Emmanuel College’s “Blended Course Development Program” is an internal project that launched in 2014. Faculty who were interested in developing or redesigning courses in hybrid format went through consultation and training with members of ATIG. The main focus is on creating a new learning environment where students will have the best experience from interacting through technology and live class and out-of-class activities. The following summary outlines major considerations when converting a face-to-face course in blended format and a summary of faculty feedback and student survey data collected by ATIG in the fall semester of 2014.
Major Considerations When Converting a Face-to-Face Course in Blended Format
It is critically important for teachers to be comfortable with the notion of Blended Learning. Defining its meaning is a process of individual education and specific preparation for building the pedagogical framework. Teachers realized that time investment and flexibility of mind when creating the flow of course materials and activities are the main components in their course design work.
Another major consideration regards scaffolding of learning experiences: building lessons, modules, or sections while keeping focus on the course as a whole. There is the temptation to add content or assignments to the course to make up for the “lost” face time. It is important to keep the essential lessons and the main learning outcomes while considering the best delivery format.
Faculty (but not always students) are aware that one of the main advantages of hybrid learning is its student-centered orientation. Learners become more active and independent in their study efforts regardless of whether they work on out-of-class assignments or in-class applicational projects. With blending their experience, students are given the opportunity to work on gaining knowledge. Then, with careful facilitation by teachers, they practice what they’ve passively acquired, they analyze, evaluate, or create with their classmates or individually. So, instructional plans have to include how much time should be allocated for class meetings and whether skipping a class session would contribute to improving of student performance.
In the same line, it is critical for professors to know how to use their school learning management system. In their course design, they need to determine what will go online and what should be done in class. Both environments have the same weight in hybrid courses, but oftentimes teachers do not realize that students still account class meetings to be more important. Faculty should built a learning community in the online platform by carefully crafting online learning activities that are interwoven with in-class activities. Usually the higher-end learning or practicing/evaluating soft skills is better done in class as the process requires additional explanation and immediate input by the teacher.
Faculty approach toward managing a course is also part of the learning curve for those new to the hybrid format. Staying atop of online discussions, maintaing presence in both environments, keeping organization simple, and providing timely feedback are essential elements of excellent teaching. This also includes student LMS orientation, introduction to the differences of the format by setting proper expectations for class communication and performance, and providing support for continuous multimodal, multichannel interaction and learning.
Helping students know why and how things work in a blended course from the outset should be part of the course organization. Clarifying structure and processes will help students with their time-management and learning habits. It will make them realize that they are also more responsible for their own success. In general, outlining expectations will help them better prepare for real work environments and will provide them with the opportunities to collaborate, communicate, or just observe different working styles, personalities, and experiences. At the same time, transparency and honesty with students will allow teachers to change things on the fly if necessary and will provide invaluable student feedback for proper revision and modification for the next course iteration.
Student and Faculty Feedback from Fall 2014 Mid-Semester Survey
There were six courses who were redesigned in a hybrid format and run in fall of 2014. In the middle of the semester, students were informally surveyed. The following is the summary of the received feedback.
Majority of students have not taken a blended course before and did not consider the format a major factor in selecting the course. About 85% liked the flexibility of the format. When asked whether they would prefer a hybrid course next semester, the results were mixed:
- 9 Strongly Disagree – want more in class time with Professor; more instructions, more guidance, hard to focus with once a week activities, class seems harder due to lack of face-to-face time, prefer to listen to the Professor than learning on their own.
- 5 Strongly Agree – like doing more work, like the freedom of time, think critically like individuals, information is not lectured “spoonfed,” learning happens at one’s own pace, more time to read and research, different ways of obtaining and retaining new information, more focus.
- 29 Neither Agree Nor Disagree – format is not important, like both formats, are danger of poor time management skills, e.g. forget online assignments due times.
When students were asked if they preferred online discussions to in-class discussions, the following results indicated that most learners appreciate the option of having a discussion online:
- 40% agree or strongly agree – prefer online discussions, because of reasons such as shyness, want more time to think, feeling pressured by lack of time, more time to research and prepare, can hear from everyone, can provide opinion without immediate in-face ridicule, easier to explain and understand others and their own thoughts, being nervous in front of many people, enjoy it, it is easier, because they can make references to resources, can learn more, able to go in a greater detail.
- 28% nether agree nor disagree
- 33% disagree or strongly disagree – did not provide explanation.
Overall in their Learning Preferences students indicated:
- 17% believe they are better able to learn in a hybrid course.
- 33% believe they are better able to learn in a traditional course.
- 50% believe they are able to learn a traditional equally well in either a traditional or hybrid format.
Best experience so far in the hybrid course:
- Flexibility – work at one’s own pace, more time, midnight due times free up day schedule, exercise one’s time management skills
- Online Discussions – expression of thoughts in a stress-free environment, a new creative way for communication, get to hear all voices, different opinions, more learning equals more research
- Reduced class time, but more motivation to participate in class and get to reiterate the material and apply what’s learned in class
- Easy online assignment submissions
- Predictability of course structure, easy routine to follow, encourage focused and independent learning and work
- Online Games
- More Office Hours and one-on-one time with the Professor
- More time for group work
Most challenging experience so far in the hybrid course:
- Assignment relevance not communicated clearly
- Hard to keep up with workload – online due dates (or lack of them) and communication in different environments/interaction channels
- Time management issues/prioritization skills
- More individual responsibility and independence results in feeling overwhelmed
- Professor’s difficulty with technology
- Lack of clear assessment criteria (no rubrics?) in online assignments
- Not enough personal communication with Professor
- Not enough discussion of material impede understanding and learning of it
- Reduced class time makes the course felt as less significant
- Class presentations
- Not a good explanation of course hybrid structure in the beginning of semester
- Students do not take seriously out of class assignments and readings in particular, so quizzes may be implemented to ensure students watch the video lectures and read the assigned articles.
- Better support provided by the instructor regarding time management.
- Better introduction to ECLearn at the beginning of the course.
- Hybrid format helps students learn real-life challenges of online group collaboration on a project.
- Students demand more specific instructions on assignments or the instructions to be repeated/explained by the instructor in class.
- Students like the extra time working together outside of class.
- Students in hybrid course outperform students in traditional course.
- Students find it challenging to work on the online assignments independently.
- Instructors think student feedback is extremely helpful for modifying their hybrid course pedagogy.
Interested in developing a hybrid course?