I teach one section of the capstone course for Community and Environmental Sociology. What I do in the course is a little unusual. Each year, we partner with a local community group to do a research project that the group can use in their own work. And because those projects require a lot of coordination, troubleshooting, and teamwork, I schedule the class for one three-hour session per week. But that structure has two drawbacks. First, the students aren’t used to such a marathon class session and find it tiring, though they still do great work, so I’m not sure it it’s bad that they find it tiring. Second, too often the students get in “night before” mode and try to do a week’s worth of work at the last minute each week, and when that happens they don’t do such great work.
After taking the Blended Learning seminar, I decided to apply some of what I learned to that course to try and tackle those two problems. First, while I still scheduled a three-hour class session, I normally limited the class time to two hours except when we met with the community group. I then shifted the preparatory work to an online format. So students would discuss the foundational readings using an online forum, and take online quizzes about the readings. The second strategy was actually suggested by the students. As I sought feedback on the blended structure while the course was progressing, students still indicated that they stopped thinking about the class in the middle of the week. By this time they were working in teams, each doing one sub-project with the community group. So I created an on-line check-in forum for students to post updates on their progress for that week and note any challenges they were experiencing. At some points each team would actually meet face to face and then post a summary of their check-in and at other points each team would just check-in with each other online. It was a remarkably successful adjustment to the structure, keeping the students progressing much more smoothly than in any previous project, and allowing for easy trouble-shooting. By the end-of-semester community event, each team was fully ready and the event was a success.