We recently blended our biology course for non-majors PLP123/Bot 123 Plants, Parasites and People. This 3-credit course, which enrolls about 130-140 students per semester, explores the interaction between society and plant-associated microbes around the globe. The major objective of this course is to teach students to think critically about today’s scientific issues that affect our life. With the lab/discussion component of the course in addition to the lectures, students focus on analysis of science in the media and public policy, and hands-on activities with live plants, insects and microbial cultures.

While the course is clearly well-established and sets high standards, we wanted to try a new teaching method that will give students flexibility to learn at their “own pace” and “own time” as well get them to be more engaged with their learning. We have recently transformed and offered the course as an 8-week summer blended course as well as a full semester long blended course with all lectures delivered online and a weekly face-to-face meeting for discussion/lab. The lectures were mostly narrated slides with transcripts and notes available for download. Different activities–including worksheets, self-check-in, quiz and discussion post–were implemented throughout the online components to keep the students engaged and on track, and to get them prepared for the face-to-face time.

The face-to-face meeting was not set in a standard lecture hall. We had it in a classroom with large round tables with 8 to 10 seats, and white/black boards around the room. This was crucial for students to work in groups, to move around and to present their work. The face-to-face time is no longer about lecturing. Rather it is for checking, correcting or clarifying anything unclear from the lecture materials. Most of the activities are aimed at application, synthesis of contents, as well as exercising their critical thinking and seeing the relevance of what they learn in their everyday life. The face-to-face activities ranged from drawing, making diagrams, concept maps, flyers to creating a radio commercial or evaluating a case study.

From an instructor point of view, what we liked about blended learning is that we didn’t have to “lecture”. We created fun and engaging activities with the students. And it was clear that we have increased both student-content as well as student-instructor interactions through both the online and face-to-face components. We felt that we stayed on top of what students grasped or didn’t, and kept them on track throughout the course. The results are obvious. When we compared a semester when the course was taught in a traditional lecture format versus the blended format, we observed a greater performance in the exam score distributions with the blended course.