Issues with blended synchronous learning…

How to effectively teach two cohorts of students at once using rich-media synchronous technologies?

* People who are face to face receive all information from the teacher, but    potentially not the view that the remote students are receiving.
* People who are remote but do not potentially receive all of the information in the remote room.

There is a Catch 22 in operation here. If they receive all of the information in their environment and in the face to face environment, they receive a complete but may miss some of it due to the extra amount of information being processed (cognitive overload, split attention). But if they don’t receive all of the information from the ‘other’ environment then they may miss crucial information. The challenge is to either a) not broadcast the ‘other’ environment but make sure all pertinent information is transmitted through the common environment being used, or b) broadcast the ‘other’ environment but make sure that the pace and focusing strategies reduce cognitive overload to a manageable level. For a), adaptive strategies may be required by the teacher in order to ensure that all information is transmitted through the shared channel – for instance, by repeating questions asked by students in the face-to-face environment into the mediating technology.

Possible recommendations: Face-to-face students should have access to the teacher’s view of remote students, and what is happening in the remote spaces. Remote students should have access to the communicative tool, and ideally to a view of what is happening in the remote environment.

The demands upon the teacher needs to be considered for both paradigms. For a), the demands of ensuring pertinent information is broadcast can be great. For b), the demands of processing and appropriately responding to all of the information in both environments can be great. This would be an interesting test to run. I suspect that it is better to ensure that both environments are broadcast to both groups. I also suspect that using a ‘window’ approach, where the environments are butted up against each other as though they are conjonined, continuations of each other. This is in-line with the net-meeting approach.

Q: Why would you have remote and face to face students collaborate in a group if you could choose that people in the same situation could be put together?
A: Perhaps they are in groups, and some members choose not to attend face-to-face.
Q: What are the strategies that you can adopt to enhance blended synchronous learning?
A: Ask questions of and expect questions from both groups regularly, and encourage questions and responses from groups that aren’t participating. Reiterating information that is potentially not being accessed by one of the cohorts so that they do receive it. Highlighting relevant elements within the environment so that peoples’ attention is on pertinent aspects of the learning episode and their working memory is not overloaded.

About matthewbower

Professor at Macquarie University.
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