I lead the CALS Freshman Seminar course, InterAg 155 – Issues in Agriculture and Life Sciences. CALS requires all first-year students to take a freshman seminar, InterAg 155 is one option. The course is designed to introduce new CALS students to a few big topics CALS addresses through teaching, research, and outreach and to help new students transition successfully to a large research university. One section of the course is structured in a conventional in-person lecture / discussion format, meeting 50 minutes one-time per week. This serves 100 – 150 students. Two sections are offered in a blended format serving up to 25 students each. Students in the blended sections watch lectures on video and meet in-person for discussions. We started offering blended sections of the course to accommodate students who, due to class conflicts, could not enroll in the completely in-person section. The only differences between the sections are how students watch lectures (in-person vs. online video) and the time of day students meet in discussion sections. All reading assignments and graded work are the same across sections.
I have learned two important lessons about student learning in the blended sections. First, when I piloted the blended format I noticed that the quality of discussions dropped in the second half of the course; students did not seem prepared for the discussions. After looking at the course website analytics, I also noticed that fewer and fewer students were accessing the video lectures as the course progressed. The quality of the discussions diminished, at least in part, because fewer students were accessing the content of the course. In subsequent offerings of the blended sections I have told students that viewing the online lectures is part of their attendance grade and I instituted short (5 question) quizzes that are due before discussion sections meet. This has worked well. Second, I learned that early in the semester students in the blended sections have many questions about course logistics. For many students this is not only their first term on campus, but the course is also their first experience taking a blended course. I started sending the blended sections weekly updates about the course (what content they should be viewing online, what assignment deadlines were approaching, etc.) and I started budgeting at least 5 minutes of every in-person discussion to addressing student questions about the course.