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Embracing blended learning

It was a determined Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Leonor Briones who convinced President Duterte to modify his “no vaccine, no school” decision to adopt “blended learning.” Face-to-face schooling is out; e-learning is in. Where e-learning through computers, smartphones, and the internet is not available to students from poor backgrounds and rural and isolated villages, television and radio will be utilized to deliver the lessons. Where lessons cannot be delivered entirely through television and radio, barangays will be engaged to deliver printed lessons and other resource materials.This idea of adapting the teaching and learning system to minimize the dangers of COVID-19 is certainly a win-win situation. The “no vaccine, no school” will grossly handicap whole generations of young Filipinos.

The focus in implementing this blended learning is on the difficulty of assuring that students will have the tools (computers or smartphones and internet connectivity) to participate in e-learning. Many people worry that the unequal access to these tools and connectivity—the so-called “digital divide”—will aggravate the socioeconomic gap.

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The idea of using television and radio to reach the rural and poor students is good in theory, but it will require tremendous preparation and expense on the part of the government and the schools to set up. To make the learning effectiveness and efficiency comparable to those with or without computers and internet, the DepEd and the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) and public and private schools will have to design a flexible and responsive system that delivers equivalency in learning and teaching results for both sides of the digital divide.

Among the more mature attempts at e-learning is that of the UP Open University (UPOU). It started with distance education in the 1990s, transforming over time to what is now an “open and distance e-learning (ODeL).” Patricia Arinto’s “Issues and Challenges in Open and Distance e-Learning: Perspectives from the Philippines,” International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning (Vol. 17, No. 2, February 2016), suggests what challenges the Philippine education community might face, based on the UPOU experience.

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Arinto tells us that, contrary to expectations, teaching approaches in e-learning contexts are not leading to transformation or positive change as expected. Primary use around the world has been for delivering pre-digested information that used to be distributed on paper (like delivering old wine in a new bottle). Also, the expected shift from a teacher-focused knowledge transmission approach to a learner-focused knowledge contribution approach does not occur easily.

Arinto’s study suggests the following ways to stimulate and sustain the kind of innovation needed for effective e-learning. (1) There must be purposive transformation; educational institutions and their faculty must be persuaded to adopt innovative practices. (2) Their faculty will likely show indifference and resistance unless they are given the time, tools, and resources for effective design and delivery of e-learning. (3) The faculty will need professional pedagogical reorientation and training to enable them to design and deliver effective e-learning. (4) Governance is important—the overarching policy, political, and administrative frameworks and systems must be established to guide the whole effort. (5) Support-oriented e-learning program management at various levels should be provided. (6) Finally, a community of practice and network of experts should be built and nurtured to drive and sustain the effort.

Make no mistake—the brunt of the work will be assumed by teachers. They will have to put in an enormous amount of time, effort, patience, trial-and-error learning, and personal resources so they can transform themselves into learning enablers that delight rather than disappoint their students. Shifting to an e-learning mode requires changing the teachers’ orientations, knowledge and skills—a radical makeover. They need to “unfreeze” their habits of thinking and be open to new ones, blending newly discovered pedagogic opportunities, newly acquired learning technologies, and newly fashioned modes of engaging their students. Then they need to sustain habits of quality e-learning performance.

In changing the President’s mind, Briones avoided the path of least resistance. Suspension of school could have freed her and the education bureaucracy from much work. Now, the DepEd and CHEd must anticipate and respond to the layers of challenges and risks involved in no face-to-face learning. Did Briones bite more than she could chew? Fortunately, the surge in e-learning efforts underway in major universities and schools suggests the education community is poised to give her a helping hand.

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TAGS: blended learning, Coronavirus Pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19, Distance Education, e-learning, On The Move, Patricia Arinto, Segundo Eclar Romero
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