As you consider the task of building a blended learning experience, consider these 10 ideas. Early conceptual planning will help to mitigate difficulties later!
1. BUILD A TEAM OF EXPERTS
A trend in higher education is to use a team approach in creating a blended course. Bringing together specialists can help clarify opportunities and support an instructor in thoughtfully fusing learning technology and new pedagogical strategies. In addition to working as “thinking partners,” a team of specialists can help ensure a smooth transition to a new teaching mode.
Consider contacting L&S Learning Support Services (LSS). LSS employs a team of instructional design and technology consultants that partner with instructors, supporting your specific needs.
2. EXPLORE NEW PEDAGOGIES
Blended learning can offer efficiencies, flexibilities, and productivity gains by selectively using technology to facilitate a portion of a course. Blended courses also present an opportunity to explore new active teaching methods that prompt students to engage with a course for deeper learning. Consider these resources:
- Absorb, Do, Connect design framework
- Facilitating active learning (activity examples) and active learning theory and practice
3. DESIGN FOR REGULAR & SUBSTANTIVE INTERACTION
Blended learning offers the potential of making learning a more interactive experience. While one approach, often referred to as “flipped” learning, uses online platforms to provide lecture and other passive instruction in order to free in-class time for activities, it is increasingly possible (and desirable) to make your online platform equally interactive.
Effective virtual collaboration is a useful 21st century skill and blended learning can provide students with experience developing that skill. Online platforms can be dynamic spaces for regular and substantive interaction. Consider this resource for designing an effective online dialogue. You might also evaluate potential for social media.
- Catalina Toma from Communication Arts shared strategies for integrating social media for improved engagement.
- Shawn Peters from Integrated Liberal Studies shared how he gets students interacting outside of class with Twitter.
4. SPEND EFFORT ON “WAYFINDING” STRATEGIES
Wayfinding is a term borrowed from architecture to represent the way people navigate through environments. You are likely able to remember a time that you entered an unfamiliar building and used signage, sight lines, and other navigational aids to successfully find your destination. Conversely, you have likely experienced the frustration of wandering hallways (perhaps even on this campus!) seeking your designation in the absence of navigation tools and support.
Using technology to facilitate more significant portions of a course can require thought and careful design to ensure students are productive when they use an online space. Small changes to the “out of the box” version of your learning management system can go a long way in helping signal purpose and importance.
- Consider making changes to your navigation bar, removing items that are not relevant or useful.
- Customize your home page to highlight the most important and useful messages and features of your course, rather than relying upon the default template.
- Create course pages that use a consistent heading structure to improve readability, order, and flow.
5. INTENTIONALLY DEFINE PATTERN AND PACE
Blended learning can disrupt (in good and not so good ways) familiar patterns that help students organize their school and personal lives. Transitioning to a blended format, particularly if accompanied with a reduction of seat time, can require students to depart from that which is conventional and force them to rediscover how to manage their participation.
To help ease the transition, consider defining patterns that help set a pace and expectations. A few specific ideas include:
- Use a modular design approach to package materials and activities into discrete experiences.
- Purposefully arrange the flow of in-class and online activities to maximize interactive opportunities. Consider Fink’s Castle Top Model of pre-class, in-class, and post-class activities as a way to structure modules and patterns for best impact.
6. BREAK APART LARGE ASSIGNMENTS AND EXAMS
Large and high stakes exams and/or papers are often pillars of traditional courses. They offer a credible and scalable way to evaluate student performance. Since a goal for blended courses is to engage students in active learning, it can be useful to consider other assessment opportunities that happen in intermittently throughout the course. Angelo and Cross provide suggestions for alternative assessments with a list of 50 Classroom Assessment Techniques.
7.CONSIDER ACCESSIBILITY & UNIVERSAL DESIGN
With the opportunity to make good use of online platforms comes the responsibility to ensure all students have equal access and ability to participate. If, for instance, video is a foundational component of an online experience, it is best to consider closed captions.
A Learning Support Services instructional technology consultant can help you consider options and strategies that make your course accessible. This guide on creating accessible courses can also serve as helpful starting point.
8. PROVIDE STRUCTURED ORIENTATION FOR ALL PARTICIPANTS
It is safest to assume students may not instantly know how to manage their participation in a blended course. A structured orientation process can help them know how and why you are offering your course as a blended experience. Consider this resource from the University of Central Florida and UW-Milwaukee.
It is also proven useful to spend time preparing Teaching Assistant(s) to work within a new and potentially unfamiliar course structure.
9. DEFINE A REALISTIC SCOPE & DEVELOPMENT TIMELINE
Designing and developing a fully realized blended course is a major undertaking. Experienced faculty can attest that a one year timeline is not unreasonable given that the design and development efforts are often an addition to their already busy schedules.
It may instead make good sense to approach the design process in a more metered way. Choose one smaller portion to experiment with design strategies, test your approach, and iterate the process later as it fits your schedule and goals.
10. CONNECT WITH PEERS @ UW AND BEYOND
Anyone who has interest in blended learning can find community here on the UW campus. There is a growing list of opportunities to connect with other instructors on a wide range of teaching and learning topics. Whether you are interested in informal drop-in conversations or a more immersive professional development opportunity, there is an option for you. Consider these opportunities:
- Active Teaching Lab – Weekly drop-in program to explore learning technology tools & techniques.
- Teaching Academy – Events & community with faculty, instructional staff, and graduate students who have been recognized by their peers for sustained, demonstrated teaching excellence.
- Blend@UW – Week-long course design workshop (application required)
- Madison Teaching & Learning Excellence – Two semester weekly course for early career faculty.