PREPARING STUDENTS FOR BLENDED COURSES

A thoughtfully designed and developed blended learning course does not ensure a successful course.  The delivery of your course requires a potentially-different set of skills and approaches than a traditional lecture-based course.  Preparing your students for this new blended learning approach is a critical part of delivering your course.

UNDERSTANDING STUDENT PERSPECTIVES

Going into a blended course for the first time, it is important to know what you are up against with regard to student perspectives.  Patsy Moskal and Thomas B. Cavanagh published the article  “Blended Learning Evaluation Beyond the University” in which they reported results on student’s perspectives on their blended learning experiences.

TOP FIVE THINGS STUDENTS LIKE MOST ABOUT BLENDED LEARNING (N=736)
Time saving/convenient/flexible
Instructor (or other class characteristics)
Use of technology in learning
Easy methods of/and getting help
Able to review content/access material whenever
43%
16%
15%
10%
9%
TOP FIVE THINGS STUDENTS LIKE LEAST ABOUT BLENDED LEARNING  (N=807)
Technology issues
Instructor/other class characteristics
Time-consuming/intensive
Less teaching time by instructor/less actual class time
Procrastination/time-management issues
17%
17%
13%
13%
9%

COMMUNICATING A RATIONALE
WHY AM I DOING THIS?

Students have spent a lifetime developing skills for learning in a certain way.  Changing the rules of the game might be met with strong resistence if not accompanied by an explanation about the reasons for the change and the affordances gained by this approach.

The reasons for adopting a blended learning approach vary greatly, but listed below are some common motivations for instructors.

  • Ability to facilitate deeper, more-active learning experiences.
  • Interacting in activities that reinforce knowledge and provide formative feedback that prepares students for summative feedback (ex. quizzes).
  • Greater retention and application of content.
  • Enhanced flexibility for students to work on course content outside of class time to match their busy schedules.
  • Access to lecture material to aid in preparing for exams.
  • Enhanced student-instructor interaction.

EXPLAINING YOUR COURSE
HOW DOES THIS COURSE WORK?

Blended course design usually involved online learning experiences meant to support content presented in class.  Students can view these activities and time-consuming events  without any understanding of how they support their learning. The “Am I going to be tested on this?” phenomenon is alive and well, and it is to your advantage to communicate a clear understanding of your intended learning pathway.  Below are some suggestions as to how to accomplish this task.

  1. Show how your course is designed.  Giving students the high-level view of how your course is structures and how you intend it to work serves a number of purposes.  First, it helps students navigate your course effectively.  Second, it allows students to give you useful feedback about how successful you have been with your design and development.
  2. Connect activities to your unit objectives.  You spent some time creating clear unit objectives.  Use them. Tell them when and how what you are doing supports those unit objectives.
    Example:  “This discussion question is meant to help facilitate Unit Objective 3: “Formulate and clearly articulate arguments to defend your position on climate change.
  3. Use the results to seed new activities. When students do spend time on online activiites and never see the results of that work acknowledged or used, they don’t see a return on their investment of time. Bringing in results of these activities helps them understand that their time was worthwhile.
    Example: “In yesterday’s discussion forum, a common misperception was revealed.  I want to spend a few moments to address this and have us work together to clear this up.
  4. Prepare students for online activities.  In addition to explaining why students are asked to complete an activity, spend a moment revisiting what knowledge they need and where they should go if they experience problems.
    Example: “The online activity to be completed before class tomorrow reviews the content in Chapter 4 of the textbook, and the content covered in the PDF article in Learn@UW under Week 4.  If you have problems, please review these sources before asking for help.”
  5. Communicate expected time-on-task.  When you design activities, you are asked to estimate how much time it might take for students to complete an activity.  Consider sharing your estimate to communicate your expectations to help them plan ahead and to check the validity of your estimates.  If you are way off, they will surely let you know.
    Example:  “You should expect to spend about 30 minutes reviewing the content and completing the online reflection paper.

PREPARING STUDENTS

When developing certain active learning activities, it is important to assess what skills they will need to be successful.  Group projects are a good example of an activity type in which students are not prepared for the the problems that can take place.  For more information about group projects, check out the following resource. https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/design/instructionalstrategies/groupprojects/

  • Example:  “Before starting your group project, I want you to review the document I prepared on group roles.  I’ve also created a process of peer assessment which I will use to ensure equitable workload is taking place.

IMPLEMENTING STRATEGIES FOR INSTRUCTIONAL ROLES

In the design phase, your were introduced to Zane L. Berge’s article  “The Role of Online Instructors/Facilitators” in which he outlined four roles an instructor needs to take into account: pedagogical; social; managerial; and technical.  Review the Instructor Roles page for suggestions as to how to facilitate these roles.

  • Pedagogical Role –  Foster student interactions that provide room for students to personalize their contributions and that encourage peer-to-peer response.
  • Social Role – Encourage students to reply to each others’ questions, to work in teams, and to report back to class with information from the online portion of the activity/class.
  • Managerial Role – To manage your time as an instructor (and therefore to manage the activities more easily), set up online office hours or a time block during which you’ll be active in the online environment (when applicable) when you can facilitate and respond to student questions.
  • Technical Role – Create a training resource page on the course site that lists ways for students to find support and referrals to on-campus support services.

CITATIONS:

Patsy Moskal and Thomas B. Cavanagh. “Blended Learning Evaluation Beyond the University.”  Blended Learning Research Perspectives: Volume 2. Ed. Anthony Picciano, Charles Dzuiban and Charles Graham. New York, NY, Routledge, 2014.