How unexpected opportunities can inform practice

This post is the first in a series of posts based on course work completed for the class Education as an Advanced Field of Study that I completed at Northeastern University.

This annotated bibliography item reviews a case study that developed during the progression of an environmental studies class that connected students with professionals in the field. The findings may be helpful to faculty who are interested in learning more about how to integrate practitioners of certain expertise levels into coursework for a connected class, as well as how sharing the results of unplanned teaching practices can be beneficial to all.

Meretsky, V. J., & Woods, T. A. N. (2013). A novel approach for practitioners in training: A blended-learning seminar combining experts, students and practitioners. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Volume 13, Number 3, 48–62. Retrieved from: http://josotl.indiana.edu/article/view/3123/3605

The authors of this case study were concerned with the disconnection between academic areas of study and the context in which the taught skills and knowledge are applied. Through their design of a blended course format professional practitioners in the US Fish and Wildlife Service regularly interacted through videoconferencing with graduate students in the area of environmental science. Data collection and analysis was qualitative and relied primarily on surveys given to students, practitioners and participants. Since the authors also served as the instructors, or facilitators of the course their thought process behind the design and adjustments to the course was included as well.

Since the authors were also intricately connected to the design of the course being studied, I had hoped to find some self-reflexivity which would better define the impact of Meretsky and Woods’ values on their evaluation of the blended seminar. However, since the case study grew out of the initiation of an outside agency, and Meretsky and Woods acknowledged that their data collection occurred based on the “unexpected opportunity”, it stands to reason that the authors retroactively recognized the importance of the experience in connection to existing research on situational learning, experiential learning and cognitive apprenticeship. Results from practitioners and students indicated that on a very general level the interaction was positive and from students’ perspective added value to course. The authors included many details about logistics, opportunities and challenges of the course which coupled with the general data collection indicate a positive area for future study.

This piece helped to inform me about a different concept of blended learning. Ideally I had been searching for more experiential based application of blended learning, however since the study included some unexpected collaborations between the agency practitioners and the students, I found it relevant to my focus. In particular the organic development of the collection of information indicated how unexpected opportunities can inform learning practices by chance, and how logistics and environmental concerns can inadvertently increase attention and usage of hybrid learning collaborations.

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