On March 27, 2013, I attended one of the faculty focus groups arranged by the Blended Learning Task Force of the University of Manitoba that was recently struck by the Vice Provost (Academics). Eight other faculty members who attended the focus group beside myself were two instructional designers from Extended Education and the rest consists of one teaching faculty member from each of the Faculty of Education, Social Work, Nursing, the Business School, and the Department of Computer Science, and Geography. All the participants were referred beforehand to the background report prepared by the Task Force, which consists of a long list of SWOT analysis of blended learning. We were reminded by the Vice Provost at the beginning of the focus group that they are neither for or against blended learning. So they want to gather different opinions and views about blended learning in order to come up with a university-wide plan or strategy. I have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed in this armed-length approach to blended learning at the University. But we need to begin somewhere. I still could not help and wonder what if the Task Force was led by a passionate advocate for supporting learning with the use of new technologies. It clearly would have given us a different starting point for our discussion.
During the task force group gathering, as we became more familier with each other’s view and experience of blended learning, we began to share the same view: The University needs its commitment and resources in technical, pedagogical, and research & development supports around blended learning. As soon as we thought we warmed up, it soon came to the end of 90 minutes, the time allocated for the focus group. I also agreed with one professor who expressed his view that the planning for blended learning should come from the bottom rather than the top. All the experimentations and teaching and learning experiences are happening on the ground and adopting the bottom-up approach makes a lot of sense. As the Faculty of Education professor pointed out just before he left, the group’s discussion inevitably ended up focusing mainly on “teaching” aspects of blended learning. We were nowhere near “learning” effects or what students think of blended learning. Let’s trust that the students who will be recruited in their focus group get their voices heard.