Ingredients of a Good Blend
We all agree that the blended learning format is here to stay and provides great convenience and opportunities for students, faculty, and administration. It also allows us to explore alternate pedagogies and strategies to enhance interaction and learning. So what are critical ingredients of a blended approach?
1. Administrative: To me, the first step seems to be addressing the administrative aspects – what percent of time of a credit or course will be off-site? – a range from 35%-55% may be? Following this definition, it’ll be good to set a unique course id or definition to let participants know that this is a different format. Another possible question that can come up at this stage is - can all three modalities of a course co-exist, or will blended replace on-site versions?
2. Design: In designing the course, it is critical to keep in mind that this is not just a process of converting an on-site or online course to a blended mode. A “conversion approach” can easily result in a 3 credit course becoming double the workload for faculty and students. A redesign of the course if one already exists is critical to getting the blended approach right. If you are starting from scratch – even better… Further, the course should be ready to go on Day 1 with built-in flexibility for due dates – this is not one where you want to take a “build as you go” approach. So the big question here is do faculty have time – because, for the first couple of rounds, this “is” going to be time-consuming. The other question to consider at the design phase is class size – how does the blended approach work with say, 100 students?
3. Integration: A detailed integration and alignment of objectives, content, activities, and assignments will be needed to get this going. Most blended courses will have active learning and interaction components – so aligning will help make the course seamless as opposed to a random mix of resources.
4. Structure: The blended mode in particular, will need to have a very specific structure, defined expectations, consistency, and clear instructions, mainly because it is a newer format and less familiar to both students and faculty. Too many last minute changes can make it a confusing experience. The design needs to take into consideration the issues that can come up and address them early on. For example, a common complaint such as “students don’t come prepared to the on-site meetings” – can be addressed by having them submit questions or a brief summary before the onsite meeting, complete a survey, etc.
5. Interactivity: The blended approach is a great opportunity to break from lectures and incorporate interactive, collaborative learning experiences and alternative modes of learning. Doing so can also seem to increase workload due to the preparatory steps needed, but having a “well-defined” structure could alleviate most issues. Here is an interesting example of how a faculty member adopted cooperative learning strategies – the section “Challenges for the Teacher” is interesting… http://depts.washington.edu/cidrweb/resources/cooperativelearning.html
Now all the above would be much easier with appropriate infrastructure in place – instructional designers, course management systems, & technical support. Happy Teaching!!!