The issues raised in the Garrison article in part 3, on the benefits provided by asyncronous discussion as opposed to real-time face to face are significant. Positively, in that it enables students with less confidence, or processing/learning difficulties, the period of time required to provide a competent response with which they are happy. In a face to face setting this can be immensely troubling, especially if the student feels that the encounter may affect their course marks; if marks decline, regardless of whether it’s related to the student’s inhibitions, the student may steadily withdraw altogether from complex discussion scenarios and play a safer card, which lessens the learning experience for all involved. The ability to prepare responses beforehand can be valuable.
However, there can be a tension between formality and informality here too. When essays are augmented with performance in tutorials, it’s obviously in the student’s interest to excel in both. With the informality of discussion forums though, students may feel a swing towards devoting their thoughts to the marked work, and ‘save’ relevant insights for their essays. I’ve certainly felt this occur at times when considering posts in the discussion forums; the more you write and think about something, the more relevant it becomes to the assessed work (the blog) and the likelihood of actually posting it in public becomes proportionally less.
Presumably this tendency exists far more in Humanities subjects than sciences/medicine, and seems related to confidence as well – the balshier students will just go ahead and post the same thing in both blog and forum, and there’ll be nothing wrong with that. But the students are justified in being sceptical as to how far tutors will read into the informal segments of any generation of learning environments, including blended learning, simply because it’s a new horizon for all concerned. In my undergraduate degree I was accused of plagiarism and found the idea preposterous; turns out I just wrote prose in a style that the tutor found to be unexpected. The accusation was worthwhile; had I not been consulted, the given mark could conceivably have been artificially lowered, through no fault of my own other than indulging in study and the task too deeply.