Online discussions are now available as a pedagogical option in blended learning environments in universities. Much of the research to date has focused on the characteristics of this computer-mediated environment and its potential for learning and there has been less examination of wider contextual factors. This chapter presents case study research which investigates online discussions as they occur within the broader framework of the learning design or curriculum within a blended environment in a campus-based degree programme. The chapter provides insights into influential factors for undergraduate student learning and makes recommendations for teachers who wish to advance the educational potential of the new communication medium.
Blended learning practice in campus-based education is marked by enormous diversity, and this is also reflected in the literature. The introductory chapter to this book acknowledges the wide variety of definitions and frameworks, however most writers have referred to a mixture of face-to-face and ICT based environments. Littlejohn and Pegler (2007) emphasized the role of ICT in their concept of ‘blended e-learning’ which prompts readers to consider the ideas of e-learning and also its introduction into campus settings as two separate concepts. The increase in the use of the term blended learning has been accompanied by a commensurate decrease in references to the term ‘flexible learning.’Graham (2006) identified access and flexibility as one of the major reasons for blended learning but did not explore the connection to flexible learning in any depth. The dominance now of the new idea of ‘blends’ rather than flexibility within universities, raising questions concerning the philosophical and pedagogical differences between them and their impact on learning.