Sunday, September 21, 2008

Blending Modes for Learning

Designing instruction to take advantage of the benefits of both face-to-face and online learning is called blended learning. Modes of blending are many - the combination of class sessions seem endless - but success is assured by carefully choosing the delivery mode based on most effective delivery of content and sound pedagogy.

In a way, students are beginning to blend their curriculum on their own. They choose online classes to supplement face-to-face classes. An intriguing trend has emerged at UIS:

Blended Active Learning

Research consistently shows that engaging students in the learning process leads to better learning outcomes. Engagement can come among students, with the instructor, or with the discipline. More resources on blended learning are available in this blog:

Recipe for the Best Blended Learning

Jared Carman of Knowledge Net suggests in this paper that there are five key ingredients in blended learning:

  1. Live events (those that generally take place in the classrom - or perhaps via Web conferencing)
  2. Self-paced learning modules (those segments that are done in online format - such as reflective essays and journaling)
  3. Collaboration (those activities that engage students with students or others - often done online via social networking Web 2.0 tools)
  4. Assessment (examinations, self-assessments are done both online and face-to-face)
  5. Performance support materials (reference materials simulations, tools - all of which can be either online or face-to-face)

These ingredients are blended via the online and face-to-face modalities in ways to assure optimum learning outcomes.

Meeting the Students Where they Are

When we begin any class, we meet students where they are. Many times we do a pre-assessment to see what relevant learning has already taken place. We determine, formally or informally, what backfilling needs to be done before we can begin moving forward together.

Meeting our students where they are means more than just academic content. Increasingly our students are older, employed, balancing multiple responsibilities and commuting to campus. Recent increases in fuel costs have meant that some students are paying more to commute TO the campus than they are paying in tuition!

Discouraging Dishonesty

Many who have not taught online wonder how one can discourage dishonesty. There are many strategies that are easy to implement and not costly. A few of the more popular ones are:

  • Use unique case studies each semester
  • Require distant students to take exams using a proctor
  • Phone students (or use VoIP) for an oral exam
  • Try Turnitin or another anti-plagiarism software tool
  • Create an honor code for the class
  • Require annotated bibliographies for final papers
  • These and many other strategies can help you achieve a greater certainty of integrety than in on campus classes.

UIS has an online test proctoring policy:

There are several online anti-plagiarism tools, including:

Mid Course Adjustments - Formative Evaluations

An excellent strategy is to build in formative student feedback. At midterm - or thereabout - it is a good practice to conduct an evaluation to see if you are on target with the class.

A great tool is Fast, the free assessment tool.

One of the great features of this system is the long list of suggested questions: You can use these or build your own question list.

What Does a Quality Online Course Look Like?

Cal State Chico posed this question. They came up with some good answers that comprise a qualitative rubric for assessing online courses in six areas - these work well in designing the online portion of blended classes:
  • Learner Support and Resources
  • Instructional Design and Delivery
  • Innovative Teaching with Technology
  • Online Organization and Design
  • Assessment and Evaluation
  • Faculty use of Student Feedback

Synchronous Online Learning

Real time communication afforded by synchronous online learning can provide many advantages in enhancing interaction and engagement. But, there are the challenges of finding times at which all of the students can meet. These are further complicated when students reside on multiple continents crossing many time zones. Many of the Web conference software programs provide for recording sessions to be viewed at a later time by those seeking to review or who could not make the original session.

However, we find that faculty members often times will weave a number of synchronous sessions into the semester. Particularly popular are sessions held prior to midterm and final exams. Also popular are "virtual office hours" in which faculty members make themselves available for one-on-one or small group meetings via such technologies as the linked Elluminate V-room.

Opportunities for Collaboration

USM has joined six other institutions in seeking best practices in online and blended learning. A series of faculty development workshops are available online. The first one, Copyright and the Teach Act, is available via pre-recorded Elluminate. A session on online assessment will be presented live on October 9.

Some Additional Resources

Here are some additional useful resources:

Educause publications on blended learning:

Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks articles on blended learning:

Sloan Consortium 2006 report on blended learning in the U.S.:

University of Manitoba blended learning wiki:

Building Effective Blended Learning Programs - Harvey Singh:

Strategies for Building Blended Learning - Learning Circuits:

The new digital Bloom's Taxonomy (from the American Psychological Assn):

Center for Technology-Enhanced Learning

USM has a unit to provide faculty development and instructional development for online and blended learning classes. Please contact:
  • David Vardeman 780-4077
  • Scott Kimball 780-4238
  • Sue Goodrich 228-8001

Contact Information

Ray Schroeder
Professor Emeritus and Director
Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning
University of Illinois at Springfield
Springfield, IL 62703