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International Jl.

on E-Learning (2008) 7(3), 499-522

Finding a Balance in Dimensions


of Blended Learning

MARIE-JOSE VERKROOST
International Institute for Geo-information Science and Earth Observation,
The Netherlands
verkroost@itc.nl

LEONIE MEIJERINK
VSO Nederland, The Netherlands
l.meijerink@vso.nl

HARRY LINTSEN
Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands
h.w.lintsen@tue.nl

WIM VEEN
Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands
w.veen@tudelft.nl

This article is a formative evaluation of a course in which a


blended learning environment was created and a good bal-
ance in dimensions of blended learning was sought. Blended
learning is defined as the total mix of pedagogical methods,
using a combination of different learning strategies, both with
and without the use of technology. The evaluation is based on
a model of blended learning that has four dimensions: struc-
tured/unstructured, individual/group, face-to-face/at-a-dis-
tance, and self/teacher directed. These dimensions are used
for the evaluation of a module entitled Society and Technolo-
gy that is taught at Delft University of Technology. We
describe how the module evolved in terms of these four
dimensions of blended learning. We then use this case as the
basis for a discussion about an effective balance in blended
learning and further research in this field.

Since the 1990s much experience has been gained with regard to online
learning environments. While there is potential for distance learning, espe-
500 Verkroost, Meijerink, Lintsen, and Veen

cially in terms of remotely located learners, most institutions for higher


education use a blended approach for learning because distance learning
can lead to feelings of isolation and a lacking feeling of community (Song,
Singleton, Hill, & Koh; 2004, Vonderwell, 2003; Woods, 2002). Collis and
Van der Wende (2002) described the current point of view on blended
learning as:

The general picture seems to be that there is much ICT in use, not
to replace traditional on-campus settings, rather to complement
them. “Blended learning” using ICT (especially Web-based sys-
tems) combined with lectures, books, and other traditional media
and ways of teaching is already the norm. (p.29)

How these blended learning environments have to be arranged is unclear


because old design methodologies do not specifically aim at e-learning.
There exist few guidelines for arriving at a good balance in the blend. This
article is a formative evaluation of a course in which a blended learning
environment was created and a good balance in dimensions of blended
learning was sought. The article addresses the following question:
How can we find a good balance in dimensions of a blended learning sit-
uation? Specifically, the research questions are:
1. How can we describe the process and results of balancing on
dimensions of blended learning?
2. What can we learn from our evaluation for balancing on dimensions
of blended learning?
We looked at the implementation of the course “Society and Technology”
(S&T) taught at Delft University of Technology (TUD) to answer these
questions. The S&T case is interesting because the project team that devel-
oped the module started with a rather extreme but not unusual idea in which
students had no face-to-face contact with a teacher to reduce the investment
in teacher time to the minimum possible. A virtual learning environment was
developed to support distance learning. Special attention was paid on the
design of this virtual learning environment to make it attractive for young
people. The module has been taught at TUD for three years and has been
adjusted away from the original principles by experimenting with shifting
the balance to different sides of the extremes in the blend. We have been
looking for limitations and opportunities by taking extreme positions, trying
not to respond too much to conservative voices from practice. Evaluating
these experiments has allowed us to determine the factors that have influ-
enced this change and to gain insight into the limitations of balance posi-
tions. In the next sections we define blended learning and describe the model
for blended learning based on literature research.
Finding a Balance in Dimensions of Blended Learning 501

DEFINING BLENDED LEARNING


Blended learning is defined in different ways in the literature using dif-
ferent terminology such as “hybrid teaching” or “integrated e-learning.” The
term blended learning was chosen for this article because, as will be
explained later, it has a broader scope than the definitions given below.
Some authors define blended learning in a narrow sense, as a mix of
online and off-line learning activities (Thorne, 2003; Troha, 2002; Clark,
2003; Garrison & Kanuka, 2004, Young, 2002). This positions blended
learning as a choice between new and old media, suggesting that they can
replace each other. The idea that the whole learning process has to be
redesigned using technology is not addressed in this definition.
Integrated e-learning is defined as the need to provide a variety of coher-
ent measures at the pedagogical, organizational, and technical levels for the
successful implementation of e-learning in combination with more conven-
tional methods (Jochems, Merrienvoer, & Koper, 2004). This is a broader
definition, but it still positions e-learning as a pedagogical add-on to con-
ventional learning methods in stead of a redesign of learning.
The broadest perspective is given by Singh and Reed (2001) and Mar-
garyan & Bianco (2002). They defined blended learning as the total learning
arrangement. Different dimensions can be derived, all of which emphasize
combinations between technologies/media/modes for the delivery of combi-
nations of learning methods and approaches. This definition is used as a
starting point for this article:
Blended learning is defined as the total mix of pedagogical methods, using
a combination of different learning strategies, both with and without the use
of technology.
A broad definition is chosen to do justice to the complexity of education-
al practice. In our opinion, it is not enough to just consider whether you
should offer education online or offline. This is what is called “substitution”:
an existing educational practice is substituted with an online format without
really changing the teaching method. Using new technologies such as the
Internet, could lead to a “transition” or “transformation” of education: new
ways of teaching and learning have to be developed for online learning.
(Itzkan, 1994). According to Collis and Van der Wende (2002), “ICT has
only recently become part of the blend in traditional delivery, ICT gives
added value to already existing instructional tools” (p.30).
The definition does not contain the influence of preconditions. A variety
of preconditions, such as curriculum, course, students, teachers, and
resources, will have an effect on the balance of the blend. We will not
attempt to describe exactly how these preconditions affect the balance in the
blend in this article; however this may be of interest for further research.
502 Verkroost, Meijerink, Lintsen, and Veen

DESIGNING A MODEL FOR BLENDED LEARNING


It is important to identify the dimensions or aspects that form a blend to
answer the question: How can we make a good blend? Different dimensions
are discussed in the literature. In our case we looked for the dimensions that
are relevant for designing a module at an institution for higher education and
which produce a suitable mix of pedagogical methods for blended learning.
Singh and Reed (2001) stated that blended learning has five dimensions:
(a) online versus offline, (b) self-paced versus live collaborative, (c) struc-
tured versus unstructured, (d) custom and off-the-shelf content, and (e) work-
ing versus learning. Their focus lies on blended learning in a corporate set-
ting rather than at a university level; the focus of this article is, however, the
latter. Therefore, the dimensions “custom and off-the-shelf content” and
“work and learning” are less relevant. Singh and Reed’s dimension 2 mixes
two dimensions: 2a) self-paced versus fixed pace and 2b) collaborative ver-
sus individual. It is possible to work fixed paced and self-paced in groups and
as an individual. In this article, the distinction between fixed paced and self-
paced falls within the broader dimension of structured versus unstructured.
Troha (2003) distinguished four dimensions of blended learning: (a) learn-
er-centered, (b) instructor-guided, (c) interactive, and (d) peer-collaborative.
Learning-centered and instructor-guided form an extra dimension for our
model: self/teacher directed. Interactive and collaborative learning fall with-
in the dimension “collaborative versus individual” of Singh and Reed (2001).
These dimensions are summarized into a four dimensional model for
blended learning as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Model for blended learning


Finding a Balance in Dimensions of Blended Learning 503

Structured Versus Unstructured Learning


Structure in learning can be defined at two different levels: one at the
level of content and two at the level of pacing.
When content is prestructured, and this structure is reflected in the course
design, students learn in a prescribed order and learn the concepts as defined
by the teacher. This approach is developed in the elaboration theory of
Reigeluth (1987) and stems from the cognitivistic learning paradigm.
Unstructured learning is less predetermined and offers students the possibil-
ity to choose their own learning path and to develop their own concepts and
mental models. This approach fits within the constructivistic learning para-
digm. Posner and Strike (1976) reviewed several methods for organizing
courses and suggested that it is most important to have an organizing prin-
ciple which makes sense to the learner.
In a self-paced learning program, students or groups of students can
determine their own pace and how they divide their time over different
learning activities. In a fixed-paced learning program, the teacher deter-
mines the pace of learning in advance. The issue of fixed pace versus self-
paced is addressed particularly in computer based training research. It is
thought that giving freedom to learners to pace their own progress in com-
puter based instruction will enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of their
learning (Jonassen, 1990). However, there is no inconclusive evidence about
self-paced versus program-paced learning. Some research suggests that
learners perform best in a guided environment (Steinberg, 1977, 1989;
McNeil & Nelson, 1991); others see a positive effect of learner control (Gay,
Trumbull, & Smith, 1988).

Individual Versus Group Learning


Individual learning implies solitary learning that is managed or controlled
by the individual learner, whereas group learning suggests dynamic com-
munication between students in which knowledge sharing is important.
Group work can be chosen as a way of organizing students, and of divid-
ing labor, or as an overall pedagogical philosophy. In literature this is often
called the difference between cooperative and collaborative learning (Panitz,
1996): “Collaboration is a philosophy of interaction and personal lifestyle
whereas cooperation is a structure of interaction designed to facilitate the
accomplishment of and end product or goal” (p.1).
Cooperative and collaborative learning both require a different organiza-
tion of education at different levels of the curriculum. Cooperative learning
can be implemented at course level, whereas collaborative learning is a phi-
losophy guiding the whole curriculum. There is also a difference in the func-
tioning of the student group. In cooperative learning student divide tasks in
order to reach a common goal; in collaborative learning communication is
504 Verkroost, Meijerink, Lintsen, and Veen

considered important to foster group learning. A number of studies have


found that students in cooperative learning perform academically better than
students who learn individually (Slavin, 1991; Johnson, Johnson, & Scott,
1978), other studies do not support this (Tateyama-Sniezek, 1990; Tingle &
Good, 1990).

Face-to-Face Versus At-a-Distance


Learning activities can take place at a distance, maybe by using technol-
ogy to connect people and to consult resources, or face-to-face in a class-
room or a group setting. In extreme situations, all learning activities are
either at a distance or face-to-face, but more often learning situations will
have a hybrid form. Hybrid teaching is a new development in instructional
design which is assumed to combine the best of two worlds: the traditional
classroom with online teaching (Lindsay, 2004). “It is supposed to offer the
convenience of all-online courses without the loss of face-to-face contact”
(Young, 2002, p.2). How the classroom and online activities should be
mixed is unclear. A few studies comparing traditional classroom based
instruction and hybrid instructional formats exist (Riffell & Sibley, 2005;
Salomonson & Lantz, 2005; Tuckman, 2002) but they do not use a model
designed specifically for hybrid teaching situations, most commonly they
use general learning principles such as constructivism. The results of these
studies show no clear picture. In some situations students perform better in
the hybrid setting, in others they do not. The choice for face-to-face or dis-
tance learning seems to be made mainly on practical grounds like group size,
course content and the need of flexibility regarding time and use of space.
Harrison (2003) stated that individuals who are more introverted thrive
using the Internet. The Internet is described as “the revenge of the intro-
verts.” In cases where there are more extroverts in the class solitary study
should be kept to a minimum. He suggested that if there is a mix of the two
types of personalities in the group it is important to give both the introverts
and the extroverts something to look forward to.

Self Versus Teacher Directed Learning


This dimension deals with the question: Who initiates and conducts
learning activities? How much responsibility is given to a student depends
on many preconditions, such as how much influence the teacher thinks he or
she can leave to the students, but also what a student can handle, or whether
the educational setting enables students to learn independently.
Teacher directed learning is founded on the idea that teaching consists of
the transmission of knowledge from an external source to the learner (Biggs,
1996). This way of teaching leads to problems s isolation of knowledge
domains and problems with the transfer of knowledge into practice (Brown,
Collins, & Duguid, 1989) and persistence of misconceptions (Dahlgren,
Finding a Balance in Dimensions of Blended Learning 505

1984). The answer to these problems is self-directed of self-regulated learn-


ing. Self-regulated learning is defined as “the degree that students are meta-
cognitively, motivationally and behaviorally active participants in their own
learning process” (Zimmerman, 1989, p. 329).
Ley and Young (2001) defined four instructional principles for self-regu-
lation: (a) guide learners to prepare and structure and effective learning envi-
ronment, (b) organize instruction and activities to facilitate cognitive and
meta-cognitive processes, (c) use instructional goals and feedback to present
student monitoring opportunities, and (d) provide learners with continuous
evaluation information and occasions to self evaluation. Schroeder (2002)
stated that learning content developers often do not consider that learners
need to acquire new competencies when they steer their own learning.
“Most of the learning system designs start from a traditional teaching para-
digm and thus do not offer any help in performing these new learning tasks”
(p.3). Research suggests that some learners are more able to self-regulate
than others (Kulik & Kulik, 1991; Zimmerman & Martinez-Pons, 1990).
When thinking of how to balance self-directed and teacher directed learning
the course designer or teacher needs to consider that, even though it may be
desirable to give more responsibility to the students, the students need to
have acquired competence in dealing with these responsibilities.

METHOD
Society and Technology Case Study
The Science and Technology module of TUD is designed to stimulate stu-
dents to look outside the borders of their technical discipline and to look at its
relationship with society. In the module students have to analyze a problem
resulting from the interaction of science and technology from six perspectives
(Figure 2) to create an informed opinion about the problem. The perspectives
are derived from theory about and experience with solving these kinds of
problems by the teacher. The teacher, who is an expert in this area, has vali-
dated the model by consulting
experts in the field. Examples
of the questions that students
choose to analyze are: Does the
Dutch society have to adopt
solar energy? What should we
do to protect the Dutch society
from Internet fraud? The vari-
ous problems associated with
these questions are analyzed
from the perspectives of rele- Figure 2. Method for problem analysis in
vant groups of people or deci- society and technology
506 Verkroost, Meijerink, Lintsen, and Veen

sion makers, history, technology, the engineering profession, and causes and
effects of technology. These perspectives are used to structure the content of
the course and obligatory assignments have to be completed per perspective.
The analysis process is started by formulating a problem definition which is
used as the starting point of the analysis from the different viewpoints.
The module consists of a start-up lecture about the content and organiza-
tion of the module. After this lecture, students work together in independent
groups. A tutor (teaching assistant) meets with each group weekly and coun-
sels the group. There is one overall responsible teacher for the module at a
specific faculty. The responsibility for keeping track of a groups’ progress
and the assessment is given to a group of teachers who are each responsible
for multiple groups. The teachers function in the background, they support
the tutors. The tutors carry out most of the teaching work of the module
while the teachers monitor this and give feedback. Teachers and tutors meet
on a regular basis to exchange experiences and discuss problems. This divi-
sion of roles was developed to minimize the costs of teaching the module.
Some learning tasks are done in groups and some are done individually.
The problem analysis is conducted by a group but each student also has to
write an essay on the topic. In this essay, the student has to explain his or her
own opinion about the problem and support this with findings drawn from
the group analysis. The essay is graded individually. This assessment form
was chosen to overcome the problem of putting the workload of the group
on only a small number of group members.
An electronic learning environment, called STUDIO, has been developed
to support the students’ work and learning. STUDIO consists of a Website
on the Internet (www.studio.tbm.tudelft.nl), linked to a database. This learn-
ing environment is necessary to teach the subject in a blended way. Students
can find background information on the website and they can make assign-
ments, communicate with each other, and work together. The web-site is
designed in such a way that all the work and learning can take place using
STUDIO, which consists of three main parts: (a) a student part, (b) a teacher
part, and (c) a management part.
The STUDIO student environment contains the electronic forms for the
different perspectives, information and cases, internet links, definitions,
explanations, frequently asked questions, and tools for communication such
as chat, electronic mail, and a discussion board.
The STUDIO teacher environment is set up to monitor students’ and
groups’ progress. In this environment the teacher can look at students’ prod-
ucts, give feedback on these and give assessments. STUDIO teacher also
offers tools for communication with students or groups of students like chat,
email and discussion boards.
The STUDIO management environment is meant for persons who man-
age module editions and module content. The manager can define the time-
Finding a Balance in Dimensions of Blended Learning 507

frame of the module, phases within this timeframe, assessment moments, the
set of perspectives that have to be filled out by the students, available model
cases, students and teachers enrolled in the course, which teacher is assigned
to which students and student group composition.
At the time that STUDIO was developed, learning environments such as
Blackboard, WebCT, and LearningSpace had limited functionalities. The
most prominent lacking features were workflow and tracking of student
progress. This is the reason why it was decided to build a whole new system.
Nowadays learning management systems contain more of these features and
it would be possible to build STUDIO on such a platform.

Subjects
The research data was gathered for the period from September 2001 until
January 2003 at Delft University of Technology. The module S&T was
taught for the first time at the Faculty of Information Technology and Sys-
tems (ITS) in the first semester of 2001-2002. The module was taught for the
second time at the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management (TPM)
and the Faculty of Architecture in the first semester of 2002-2003. The mod-
ule was taught for the third time at the faculties of Architecture and ITS in
the second semester of 2002-2003. The students taking the course at ITS and
TPM were first-year students, whereas the students from the Faculty of
Architecture were in the third year of their study.

Research Design
A case study design was used to conduct the research (Yin, 1994). Infor-
mation from different sources, teachers, students, and tutors, was used to
reconstruct the Society and Technology case. The elements of blended learn-
ing, given in Figure 1 were used to describe the case and to look for answers
to the research questions. Both quantitative and qualitative instruments were
used. The quantitative instrument, a student questionnaire, was used to get
information about the experiences and opinions of the student group as a
whole. The qualitative instruments were used to clarify positions and opin-
ions of students and teachers with examples and statements.
A longitudinal approach was used to gather data in three rounds; this
allowed us to identify developments. The educational and technological set-
ting changed during the period of the case study, a short description of the
changes is given here.
In round 1, the educational setting was set up according to the original
ideas of the project group, that is, with a minimum of contact between stu-
dents and teachers. The digital learning environment STUDIO was used in
practice for the first time. Many technical problems such as loss of data and
instability were encountered and solved along the way.
In the second round, the educational setting was according to the original
508 Verkroost, Meijerink, Lintsen, and Veen

ideas of the project group. Evaluation of the first round led to improvements
of the digital learning environment STUDIO, and a new version of STUDIO
was made available for the second round.
In the third round, the educational setting changed drastically. Lectures
and information search introductions were added and there were some
experiments with different forms of counseling. The digital learning envi-
ronment of STUDIO did not change.

Instruments
Several instruments were used to evaluate the module and the digital
learning environment STUDIO: student questionnaires, interviews, and
meeting reports.
Student questionnaires. Three questionnaires were developed and used in
the evaluation. The questionnaires were altered over time in response to
insights gained by prior interviews, questionnaires, and reports, and differ-
ent information needs, because of this the questions that were asked differed
per evaluation round. A negative side-effect of the change in the question-
naires is that it led to heterogeneity in the data. In order to clarify which data
were collected in which evaluation round, the data are presented per round
and not as a total. The questionnaires were administered at the end of each
module. The topics that were addressed per questionnaire, and their response
rates, are shown in Tables 1 and 2. A “plus” in Table 2 means that this ques-
tion was part of the questionnaire in that round. The response rates in the
second and third round were rather low because the modules contained no
plenary meeting at the end and it was difficult to distribute questionnaires
effectively among students and to stimulate them to respond from a distance.

Interviews. Group observations and group interviews were held halfway


through the module with two groups of students from the Faculty of Technol-
ogy, Policy and Management and two groups of students from the Faculty of
Architecture in November 2002. Each group consisted of three to five stu-

The Response Rates of the Student Questionnaires


Table 1

Questionnaire Response rate


Questionnaire round 1: First semester 2001-2002 Faculty ITS: 77% of 202 students
Questionnaire round 2: First semester 2002-2003 Faculty TPM: 57.4% of 136 students. Faculty of
Architecture: 39.3% of 61 students
Questionnaire round 3: Second semester 2002-2003 Faculty of Architecture: 9% of 201 students.
Faculty ITS: 26% of 152 students
Finding a Balance in Dimensions of Blended Learning 509

The Content of the Student Questionnaires


Table 2

Questions per dimension of blended learning Round


1 2 3
Structured/unstructured
It was convenient that we could determine ourselves in which order we went
through the assignments. +
The interim deadlines were feasible. +
The deadlines stimulated to work regularly. + +
The STUDIO environment has a clear structure. +
The STUDIO environment offers sufficient background information on the
topics and assignments. + + +
The STUDIO environment offers enough support to look for information on the Internet. +
The structure of the STUDIO environment is pleasant. +
It was easy to find relevant information on the Internet. + +
Through the assignments I have learned how to solve a problem in a systematic way. + +
The assignments have made me analyze the problem more in-depth than I would
have done otherwise. + +
Individual/group work
Working together in the group went well. +
It was good that one student had the responsibility to hand in the work to the teacher. +
It was convenient that we could divide the assignments among the group members. + +
Despite the division of assignments among group members I could still survey the whole. +
The individual (integrative) assignments helped me to understand the other group
assignments better. + +
The individual assignments took little extra work after finishing the group assignments. +
Face-to-face/at-a-distance
The STUDIO environment supports group work at a distance. + +
The STUDIO environment is motivating to work with. + +
It was convenient that I could see the work of fellow students in the STUDIO environment. + +
The lecture(s) offered enough support for conducting the assignments. + +
The introductory lecture motivated me for the subject. +
Teacher directed/student directed
The teacher assistant helped us well. + +
The teacher assistant motivated me to learn. + +
The teaching assistant helped to hold on to the problem definition. +
It was good to have a fixed appointment with the teaching assistant every week. +
It was good to have the opportunity to go to the teaching assistant whenever
we had a problem or questions. +
510 Verkroost, Meijerink, Lintsen, and Veen

dents. The following subjects were addressed in the interviews: the way the
problem was analyzed, the structure that was offered for problem analysis,
how the group worked and what support they needed, the structure of pacing
and order, motivation, learning effects, and the role of the teacher and tutor.

Meeting reports. Evaluation sessions with the coordinator of the module and
six tutors were recorded and transcripts were made in the second semester
of 2002-2003. The following topics were discussed: functioning and lay-out
of the STUDIO teacher environment, assessment of student products, the
way students used STUDIO and its content, student facilities for learning at
a distance, computerset pacing, the use of communication tools, technical
functionality of STUDIO, module organization, structure of course content,
available information and resources in STUDIO, group functionality, bal-
ancing face-to-face and distance learning, and peer assessment.

RESULTS: BALANCING THE BLEND IN SOCIETY AND TECHNOLOGY


The model in Figure 1 was used to formatively evaluate blended learning
in the module S&T. The term designed module is used for the way the mod-
ule was set up initially (see also Method) and the term module in practice is
used for the way in which the module developed during the research period.
In the following sections we discuss how the dimensions of the model of
blended learning have worked out in practice.

Structured/Unstructured
The module S&T was designed in a highly prestructured manner because
the target group consisted of first-year students who had just entered uni-
versity. The structure had to protect them from the pitfalls of being new at
the university and it had to enable them to learn about and use the analytical
framework for problem analysis (see Figure 2) that governs the whole mod-
ule. Although the main part of the modules relies on structure, there are also
unstructured aspects in the module.
Structure of science and technology module content. The S&T module
content was highly structured when reviewed from the perspectives of the
framework for analysis (see Figure 2). The search for information necessary
to carry out problem analysis was a less structured aspect of the S&T mod-
ule. The digital learning environment STUDIO offered some support in the
form of a few general links to Websites about certain topics. In practice a lot
of students had problems with finding enough information for their analysis.
Therefore, instruction on ways to carry out information searches was added
to the S&T module in the third round. With respect to this dimension the
designed module and the module in practice were quite similar. The balance
Finding a Balance in Dimensions of Blended Learning 511

between structured and unstructured changed little in time because the


framework for the analysis and the electronic forms form the backbone of
the digital learning environment STUDIO and it would be very difficult and
expensive to change. However, over the period of three years it has become
possible to add perspectives to the system and to specify in advance which
perspectives are offered to the students. This was done to accommodate the
wishes of individual faculties and support different types of students.
The high level of the content structure was evaluated positively in the
sense that the structure helped students to reach the learning goals. A major-
ity of the students (round 2: 59.8%; round 3: 59.3%) felt that working with-
in the analysis framework allowed them to learn how to analyze the problem
in greater depth. A large number of the students (round 2: 60.2%; round 3:
65.9%) also believed that they could use the framework to analyze other sit-
uations and problems. The students were positive about the fact that they
could choose in which order they filled out the electronic forms (round 2:
63.3%). One student mentioned that he found it convenient that: “you have
the freedom to write whenever you find information and write it directly in
the electronic forms.”
The content structure also had its disadvantages. Only a small number of
students liked the structure that was offered (round 2: 30.7%). During the
group interviews in round 2, a student remarked, with respect to the structure:

Splitting up the problem into forms works quite well, except that it
makes it very “prechewed” as a result it seems like just a “fill-out”
exercise and we are tempted not to go in depth. Following the style
of the model case it is quite easy to fill out something similar but
whether I learn a lot from it is doubtful.

Some students felt the exercise was a straightforward fill-out-the-blanks


exercise. In the evaluation, the coordinator expressed the idea that some stu-
dents underestimated the depth that was expected of them, which resulted in
some of the groups dropping out of the course. Each form contained a sec-
tion in which students could comment on the way they filled out the form,
and a section in which they could write down the resources they used. These
sections are considered to be an important way of preventing the module
becoming a fill-out-the-blanks exercise. This was recognized by the stu-
dents, they still felt it like a fill-out-the-blanks exercise.
Part of the content that was used in the S&T module was sourced by the
students in the library or from the Internet. Most students used the Internet
to find their information (round 3: 98.8%). The students thought that search-
ing for information on the Internet is easy (round 1: 63.7%; round 3: 70.4%)
and useful (round 3: 87.5%), however there were some problems. Few of the
students (round 2: 22.6%) thought the support offered by the digital learning
512 Verkroost, Meijerink, Lintsen, and Veen

environment STUDIO for searching for information was sufficient. In the


second round, students requested extra instruction on searching because they
had difficulties finding information. This was organized and the students
responded positively to the instruction and said it helped them move for-
ward with the module. The teachers and tutors confirmed that they overesti-
mated the ability of students to find relevant information, and that the stu-
dents needed some extra help in this area. Instruction on information
retrieval was added to the educational program in the third round to give stu-
dents more support with searching for information. This instruction was
only considered to be useful by 14% of the students.
Structure of pacing. The order in which the perspectives had to be worked
out was prestructured in three successive phases: (a) problem definition, (b)
working out the perspectives, and (c) individual phase. Within these phas-
es, the students had the freedom to work as they wished. The electronic
forms, representing the different perspectives, did not necessarily have to be
finished one by one, students could fill them out whenever they came across
relevant information. The first and the third phases were rather small com-
pared to the second phase in which six perspectives had to be worked out.
As the second phase took up most of the time, the students were given some
degrees of freedom. The phases were set in a timeframe that was guarded by
the digital learning environment. The majority of students thought that the
deadlines stimulated them to work more evenly (round 2: 76.8%; round 3:
63.2%). A student said: “due to the definitive nature of the go/no go situa-
tion in the system I worked harder than I would normally have done. You
cannot hold a discussion with a computer.” Some students said this stimu-
lated them while others felt forced to meet deadlines and thought they were
capable of doing their own planning. Some students also said that it did not
matter to them whether they got a strict deadline online or offline, they had
to take them both seriously. Some even felt social pressure would work bet-
ter than computer pressure.

Individual/Group
The designed S&T module consists mostly of group work with a little
individual work at the end. Group work was chosen by the course designers
for pragmatic reasons, like division of work and lessening the workload of
the teacher, rather than for pedagogical reasons. Collaborative learning was
not used in this module as pedagogy; it was used as a didactical method. The
group work consisted of choosing a problem to analyze and analyzing the
problem according to the provided framework. Having finished the analysis
in their groups the students had to form their opinion about the problem and
then write an essay demonstrating their individual viewpoint. In practice,
however, a lot of the group work was done individually in the S&T module.
Finding a Balance in Dimensions of Blended Learning 513

The groups tended to split up the tasks between members and to meet once
in a while to discuss progress and exchange ideas. Therefore, the initial
design of the group has changed over time to a more individual situation.
This development is logical because the different perspectives lend them-
selves easily to task division, given the week connections between the per-
spectives. The evaluation of the balance between individual and group work
took place at two levels: the balance between group work at the beginning
and individual work at the end of the module, and the balance between
working together as a group and working individually within a group.

The balance between the group and individual work. The group work is
designed to support the individual work at the end of the S&T module, the
point at which students have to formulate an individual opinion about the
problem while integrating the information they have found out as a group.
In practice only a small part of the students (round 1: 24.1%) thought that
writing the essay took little extra work after finishing the group work. A
small part of the students also thought that the individual part helped them
to integrate the things they had learned in the group work part (round 2:
32.2%; round 3: 32.6%).

The balance between working together and individually in the group.


Many students appreciated the possibility of being able to divide tasks in the
group (round 2: 83.9%; round 3: 74.5%). The digital learning environment
supported this by saving all the students’ work in a database that was acces-
sible through the Internet. Students from one group could login simultane-
ously and view the work of other group members. It was not possible to
work together on the same electronic form simultaneously on different com-
puters, but all the work that had been done could be seen immediately from
any place. A majority of students (round 2: 92.2%; round 3: 87.4%) appre-
ciated the possibility to share work.
Keeping an overview of what other students did and what they filled out
on the electronic forms was a problem for half of the students (round 3:
50,6%). Tutors and responsible teachers indicated that, because students
divided tasks within the group and took no time to share the knowledge,
each student only learned about the part of the assignment that he/ she did
personally. It was possible to give feedback on, or participate in, other stu-
dents’ work in the digital learning environment STUDIO but it was not
obligatory. During the group meetings in round 2 it was observed that half
of the tutors complied with the task division within the group, they only dis-
cussed with individual students what they needed to change in the form and
other group members were not included in the discussion. A student said: “as
every group member works on his or her own form you are tempted not to
interfere much with what is being filled out other forms. So you only learn
514 Verkroost, Meijerink, Lintsen, and Veen

in depth about one perspective instead of all.” The disadvantage of working


on individual forms was also confirmed by the questionnaire, in which stu-
dents were asked to state which electronic forms helped them to learn the
most about their problem. Most students answered that they learned most
from the specific form they assigned themselves. Besides this, the actor form
was placed at number one as the most valuable form; the explanation for this
is that the “actor perspective” had to be filled out by the entire group. The
actor form also functions as an example for filling out the other forms. Every
now and then the electronic forms were connected, making it impossible to
work alone. A few students mentioned how the overlap stimulated them to
exchange ideas. Most students, however, avoided this and worked only on
their own perspective.

Face-to-Face/At-a-Distance
The designed module consisted of both face-to-face and learning activi-
ties at a distance, with an emphasis on distance learning. Distance learning
took place through the digital learning environment STUDIO and consisted
of filling out forms and communications using chat and message boards.
Face-to-face activities consisted of group meetings, meetings with the coun-
seling teaching assistant, and an introduction lecture. Many more activities
were done face-to-face in the module in practice and the balance changed to
more face-to-face learning. This is logical because the students in this mod-
ule were able to meet face-to-face and the students liked to meet face-to-face
when possible.
Face-to-face contacts with the group and the counseling meetings with
the tutor were valued very highly by the students. Face-to-face meetings
were valued as useful by most of the students (round 3: 86.2%). The tutor’s
help was also valued highly by most students (round 1: 76.8%; round 2:
45%). However, some of the tutors in the evaluation rounds said that they
had experienced difficulties in planning group meetings. Students often did
not plan meetings and worked online on the electronic forms, they also did
not plan time to ask each other for feedback. The students also said they
experienced problems with finding a time when everyone was available for
group meetings. Tutors indicated that it was difficult for them to organize a
proper work place with computer access.
The digital learning environment STUDIO was not used for communica-
tion between group members. The message board was used in round 3 by
28.7% of the students and the chat function by 41.9% of the students. Elec-
tronic mail and face-to-face meetings were the most used communication
tools in round 3 (Electronic mail: 79.3%; face-to-face: 83.7%) but these
forms of communication fall outside the STUDIO environment. This kind of
communication was considered to be easier and more effective. The message
board was used to make appointments with the tutor, but could not be used to
Finding a Balance in Dimensions of Blended Learning 515

facilitate indepth online discussions. It was expected that it would be easier


for some – shy – students to express their opinion in an electronic environ-
ment rather than at a physical meeting. However, most students (round 2:
74.7%) felt that it was more difficult to express their opinions using digital
communication tools. Messages can easily be misunderstood and therefore
more attention has to be paid to the exact wording of the message.
During the observation of the group meeting in round two a student stat-
ed that he would normally never take the initiative to answer a question in a
group situation because other students dominated the conversation. He said
he is the type of person who needs time to formulate answers in his head,
which is difficult to do in a face to face meeting, however, he enjoyed online
discussions with other students because he could take his time. This partic-
ular student might be seen as one of the introvert students described by Har-
rison (2003), who thrives in an online environment.

Self-/Teacher-Directed
In the designed S&T module, the student was made responsible for his or
her own learning and the balance lay with the student. There was one intro-
ductory lecture, after this the students had to work for themselves with the
help of a tutor. They did not meet with the teacher, only with the tutor. In the
S&T module in practice students had problems with taking control of their
learning processes and working in a group. Extra lectures were added in the
third round in conjunction with weekly meetings with the tutors to deal with
this problem. As this approach takes a lot of tutor time, experiments were
also made with different kinds of counseling by the tutor during the third
round: counseling on demand or counseling at a fixed time. The balance has
moved towards being more teacher centered.
Although the students were very positive about the tutor, they would have
liked to have more contact with the teacher (round 2: 58.6%). A small part
of the students felt that they could go to the teacher with their problems
(round 2: 19.6%). Some students added in the interview that they did not
know who the teachers of the module were. The reason some students gave
for wanting to have more direct contact with their teacher is that they real-
ized that the teacher is the person who assesses them in the end of the S&T
module and not the tutor.
Experiments with different forms of counseling from the tutor were con-
ducted in the third round. At the Faculty of Architecture, the meetings with
the tutor were scheduled each week at a regular time. At the Faculty of ITS
the students met with the tutor at their request. Both groups of students were
satisfied with the way the counseling was set up (Architecture: 88.9%; ITS:
94%), however, the students from the Faculty of Architecture preferred to
have meetings at their request (77.8%). The students of the Faculty of ITS
wanted to stick to the current system of meetings on request (80.3%).
516 Verkroost, Meijerink, Lintsen, and Veen

Originally, there was only one introduction lecture scheduled. In the third
round, some lectures were added because it was thought that the students
needed some extra theoretical background. Five extra lectures were sched-
uled at the Faculty of Architecture; one extra lecture was scheduled at the
Faculty of ITS. The students evaluated these extra lectures rather negative-
ly. The students of the Faculty of Architecture, 64.7% thought the lectures
did not give insight into the analysis framework and 70.5% thought the lec-
tures did not support the group assignment. The students of the Faculty of
ITS showed about the same results, 77.8% of the students thought the lec-
ture did not give insight into the analysis framework and 79.7% thought the
lecture did not support the group assignment.

A Changing Blend in Society and Technology


As has been described in the preceding sections, the blend of the mod-
ule S&T has changed in time. The original ideas from the project group,
depicted in Figure 3, have changed in response to experience with the mod-
ule, new insights from teachers and tutors and growing insight into the con-
tent and purpose of the module. This has led to a new blend, which is
depicted in Figure 4. The placements of the X’s in the figures are based on
the common experience and ideas of the team members who have con-
tributed to this article and the results of the evaluations. The exact place-
ment of the balance in the dimension does not give any judgment of
whether this is the best place, but it does give insight into how to develop
and evaluate a blended learning situation.

Figure 3. Blended learning in society and technology as designed


Finding a Balance in Dimensions of Blended Learning 517

Figure 4. Blended learning in society and technology in practice

CONCLUSIONS
Structured/Unstructured
Which level of structure is best, depends on the level of self-regulation of
the student and the students’ knowledge of the subject of the course. In the
case of the S&T module a highly structured format was chosen for the mod-
ule as designed because first-year students with little experience of univer-
sity life, and with the subject, are the target group. The module in practice
shows that the target group is heterogeneous and that some students appre-
ciate structure and others do not. A good learning environment should be
adaptive to these differences; STUDIO does not have this facility. Structure
was valued positively because it supported them as they conducted their
learning activities and worked towards reaching their learning goals. Struc-
ture was valued negatively because it made students feel they were in a
straight jacket and that the learning was consequently a fill out the blanks
exercise, this could lead to students underestimating the knowledge level
they had to reach. Students like to have control over the order and pacing in
which they “zap” through their learning activities (Veen, 2003).
The Internet as a source for content is easily accessible but its use does
not always lead to a good and useful results because it is a highly unstruc-
tured environment. Support for the search on the Internet can be offered
using (online) instructions and a list of resources. Students value these kinds
of support more when they address the personal information needs of the
students as an individual.
518 Verkroost, Meijerink, Lintsen, and Veen

Individual/Group
The choice for individual or group work can be made on different
grounds and depends largely on the place in the curriculum, the added value
of group work over individual work and the students’ prior experiences with
group work. These preconditions have to be taken into account and steer the
design of a blended learning environment. In the case of S&T group work
was chosen as a cooperative pedagogy to save the teacher’s time. As a con-
sequence the groups functioned more like a work team than a learning team,
each student conducting his own task. Explicit attention to sharing learning
in the group meetings and peer review can promote group learning.
It is also possible to combine group and individual work. In the S&T case
an individual assignment and assessment after group work was used to
assess how much the individual student had learned during the course. The
cooperative pedagogy and the group functioning as work teams made that
students were not always prepared for the individual part at the end. They
had not learned from their group members and got into difficulties when
they had to write a reflective essay about the total work of the group indi-
vidually. This experience makes clear that the group work and individual
work should be well integrated and consequences of a chosen pedagogy
should be well thought out.

Face-to-Face/At-a-Distance
The choice for face-to-face education or education at-a-distance is often
guided by preconditions such as the working and learning situation of the
learner and travel distance. The S&T module is taught at a traditional cam-
pus with full-time students. The learning culture at Delft University of Tech-
nology is rather traditional with considerable student-teacher interaction.
This may be one reason why students value the face-to-face approach and
the balance between face-to-face and distance education in the module S&T
has developed over time from an online into a more face-to-face approach.
In other situations, where students live at a distance or study part-time a
face-to-face approach can be impossible and a distance approach will be
necessary and perceived as more natural. Despite the shift towards more
face-to-face education in the S&T case, the groups also have worked togeth-
er at-a-distance. Communication was an important issue.
For communicating at-a-distance students mainly used communication
tools which were already used by them, such as a mobile phone, email and
short message services (sms). An investment in expensive communication
tools in the STUDIO digital environment appeared to be superfluous. Some
students did have problems with expressing their opinions on digital com-
munication forms. If these kinds of problems exist, students should be given
coaching on how to use digital communication forms effectively.
Finding a Balance in Dimensions of Blended Learning 519

Face-to-face communication was sometimes difficult to plan. It was not


always possible for students to find a time and place to organize face-to-face
group meetings easily. Where and when these meetings should take place
should be thought about in advance.

Self/Teacher Directed
Making students responsible for their own learning is important, how-
ever, there is a need to consider, in advance, what level of responsibility
the students can handle and how the new competencies required for self
directed learning can be acquired. Educational practice is often more
teacher centered than student centered because first-year students have
difficulty dealing with the responsibilities they face when they enter uni-
versity. In secondary education in the Netherlands attention is given to
project work and group work but students do not always show skills in
these areas when they enter the university. The question is: How can we
deal with this situation? When designing a self-directed e-learning system
it is important to think of ways of supporting students in the new compe-
tencies they need for self-directed learning. Additional lectures on the
theoretical background have not proven immediately successful for the
S&T module at TUD.

DISCUSSION
The Value of the Model
The results of one case can give an impulse to considering designing
other blended learning environments. The recognition of others’ experiences
can also support the teacher finding his way into blended learning. The expe-
rience with one case suggests that the model and the four dimensions can be
useful in the design and development of effective blended learning environ-
ments. It has be used to give insight into the functioning of the module Soci-
ety and Technology at TUD, and it has been used to point out the challenges
still facing the designers of the module.
The broad definition of blended learning, used in this article, has given
some problems in restricting the evaluation and the focus of the article.
When blended learning is defined as the total pedagogical mix all princi-
ples for good education have to be taken into account. Some researchers
(Driscoll, 2002; Oliver & Trigwell, 2005) therefore state that blended
learning is not new, it is just a redefinition of old principles. However, we
feel that the incorporation of the use of ICT into pedagogical models as
an essential element instead of an add-on afterwards will lead to a trans-
formation of educational practice and not duplication of old practices
with new tools.
520 Verkroost, Meijerink, Lintsen, and Veen

Future Research
This article develops and uses a model for blended learning within the
setting of one case. The results concerning the value of the model and the
balancing with dimensions of blended learning are therefore of restricted
value. Application of this model in other cases can give an impulse to the
refinement of the model and the identification of preconditions which are
important in balancing the dimensions. This is in agreement with the move-
ment in instructional design, where educationalists are trying to define
generic principles for the design of instructional material rather than using
the variety of models that exist today. (Westen, Gandell, McAlpine, & Fikel-
stein, 1999; Dijkstra, 2001; Merrill, 2002).

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