My blended learning course is a 400-level class, “Native American Environmental Issues and the Media,” offered by the Department of Life Sciences Communication. Initially, it was a small, discussion-heavy class of perhaps twenty to twenty-five students. However, given that it is one of only two courses that carry the “ethnic studies” designation in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, there was pressure to admit more students. We now enroll between fifty and sixty students. Online discussion facilitated by a teaching assistant through the moodle forum is a particularly important way for students to stay connected.
The class meets twice weekly for seventy-five minutes. In the first meeting, I tell tribal creation stories as a way of putting a cultural frame on the contemporary environmental struggles the tribal stories inevitably predict. A media-heavy lecture provides a compact history of a particular Native community. During the second meeting, students watch and analyze mainstream and tribal news reports and documentary segments that inform the environmental issue presaged by the stories and history covered in the first class. The classroom experience is sometimes augmented by guest lectures delivered by the newsmakers. For example in the spring 2016 class, former Bad River Tribal Chair Mike Wiggins and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Environmental Director delivered opposing viewpoints on the proposed taconite mine in the Penokee Hills in northern Wisconsin.
All media, including lectures, are uploaded into Kaltura Media Gallery and can be accessed from the moodle. Experience has shown me that this approach– downloading material from Kaltura rather than providing links to material on the web—insures that students will encounter fewer missing links. All quizzes are administered online, as is the midterm exam, which includes an online multiple choice section and a take home essay, which students write and upload into the moodle. There are several assignments, in which students watch and analyze media, and write reaction paragraphs, which are uploaded to the moodle. The TA and I offer comments and feedback through the moodle. In lieu of a final exam, students complete a final project, which explores the intersection of Native Americans and the Environment and is relevant to their academic discipline. These projects, which can take the form of powerpoint presentations, photo essays, videos, podcasts, scientific posters, etc., are uploaded to the moodle, which accommodates material in multiple formats.
To be honest, I miss the intimacy of a small class and face-to-face discussions. However, I think the blended approach in this larger classroom and the media-heavy instructional material works pretty well. And I am pleased that about a third of the students still take the time to meet with me in person during my office hours.