Professors are increasingly combining face-to-face classroom teaching with digital learning. Some professors do so by choice, incorporating new digital learning opportunities into their practices over time. In other instances, the decision is made top-down; increasingly, department administrators are transforming post-secondary programs with the goal of expediency – to reach more students with fewer resources.
Whether chosen or required, the move to a blended classroom can be a delicate and challenging process. In the following, I will discuss a few of my findings from a two-year study I conducted on successful blended learning.
Blended / Hybrid / Mixed-mode Instruction
There are many terms for the act of threading together traditional in-person teaching with digital learning. Whether it’s referred to as blended, hybrid, or mixed-mode instruction, the idea remains the same: the walls of the classroom do not confine learning space for your course. Although there is no finite definition for what makes a course officially ‘blended’, a true blended learning course involves a careful mix of learning strategies – interpersonal and virtual.
In order to be successful, the act of blending takes consideration and care to integrate both learning experiences. Some questions to consider when developing a hybrid course are:
- How many times will you meet in person?
- Will there be designated times and deadlines for online work?
- How will the grading (incentives) be split?
- What are the learning goals for each in-class and online lesson?
- How will the digital learning inform the classroom exchanges, and vice-versa? How will they build upon one another?
When thinking about these provocations, it is important to take into consideration the differences between classroom and online opportunities, and the unique opportunities for instruction, collaboration, or independent thinking.
Key 1: Creating a smooth blend: (Re)Conceiving your curriculum
Traditionally, a professor might assign course readings outside of class, or have students conduct research. These are independent activities for students, whereas the primary course interactions would be in person (in the lecture hall, lab, tutorial, or through assignment submissions/feedback).
In a hybrid course, much more goes on outside of the classroom experience: students may be challenged to complete quizzes online, interact with flash-based games and exercises, independently watch documentaries or video clips, and collaborate with their peers through online forums. These activities may be time sensitive, or done at the discretion of the student. The professor may participate online, or have the ability to track students’ digital progression. Regardless of the precise design details, the goal is to create a homogeneous learning experience across diverse media.
Michael Power describes an effective blend as a horizontal course model where in-class and out-of-class curricula work together toward a learning objective; these may include thematic modules or foundational course concepts. In class activities should build on the online learning, and vice versa. Without a clear connection between in and out-of-class content, your course could feel segmented, like two parallel courses.
More so than traditional lecture-based courses, blended learning requires substantial up-front planning; all online resources will need to be finalized, confirmed, and available chronologically. It is integral to have a clear and simple road map at the beginning of your course, outlining what is expected of students, in which environment, and by which dates.
Your curriculum should also consider the learning curve your students may need in adapting to new technologies. For instance, if you are doing online quizzes, consider offering only participation grades or running a non-graded quiz to ensure you and the students know how to proceed with the medium in the future.
Ultimately, your curriculum must take into account developing a consistent flow, balancing multiple media, and capitalizing on opportunities for instruction and activity.
Key 2: Facilitating a smooth experience: (Re)Conceiving your pedagogy
It is important to consider the implications of the technology you’re adopting when strategizing your course. As I’ve discussed previously, technology has a transformative potential for teaching and learning.
Randy Garrison & Heather Kanuka suggest that by balancing in-class instruction with online learning, blended learning has the potential for innovative, active, and student-centered instruction. However, the pedagogical ramification of this structure is that some professors may sense a loss of control over the experience of their course and a strained connection with their students. If more of the students’ learning is happening outside of the professor’s purview, you may need to adjust your perception of your role in the course.
Research outlining the move to blended and hybrid teaching consistently finds that professors must re-examine their implicit beliefs about teaching and explicit pedagogic practices. Especially in the instance of less face-to-face time than a traditional lecture-based course, professors may be compelled to simply truncate their existing lectures. However, in the place of a lecture, it is beneficial to allocate time to ensure students make learning connections between online and in-class material. To mirror their activity online, students will also benefit from active participation and an open channel for communication in the classroom.
While you remain an expert and important source of instruction for your students, you may find your role shift to more of a learning facilitator. In a blended course, your curriculum is a jumping-off point for your students’ exploratory learning. In order to be successful, students are required to be engaged in, and responsible for, their own learning.
A Shared Education: Be Open to Learning!
Adopting a blended model is a challenge and an opportunity for both you and your students. And, as with the pursuit of knowledge, there is no final destination for successful blended pedagogy. Blended education is optimal when done incrementally; giving yourself time for adopting new media, adjusting your and your students’ expectations, and reflecting on the learning that was anticipated and actualized through assessment.
If you are attempting your first blended course, be open to your students’ assessments of the material. Just as you hope they will take away new ideas about your course content, you also have the opportunity to grow your pedagogical practices.
What is your experience of blended learning? What challenges and opportunities has it afforded your teaching? Leave your thoughts below.
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