Exploring the challenges of managing a blended learning course

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Murphy, Tony
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There is an argument to suggest that the use of digital technology challenges higher education institutes (HEIs) to think about how and why they function the way they do; “the virtual university is . . . the university made concrete?” (Cornford, 2000). How does that argument play out with the processes that go into managing a blended learning course? Are the typical processes behind managing the development and delivery of a course challenged once that course goes blended? This presentation reports on a study that explored the challenges of managing the development and delivery of blended learning courses in three higher education institutes (HEIs) in Ireland. Taking a multiple case study approach and utilising Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT), more specifically Engeström’s (2015) activity systems model (ASM), the research sought to highlight these challenges by identifying contradictions in the activity systems for developing and delivering blended learning in each of the three HEIs. The presentation outlines how the three cases were examined by analysing interviews and official documentation to construct activity systems for the development and delivery of blended learning for each case. The outcome was three quite different activity systems revealing three quite different management approaches. The presentation also shows how Engeström’s (2015) ASM was used to highlight the different contradictions identified in each of the three different activity systems. These contradictions are used to highlight the challenges associated with each of the three different approaches adopted to managing blended learning course development and delivery. The findings of the study can inform the future management of blended learning courses by showing what types of challenges can emerge depending on which management approach is adopted. The presentation also discusses how exploring these activity systems, and their corresponding contradictions, contributes to the argument that digital technology, in this case blended learning, has had an impact on how HEIs function and manage processes, especially within the context of the managerial-collegiality debate and the emergence of what has been termed neo-collegiality in higher education in Ireland.