Blended learning: an approach to delivering science courses on-line

Ian Clark, Patrick James


The past reticence of science faculty to embrace distance and on-line learning has been the perceived difficulty in delivering the practical and fieldwork aspects of a course in a meaningful way. Various methods have been employed to overcome this ranging from the preparation of practical kits that could be sent to students to the preparation of virtual field trips. Most experiences of these approaches have found them to be too expensive (both financially and in preparation time) and/or too difficult to manage. In practice it is always easier to deliver this kind of experience in a face-to-face environment.

We have experimented with a variety of approaches in arriving at our present position of trying to deliver geoscience courses on-line. The introductory undergraduate geoscience course described has evolved from a completely face-to-face course to one which can be partly taken off-campus. We have experimented with CAL modules, just-in-time teaching (Novak, Gavrin, Christian and Patterson 1999) mail-out practical kits, interactive field simulations using a combination of digital images and real earth materials, and virtual field trips. Our present approach is one that can be described as blended learning.

Thorn (2003) describes blended learning as a way of meeting the challenges of tailoring learning and development to the needs of individuals by integrating the innovative and technological advances offered by online learning with the interaction and participation offered in the best of traditional learning. We have found it to be a satisfactory compromise to overcoming the difficulties of practical sciences going completely online while catering for the needs of students who require a flexible approach in time and place.

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