The focus of this study was on the perspectives of language teachers on the use of blended learning approaches with regard to the teaching of the current 21st-century learner. Two core considerations guided this study. The first related to the significant role that the teacher’s perspective plays on educational reform efforts, and the second concerned blended learning as a teaching and learning strategy for language teaching.
New technologies can be regarded as synonymous with future-oriented education. With technological advances being so characteristic of the 21st century, it is necessary to redesign and transform the way in which teaching and learning occurs within the classroom. Within the contextual framework of the 21st-century classroom, it should be noted that technology forms part of the overall frame of reference for today’s learners. The changing educational landscape urges the teacher to embrace an innovative disposition with regard to teaching and learning, and to explore ways in which technology can be integrated meaningfully within the curriculum framework and be combined with the most valued features of traditional learning experiences to ultimately transform the language classroom in terms of the nature and quality of the educational experience.
The concept of blended learning is widely accepted in the literature as an integrated approach to learning between traditional face-to-face approaches and computer-aided, web-based or online approaches (Olivier 2013:47). Garrison and Kanuka (2004:99) state that a single mode of instructional delivery may not provide sufficient choices, engagement, social contact, relevance and context needed to successfully teach and learn within the contextual framework of the 21st century.
It is clear that taking these views into account within the contextual framework of language teaching, blended learning has the potential to transform the language class into an environment where new, previously unthinkable tasks become possible and the right blend can be used to create a collaborative environment and support constructivist and authentic learning experiences.
On the basis of the above arguments, we identified the following problems that this study took into account:
1) Conflict between integration policies and practices may arise in cases where policies governing technology integration and innovative teaching and learning practices are adopted in schools without the recognition of teacher perspectives.
2) The implementation of innovative approaches to language teaching based in 21st-century teaching and learning practices may create uncertainty in instances where the teacher is not familiar with the necessary pedagogical knowledge and practical skills for technology integration.
The purpose of the study was to contribute to the research that has already been done on blended learning and to expand the field of research, namely the integration of blended learning in high school language teaching. Given the crucial role of teachers’ perspectives in ensuring successful and meaningful implementation of innovative teaching and learning approaches, we investigated the perspectives of eight language educators through the lens of an interpretivist case study approach. These language educators currently use blended learning approaches within the parameters of the existing national curriculum.
The insights gained from the semi-structured interviews and from a focus group interview were analysed according to a content analysis approach to ultimately answer the main research question of this study, namely: What perspectives do language teachers have concerning the use of blended learning methods in their classrooms? In order to answer this question, we relied on key informants who have first-hand knowledge of the integration of blended learning within the language teaching space. We purposefully decided which persons would be approached to inquire whether they would participate in the investigation. This ensured that persons who were knowledgeable on the subject were included in the study (Burns and Grove 2001:376).
Language teachers who completed a short course on blended learning at Stellenbosch University were our preferred candidates for the purposes of this study. These key informants comprised grade 8 to 12 language teachers from three language departments, namely Afrikaans Home Language and First Additional Language, English Home Language and First Additional Language and the Department of Foreign Languages at a section 21 high school in the Western Cape. The findings of this study provides a detailed description of the lived experiences of teachers practising blended learning integration in the language classroom.
Borg (2015:2) states that insights gained from the field of psychology elucidate how perspectives exert a significant influence on human action. It can be concluded that studying teacher perspectives is central to gaining insight into the teaching-learning process. According to Levin and Wadmany (2006:159), teacher perspectives can be described as teachers’ implicit beliefs about educational issues such as knowledge, teaching, learning and the curriculum. Studying teachers’ perspectives is an important facet of many areas of education, including the field of technology integration (Galvis 2012:96).
The study found that divergent factors influence teachers’ perspectives. Teachers may maintain a positive attitude towards the integration of learning technology in language teaching, but considerations such as contextual factors related to the practical implementation of blended learning, limited knowledge of the pedagogical principles that are foundational to blended learning approaches, and the omission of teacher involvement during the planning and implementation phases of educational reform efforts are ultimately strong determinants of teachers’ classroom practices.
In this study we also make recommendations firstly with regard to bridging contextual factors that bask in blended learning implementation, secondly with regard to modifying blended learning integration policies to enhance teacher engagement and build pedagogical knowledge on innovative teaching methods and, thirdly, with regard to the design of a general planning framework that can be used by teachers during lesson planning to ensure meaningful technology integration.
The study contributes to educational research by establishing the teacher’s perspective as an important consideration for successful educational reform movements. The study also makes an important contribution to the adoption of technology-driven educational practices in the local South African context.
Keywords: 21st-century learner; blended learning; perspectives of language teachers; social constructivism; teaching practice