courses had declined to such a level that there were not enough students to justify our offering a number of courses. These campus-based courses were at risk of being canceled and for some of these subjects this would have meant layoffs of academic staff. Some of the language subjects taught at Dalarna University then began to offer courses online - the online courses were a success. These positive experiences led to an increased focus on online education as a way for us to reach new groups of students. Campus-based students realized that there were benefits to taking courses online. Online students had, for example, access to recorded lectures and the campus-based students wanted this option; as well. The teachers did not find a good reason to keep the campus and online students separate; thus began the development of blended learning at Dalarna University. Online education turned out to be a good choice for the university, as today 68% of our students attend courses online. We offer courses in 11 languages at a time when most Swedish universities have reduced the number of languages courses they offer.

According to the socio-cultural perspective on learning, communicative interaction and the use of cultural artifacts are important elements of all learning (Säljö, 2000). Dalarna University currently has a number of computer-based systems that support learning. When our teachers decided to start teaching online, they needed to have access to tools that met their needs and allowed them to accomplish their pedagogical goals. Therefore, Dalarna University has consciously chosen to invest in tools that efficiently support learning and that are user-friendly rather than tools that simply use the latest technology. The basis of good teaching is that teaching and learning must always come first. "Good teaching may overcome a poor choice of technology, but technology will never save bad teaching"
(Bates, 2005: 221).

The university has chosen to dedicate significant resources for a
department that provides support to both teachers and students, on and off campus, in dealing with educational issues in a digital environment. The department also provides support to teachers and students through the development and adaptation of digital tools. The basic thesis is that the environment should be supportive of, not a barrier to, teaching and learning. The support is there because we want to make learning possible (Ramsden 1992/2003). Dalarna University has become known for the use of live lectures via a proprietary system and web-based seminars on a large scale. The tools that were originally used only in online courses are now
also used in campus-based courses in a blended learning context.

We currently offer lectures that students can attend either on campus or from home. We have seminars in which campus and online students are blended together in the same seminar groups and we work with classroom response systems to facilitate active student engagement for both campus and online students. Dalarna University broadcasts over 3500 hours of classroom content a year through our proprietary system "Videochat".

Today, we no longer see flexible learning options as simply a way to increase enrollment, but rather as a way to increase the quality of our work. A survey conducted at Dalarna University in 2012 showed that the "Satisfaction" index (CSI) was significantly higher among online students (73) than campus-based students (62). This could suggest that online teaching has further strengths and values that one should identify and incorporate into all types of teaching.

We strive for a learning environment where the difference between the experience of online and campus-based education is no longer significant and where the tools that support student learning are used regardless of the form.