Communication emerged as one of the major issues in the first academic year (as noted earlier). We believe that implementation of aspects related to aspects of the Conversational Framework will be able to address the difficulties with communication. This is because central to the concept of it is the dialogue between the student and teacher, if a continuous dialogue is established, misunderstandings are more likely to be pre-empted and learning facilitated.
Figure 6 illustrates the way the communication channels, available within our environment, can be ordered in respect of their Efficiency and Effectiveness.
In this model we grade options to both staff and students to communicate on channels available on the course. Most efficiency is achieved online on discussion boards, and maximum efficacy is achieved in the face-to-face sessions. For example greater efficiency can be achieved through encouraging students to support each other through discussion boards, leaving the resolution of the more challenging issues to the face-to-face sessions with members of staff. This means that students don’t have to wait until they have a chance to speak to a member of staff, but can get help and continue with their work. If a question and/or the answer are complex, it is better to use face-to-face sessions, which have greater efficacy, and are “richer” (Daft and Lengel, 1984), the same applies to issues that are sensitive and are best discussed in person. This emerges from students’ comments that understanding/learning is easier in class (using visual, audio and body language) than through online discussions (textual communication).
Taking into account the E-Moderating model as proposed by Gilly Salmon, we can see some parallel developments emerging that urge us to think about a more careful student induction. In particular the student induction to the communication tools available, would benefit from an approach that introduces the discussion boards and the way these have to be used by individuals for communication. It would also be of benefit to encourage the use of appropriate media by suggesting good practice examples. However, we contend that one advantage that Blended Learning has over E-learning, is the participants being able to socialise face-to-face.
In relation to learning styles, a reliance on the conversation within the learning process may disadvantage those students who are not keen on discussions. Discussions, however, are an important component of Key Skills (Verbal Communication), which in turn are essential for student employability. Adoption of the conversational framework would require interactive lectures/tutorials that are extended to online discussions. Students will be expected to do more reading and preparation outside the face-to-face sessions and interact with their peers online, discussing for example answers to some homework questions.