The role of blended learning for community cohesion: lessons from Northern Ireland

Roger Austin, Rhiannon N. Turner
2020 Technology, Pedagogy and Education  
The rise of populist nationalist politics round the world, endemic tensions around issues of identity and the displacement of millions of people through war and civil conflict has brought a sharp focus on the role that schools might play in building community cohesion. This article presents the findings of survey data collected from 58 teachers (36 Catholic, 21 Protestant, 1 no affiliation) in Northern Ireland who had completed a course on 'blended learning', a blend of face to face and online
more » ... ontact, to link schools involved in Shared Education. This is the 2016 Northern Ireland government policy designed to bring pupils from different types of schools together to engage in purposeful curricular work and through collaborative learning, improve educational outcomes and learn respect for cultural difference. Although blended learning has the potential to increase the effectiveness of Shared Education, to date no research has empirically examined teachers' perceptions of what influence it has in this context. This study remedies that deficit. A number of important findings emerged from the research. First, prior to 2017, when teachers received training in blended learning, nearly all contact between their schools was face to face. After the training, teachers stated that the use of a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) for joint work was used more than either real-time video-conferencing or face to face contact and was believed to have had the greatest impact on pupils' knowledge and attitudes towards each other. Two thirds of the teachers agreed that in their future planning for Shared Education, equal importance should be given to the place of online learning and face to face contact. Second, teachers reported that this approach had had a positive impact on friendship development, the capacity of children to work together, respect for difference and normalising relations between their pupils. Third, we suggest that this data provides strong endorsement of the use of blended learning for mainstreaming Shared Education in Northern Ireland and has important lessons in other parts of the world where issues of ethnicity, identity and faith are obstacles to community cohesion. Keywords; blended learning; computer-mediated communication; collaborative learning; crosscultural projects; country-specific developments; improving classroom teaching 1.Introduction Research on links between schools has increasingly included the role of ICT in connecting schools as part of a blended approach to community cohesion, where pupils are linked through both face to face work and regular online interaction. Turner & Cameron (2016) underlined the potential value of
doi:10.1080/1475939x.2020.1756906 fatcat:xjzowq7grzdtfdvibt5dfwb4xq