Though there are a number of research studies on the adoption of a blended learning approach to enhance learning, few comparative studies have examined the use of this approach for inter-class activities. Two undergraduate classes at different levels of study participated in an online discussion, an online debate, and two face-to-face debates. Data were gathered for triangulated analysis from a questionnaire that solicited participants’ opinions, from focus group meetings, and from tracked statistics provided by the learning platform. The tracked statistics showed that the participants often read online postings but not many of them expressed their opinions online. Both the responses to the questionnaire and the opinions expressed in the focus group meetings showed that they preferred a face-to-face approach to an online learning approach. Furthermore, the students embraced the opportunity to interact with another class when preparing and having face-to-face debate.
The great expansion in the use of the Internet that began in the mid-1990s changed the landscape of the publication, dissemination, and exchange of information. Internet resources are now easily available for learners to learn at their own pace and in their own time (Wong, Kamahis, & Tang, 2006), and publications on the web can be very different from those on paper. Digital materials can include simulations, games (Jonassen, Peck, & Wilson, 1999; Laurillard, 2002), web-based video clips, and digital stories (Hur, 2009). The Internet not only provides vast resources for learning but also offers various online communication channels. For example, wikis, online chat rooms, and discussion forums provide simple and convenient opportunities for single or multiple users to discuss asynchronously (at different times) or synchronously (at the same time) so that learners from different backgrounds and diverse locations can share their opinions and extend learning outside of the classroom (Ng, 2010a). Lai and Ng (2010) adopted a discussion forum as a platform to facilitate peer learning and assessment between two classes of student teachers. The majority of the participants expressed their enthusiasm for this new experience and affirmed that they did not encounter any obstacles in creating and commenting on virtual presentations (Lai & Ng, 2011). Participants had to assume the roles of initiator and co-participant in online learning processes (Collis & Moonen, 2001). In other words, the teaching and learning became a shared experience. Good e-mentors need to adopt both proactive and reactive strategies; that is, they need to know when and how to provide expert input and act as a learning peer, and when to remain silent (Wong & Looi, 2010). Indeed, learners consistently rate communication and support from educators and other learners as being a major influence on their learning (Fredericksen, Pickett, & Shea, 2000; Sims, 2003).