FDOL 2014


Supporting Learners: Building confidence with the small blend approach

Many support questions I receive are focused on how different tools are used and how they work,  but beyond knowledge and skills  I believe there is also an uncertainty how to engage, act and communicate within the new context the tools bring, which makes me think again about digital literacy, especially the essential elements presented by Belshaw 2012 (p.206 ff). He writes:

” …. I would suggest that the eight essential elements of digital literacies are:  cultural, cognitive, constructive, communicative, confidence, creative, critical, civic.”

Without going into what all of these factors mean, teachers should at least have the confidence part  (when they want or need) to learn a new tool/media/environment to support the designed teaching and learning activities since there are so many factors to consider.  There is the relation between learning outcomes, teaching and learning activities and assessment, perhaps they need to make room for  flexibility in time, space and delivery  and –  and at the same time, in turn supporting students in a proactive way (Simpson 2008)  – perhaps with a different framework based on positive psychology … well…there is a lot to think about 🙂

It is clear that in some situations baby steps are needed to take – or call it  the blends approach (from the 3E Framework design, Smyth et al, 2011).   The framework  focuses on how to implement technology in a meaningful way into a  teaching and learning context . To do this we employ a continuum: Enchance,  Extend and Empower developing practical examples for each level.  The different levels in the continuum are described like this:

Enhance: Adopting technology in simple and effective ways to actively support students and increase their activity and self- responsibility

Extend: Further use of technology that facilitates key aspects of student’s individual and collaborative learning and assessment through increasing their choice and control

Empower: Developed use of technology that requires higher order individual and collaborative learning that reflects how knowledge is created and used in the professional environment

The enhance level here is the minimum implementation, the small blend approach. One example could be within the self-assessment area, adding multiple choice tests online for the students to test their knowledge. Those kinds of tools are easy to operate – try for instance with TedEd (see my last post) or use a  stand-alone quiz engine like proprofs . As for the extended part the teacher can link the self-tests to different sections and include model answers for students.  Last, in the empowering level the learners as a group create the questions themselves. When I read about this I immediately thought of Peerwise which is used  for instance at our faculty of Medicine at Lund University.

Peerwise, a free tool, lets the students formulate multiple choice questions anonymously, relate them to different content modules and tag them with concept tags. They also need to write an explanation for each question. Other students can solve the question, read the explanation and comment. The question and the explanation can both be rated on difficulty and quality and it is also possible for the  students  to improve the explanation.   This kind of tool might be more of a challenge to integrate in a course; it requires you to know how to motivate the learners to use it, how to integrate it in the teaching & learning activities and how to support the students (even though the tool is actually not difficult to use).

In other words, there is a difference between adding a couple of multiple choice questions to the readings and integrating the latter system – and the 3E framework with examples could be a way to support the choices on our workshops. I am drawn to the idea of presenting different levels of meaningful implementation of digital tools/media. The small blends approach could bring confidence assurance and be a knowledge builder for the teacher and at the next level you would still have examples to inspire those who are already involved.

This reminds me of the  epiphany I experienced  decoding the SOLO-taxonomy a couple of years ago, realising that the word understand could be divided into both levels of understanding and significance. Teaching with technology/digital tools and media also means different things for different people (in both a good and bad way) and I think that one way to support our teachers and our students is to give a nuanced overview over possibilities and challenges.

Next week we have a group meeting where we are discussing if and how the 3E framework could inspire some parts of our LATHE course (Learning and Teaching in Higher Education) –  we will see if small blends is the new black for this fall.


Peerwise: http://peerwise.cs.auckland.ac.nz/
Read more about Peerwise here: http://www.peerwise-community.org/publications/
uiz engine: http://www.proprofs.com/
Create a lesson with a TedTalk: http://ed.ted.com/

See interview with Marcus Granmo from Lund University here (only in swedish)


Belshaw, D. (2012). What is’ digital literacy’? A Pragmatic investigation.

Simpson, O. (2008). Motivating learners in open and distance learning: do we need a new theory of learner support?. Open Learning23(3), 159-170.

Smyth et al. (2011). Benchmark for the use of technology in modules. Edinburgh Napier University