Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Blended Learning for College...Worth a Try

For the past few years, the concept of a 'hybrid' online course has been the most palatable for most of the university instructors I have met.  Online courses were all the rage and the main talking point for administrators and government officials at the time, owing to the idea that the online courses would increase revenue by being less expensive per student (a misconception at best).  A hybrid course used online resources but kept most of the traditional classroom character.

At ISTE 2013, I heard mention of "blended learning", which turns out to be similar if not the same concept.  The definition of blended learning, as I learned, is a classroom that is partially contained on the web.  That is, not all of the learning is done in the classroom and there is an expectation of portions of the course being completed via the internet.  In my field (Chemistry), the most common implementation is a web site for course materials and announcements coupled with an online homework system such as OWL, Mastering Chemistry, Sapling, etc.

Without a doubt, the way students learn, experience other aspects of life, and expect information to be given to them fits the blended learning idea.  For the college student, blended learning is even more natural and should be utilized by every instructor in some way.  Not only will the class performance see improvements if some blending is used, but the students will appreciate the effort.  Why?  Well, there are few reasons and comments about the university environment that lends itself perfectly to blended learning, which are...

  • There is time between classes in most cases.  My classes are always either Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Tuesday and Thursday.  That time gives the student time to access any information you might present, time to research and try to use that information, and time to get assistance if they don't understand the information.  All of this time is before the next class begins, which is the desired goal of studying (see my previous post on studying).
  • The tech expectation of a college student is greater than that of the K-12 student.  Not that there are not some K-12 schools that are all "teched out," but the average college student is envisioned using technology more often because a college graduate is expected to have more of these technology skills.
  • College students are not in class 6 hrs every day.  Instead, they have varying schedules that average 3-4 hours of class meetings per day, with science kids going up to 5 hrs per day due to labs.  And, those classes don't meet back-to-back.  So, this means these kids already get their information and study for their classes at different times of the day.  Why then wouldn't it be normal for them to get assignments and material made available or due at widely varying times?

As instructors start to use the blended methodology, they should search out when it is best to use online resources and mobile resources.  It's not as cut and dry as it may seem, and making the proper decision is important.  But, the fact is that some material really does fit being introduced on the students own time and some material needs more guidance and clarification from you at the outset.  So, choose the material you present online or via mobile carefully.  For each of us, the choice will be different because each of us instructors are different.

Finally, don't be afraid to go beyond blended in the sense of when the information is given.  Go ahead and blend the time in the classroom.  Move beyond all lecture or all PBL.  Choose the classroom style that best helps your students get today's topic.  For example, I have found that using POGIL (process oriented guided inquiry learning) is very successful for getting the concepts of some chemical processes down, but that a flipped classroom is better with other concepts and skills.  For example, learning to do conversions using dimensional analysis has become a breeze by flipping the classroom and letting the time in class be used to have groups work on problems that use the skill, but I find that lecturing is the best way to present the collision theory of kinetics.

I guess the last paragraph is a plea to rethink the technique of presentation in the classroom and is not necessarily blended learning, per se.  However, I once again want to stress that students don't want the same thing all the time.  Variety is the game in keeping their more digitized and agile minds on task.  The moral of the story:  blend the class and classroom to achieve the best results!!

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