Implementation of a Blended Course

The information on this page is intended to be a resource for the implementation of a blended learning course at the postsecondary level.

implementation

Designing, developing & implementing a blended course is an iterative process where evaluation (self-reflection, formal and information feedback from stakeholders, etc.) continually drives the redesign and redevelopment of course components for subsequent implementations.

Implementing a blended course is challenging and circumstantial, influenced by factors such as class size, academic level, subject, space and technology available, and more. Here are some general suggestions  to consider during the implementation of a blended course.

Small, Progressive Rollout

A blended course doesn’t need to be developed and launched in its entirety. For some, it is beneficial  to start small by first implementing a portion (module, chapter, week, etc.) of the course. Evaluation via self-reflection and informal student feedback can guide the next blended portion. An entire blended course can be phased in over several course implementations. Building and implementing a blended course in phases can  save time spent developing elements that turn may out to be ineffective.

Consider the Classroom

A blended course requires a physical space that best supports the active learning activities planned for the course. Classroom size needs to be just right for the enrolment, because too small can be crowded and stressful, and too spacious can negatively affect energy, engagement, and connectedness. Moveable furniture can better facilitate group work than fixed furniture. Presentation technology in the room needs to be user friendly and in working order.

Technology

While technology is a defining element of blended learning, more isn’t always better. Technology should maximize learning in the face-to-face and online environments yet be inconspicuous, because too much focus on the technological tool itself can detract from the learning activities. Start simple and experiment more with technology through future course renditions.

Course instructors who are not confident with basic instructional technology tools, such curating online resources or organizing and uploading documents to a learning management system (LMS), should seek institutional support. This may be in the form of a workshop(s), one-on-one consultation, peer mentoring, etc. Basic competency in these tools is a requisite for instructors of blended courses.

It’s a near certainty that at some point during a course, the technology will decide to not work at an untimely, crucial moment. An instructor can be proactive with (a) backup plans for activities sensitive to functioning technology; (b) testing the technology ahead of time; and (c) having a support system in place, i.e. knowing who to call last minute for help.

The Learning Management System

A blended course requires an organized, comprehensive LMS site or similar virtual gathering space that is updated regularly. It should be easy to navigate, visually consistent, logically organized, free of broken links, and have all the tools and resources students need in order to be successful. A downloadable course syllabus can contain its usual information (such as instructor contact information, grading policies, and calendar of activities and due dates), as well as information specific to blended learning, such as:

  • Expectations and tips for students as independent learners;
  • Netiquette for online discussions and general code of conduct in a blended course;
  • Technical competencies required by students and where to go for support.

Below is an example of how eClass (Moodle) was organized for the Blended Course CMPUT 174.

Communication With Students

Continuous, straightforward communication between students and their instructor is essential to the success of a blended course. Do not make assumptions about students’ familiarity with technology or blended courses, instead support students by providing clear direction. , Throughout the course, instructors  must make a regular effort to ensure students understand:

  • The blended nature of the course and how the face-to-face and online environments are equally important and integrated. Often the online component can be undermined, seen as extraneous, optional, and therefore neglected.
  • The structure and purpose of active learning activities in the face-to-face setting and how they different from traditional didactic lectures.
  • The students’ role as independent learners and the importance of time management for completing online tasks outside of class time.
  • Expectations and directions for all tasks, such as participation in activities, completion of pre-class material as well as formative and summative assignments., For example, students will need to know if they should hand in a paper copy of an assignment, or upload a document to the LMS site.

Because of the reduced seat time, a blended course requires purposeful effort by an instructor to build rapport with students. Methods of communication may include:

  • Course syllabus document posted on the LMS site and referred to frequently throughout the course.
  • Regular emails, online forum posts, and informal podcasts/screencasts by the instructor to reinforce course logistics and expectations, troubleshoot, and summarize content.
  • Extended office hours, as well as time before and after each face-to-face class.

Communication Within a Teaching Team

Implementing a blended course is most often a coordinated and concerted effort by a group of people. This could include instructors teaching different sections of a course within the same term, each section having one or more teaching assistants, as well as other faculty members involved in the course.

It is essential that all teaching staff are in synch with the depth and pacing of the content and activities, so the course is is rolled out in a consistent, unified manner. This congruence is achieved with regular communication, such as face-to-face meetings and email, to reflect and discuss successes, concerns, troubleshooting, and direction for the upcoming weeks of the course.

Redefinition of the Instructor’s Role

Embedded in all of the above considerations when implementing a blended course, it is apparent that the role of the instructor is very different from that of a traditional, face to face course. The instructor steps away from the lectern and is tasked with managing and integrating two environments (face-to-face and online), as well as working to create a positive experience for all students enrolled in the course.

This new role includes avoiding the tendency toward an unreasonable workload for both instructors and students.For the instructor,  implementing a blended course may mean new responsibilities such as developing and curating materials, communicating with students, maintaining an LMS site, and collaborating with a teaching team. To avoid an unreasonable workload, try to block off time each week to dedicate to unexpected issues related to the course, enlist the help of colleagues or graduate students, and access supports through CTL. Also remember that things will not be ‘perfect’, especially the first time you teach a blended course. If you don’t have time to make changes or updates while implementing the course, make a note of them and tackle them at the end of term, when you have more time.

To help ensure students’ workload is manageable, make sure that you estimate the amount of time each online activity will take students and compare the overall workload of your blended course to what students would have experienced in a traditional face-to-face course.  Reduce face-to-face time, or decrease or modify the number of online activities, as needed. Acknowledge that your estimations of students’ workload may be off, and get feedback from students regarding their workload as the course is implemented.

Be Ready

A blended course is not conducive to “winging it”. It is not simply taking a traditional course and moving some elements into an online environment. The idea that a blended course is easier and less time consuming to teach because of reduced to face-to-face time is a misconception. The instructor will benefit by having all components ready for students well ahead of time. In the unavoidable case when something doesn’t work as hoped, changing it is easier than creating something from scratch.

Seek Professional Development

Instructors at the postsecondary level are experts in their discipline, but they may not be blended learning experts. Blended learning workshops, consultations with education specialists on campus, books and articles are potential resources for the instructor to implement a successful blended course. For more information, see the Resources section of this site.