Blended courses replace part of the “seat time” with “online time” - anywhere from 30 - 80%. The immediacy of anytime-anywhere learning, combined with the structure of regular face-to-face meetings, can be a powerful way to learn. In fact, there’s good evidence that blended courses, when properly designed, can be even more effective than traditional face-to-face courses (DOE, 2010).
There are many different ways to design an effective blended course. In the recent online workshop about Learning Spaces, Nick Bloom (Associate Professor, Social Sciences) described a strategy he has used successfully:
“Here is a personal approach that takes a good bit of preparation, but once in place, is both very effective and easy to maintain. In essence, one is creating a ”multi-media textbook“ that can be renewed and updated every semester. I use this method for humanities/urban studies type classes. It can even be shared with other instructors teaching the course by cloning it into their blackboard ”shells."
"The process begins with the development of a recorded lecture series I have created using Camtasia (but any screen capture technology will do–Powerpoint, Zoom, etc.). These screencasts are then linked in Blackboard by week/theme. Here is one of my lectures (works best in Safari or Explorer: you may need to right click and save): http://iris.nyit.edu/~nbloom/ManchesterThenandNow.mp4. I have prepped over 50 of these lectures over the years and they are stored on the NYIT Iris site. They can be added and created at any point before, during, or after the semester.
"Here is what a student’s workload in my typical class looks like:
EVERY WEEK: Independently watch an MP4 lecture video, linked multi-media, or even Netflix documentary. Read the accompanying pdf file.
In-class quick quiz on the assigned materials (10 minutes max, basic questions seeing if they have reviewed the material: part of participation grade)
Class (1.5 hours) is a detailed discussion of SELECTED and COMPLEX topics from the videos/reading. Almost no traditional lecturing at all, or maybe a mini-lecture on related topic. I find that students need this class time to clarify many issues which are quickly discussed in screen capture lectures, a film, etc. It is also a good time to challenge them about what they think of the materials. We always sit in circles, even larger classes.
After class, students complete a detailed set of Blackboard questions about the lecture, class discussion, etc. They usually have 2–3 days to complete these. I use SafeAssign to check for plagiarism, or you can also use Turnitin. Students quickly learn to not cheat. I formerly had students complete these detailed question sets before class, but the quality of answers is so much better after a class discussion that I switched despite the greater uniformity of responses.
“Some students find the weekly work overwhelming, but most good students like the mix of in-class discussion plus assigned multi-media. Students from abroad like the videos and ask for more of them so that they can slowly review them.”
Summer Book Club
Are you interested in learning more ways to blend a course? Join your colleagues and the CTL staff in our first summer book club! Here’s how it works: Once you let us know you’re interested, we will send you a copy of this summer’s book, Blended Learning: Across the Disciplines, Across the Academy. The book is yours to keep. We’ll each read the book independently over the summer, and then convene over lunch early in the fall semester for a conversation about it.
Register for the book club at by completing the online form at: http://bit.ly/SummerBookClub2014
Nicholas Dagen Bloom, PhD
Associate Professor, Social Sciences
New York Institute of Technology
“When I started putting the lecture materials online and giving the students exercises to do in class, it felt very strange to be “doing nothing” while the students were working on exercises. Eventually, I realized I was still lecturing, I was just doing it in between class sessions as opposed to during class sessions. I think it’s much harder to put together and post a good set of videos than it is to throw together some power points and recite them in front of the class. I was concerned that the students wouldn’t feel like they were getting their money’s worth if I didn’t stand up in front of them and talk, but that hasn’t been the case.” – Rich Simpson, SoECS
Last month, the Center for Teaching and Learning offered its fourth online workshop, on the topic of learning spaces. Virtual and social spaces are taking their place alongside the physical classroom as a locus for learning. As a result, we are compelled to expand our concept of where and how learning occurs. And what happens if you don’t have an “optimal” learning space? What if your classroom is small, or poorly lit? What if the students in a blended course don’t engage in the online component? What if the students don’t seem interested in working with each other? Interested in these and other questions, 21 NYIT faculty and staff members – from campuses in Central Islip, Manhattan, Nanjing, Old Westbury, and Vancouver – exchanged resources, ideas, and teaching strategies. Here are some highlights from the conversation.
Workshop participants discussed the rooms in which they teach, describing a wide spectrum of layouts. Cheryl Hall, SoHP (NY), described how she is able to rearrange her rooms for different activities: “Since my courses vary in scope, the purpose of physical space varies for each. For lecture-based courses, the traditional classroom works well. However, when the lecture changes into a case study format, where students problem-solve in small groups, we modify the space accordingly. In addition, when our students are engaging in lab/practical sessions, the Physical Lab accommodates for that need and easily transitions from traditional classroom to the lab space.”
Not all classrooms are that flexible! One participant posed the question of how to get students to work in groups in rooms that are not conducive to rearranging the furniture. Sumiao Li, CAS (Nanjing), responded: “I actually have not had much problem turning such a space into a more interactive one. Some of my strategies are lecturing from the back of the classroom, walking back and forth in the isles, asking students to partner with whoever sit close, or by asking those in the front row to kneel on their chairs or to stand up behind the folded-up chairs so that they can face the students in the next row. Students are quite open to all of these methods.”
Rich Simpson, SoECS (NY), contrasted physical and virtual spaces: “For me, the biggest difference between physical learning spaces and virtual learning spaces is that physical learning spaces are shared synchronously (all the students are in the same place at the same time) while virtual learning spaces are asynchronous. Of course, our DL classrooms fall right in the middle, in that the students are ”together“ at the same time but not in the same physical space. In the DL classrooms, the biggest challenge I’ve had is finding activities that students can do together while in separate classrooms. I’ve had some luck with shared Google docs that everyone in the class can edit simultaneously, quizzes on socrative.com, and polls with polleverywhere.com.” Rich added that he uses student performance data from online quizzes to determine the content of a short lecture at the beginning of each class, to address any points of confusion before the students proceed to work on activities.
James Wyckoff, CAS (NY), pointed out that the ability to contribute to a conversation at different times can “expand” space and extend discussions beyond the limits of the physical classroom. He makes extensive use of social media in his classes, both as a form of communication and as a way to enrich the course with new materials. Danielle Apfelbaum, Library (NY), commented that his strategy “is priming [the students] to use social media in a constructive, professional way. So many important academic and professional conversations are taking place via Twitter; it’s an easy way for students to discover, follow, and (hopefully) participate in them.”
Rich Simpson brought up some of the challenges inherent in using virtual spaces: “Outside of class, the biggest challenge with virtual spaces seems to be fostering student interaction. Forums and message boards are pretty limited, and it’s rare to get many detailed discussions. I’m interested in using things like wiki’s and online mind-maps to foster some more constructive interaction, but I haven’t had a chance to try these in an actual class, yet. … I think the teacher’s role in shaping the social space of virtual environments is under-appreciated. Students know how to behave in a classroom setting. Many of them have little or no experience in a virtual learning environment. This is likely to change as more students get exposed to learning technologies in K–12, but for now it’s still an issue.”
Cheryl Hall described some of the benefits: “There are times that the space seems to ”come alive“ with the infusion of technology, even when the course may be occurring in a virtual space. For example, when I am using Zoom to interact with my students during their off-site clinical rotations, our casual discussions have come alive with the use of ”screen sharing“ of written questions or when providing tutorials for accessing professional/clinical resources. It’s so interesting to see how their interactivity with me and one another increases as the virtual learning space becomes more dynamic, rather than simply just showing up on the screen, as part of a course requirement.”
Social and Intellectual Spaces:
Social space is also important, whether in a physical or a virtual setting. Students who are comfortable with each other are more likely to challenge each other intellectually. Amy Bravo, Career Services (NY), points out that “Working in career services, we regularly get feedback from employers that our students have pretty strong content knowledge, but they lack ”soft skills.“ Among those are communication, confidence, team work, assertiveness and problem solving. I have found that by creating a social space within the classroom or in the community whereby students work on a real world problem affecting the public good, these skills are developed rather organically. I help guide that development via online technology like BB, YouTube, Jing, ZOOM and Facebook–whatever works for my particular group.”
One participant asked for suggestions on how to work with non-native English speakers who are struggling with required reading and writing assignments. Monique Taylor, Campus Dean (Nanjing), provided some good suggestions: “I am a great fan of using op-ed, short news and opposing viewpoints (especially in abridged forms found in course readers) for in-class reading. Just like thinking, reading for academic purposes is something I try not to take for granted with students. I do think with questions that dissect (title, chapter headings, initial paragraphs, concluding words, quotes chosen etc) we can help students tease meanings both surface and deep from texts we assign. Students also can use these short reading exercises as a starting point for thinking about how and why an issue matters, how various actors and institutions represent themselves and advance arguments/stake out positions. Pieces like this can be used to map back onto longer assigned essays and chapters as well as say provide answers to what would XXX theorist or author think? Students can practice at writing their own op-eds or position pieces representing groups or agencies that matter most in their intended professions.”
Dan Quigley, CAS (NY), offered ideas on both writing and thinking: “First, one thing you can do is to get them to think of writing more as a process. You might, for instance, allot class time to get them actually to do the writing in class…I use a ”5 minute forced timed writing.“ Students are given a prompt and told to write for 5 minutes without lifting pen from paper or for the fingers to stop moving on the keyboard. If they can’t think of something to write, they write, ”I can’t think, I can’t think…“ until something comes out. What usually comes out isn’t very good, so I then have them ”loop“ back on the original effort. I tell them, take one idea from what you just wrote and do another 5 minute forced writing on that topic.
So, while we are discussing learning spaces for our students, are we also thinking about carving out ”alone“ space, quiet reflective time for them? One would assume naturally that this should be done at home, but is that always possible? If they live in a dorm, is that a ”place“ to stop and think? To link this back to Amy’s question, can we designate class time and places for this to happen? So, instead of ‘Let’s all break into our groups,’ it might be ‘OK, find a corner to be in by yourself and think through this question…no talking!’”
Monique Taylor summed up the two weeks nicely: “I have really enjoyed talking and learning with you over this last stretch of days. The non-linear ways that our questions and dialogue have wended are for me a great example of how virtual space as a learning environment serves us–global colleagues in a global university–particularly well. I would say we all have lessons learned here that will work their way back to our own physical and virtual class spaces.”
Olena Zhadko, PhD
Manager, Course Development
Center for Teaching and Learning
New York Institute of Technology
As a new faculty member at NYIT, one of the things I had to adjust to was teaching in a DL classroom. These rooms are connected by videoconferencing equipment, so half the class is always watching me on TV and I’m in the room with the other half. I split my time between the two campuses to get face time with all of the students but it’s still difficult to judge how well students are getting the material during a lecture when I’m looking at half of them on a tiny screen. In addition, there is a lot of variation in what our students know and how well they know it. We also have a lot of students who are working full-time jobs while going to school, so they need as much flexibility as they can get. I use Socrative.com to give quizzes to make sure they are getting the material, which is helpful.
I teach an artificial intelligence class and a programming languages concepts class, and these have been taught in the traditional “read at home, lecture in class” manner. All my students bring laptops to class, so I try to spend as much class time as possible having them doing rather than listening. The problem is that all the students have to move at the same pace, which is too slow for some and too fast for others. That led me to look at blended learning and adaptive learning platforms.
Here’s a list of features that would make such a platform ideal for my needs:
I started by looking at the MOOCs (Udacity, Coursera, EdX) and on-line textbooks (CourseSmart). I’ve also looked at quite a few adaptive learning platforms:
Unfortunately - but not surprisingly - none of these platforms has all the features I’d like. This semester, I am using SmartSparrow to deliver content both during and outside of class. Thee platform has some of the features I’m looking for: SmartSparrow lets me create my own lessons and embed quizzes, and it tracks each student’s progress. However, there are some limitations with it: the authoring tool is pretty clunky, the types of questions are limited to multiple-choice and short answer, there are limited tools for managing a class, and the system has no integration with Blackboard. As a result, I’m reluctant to recommend SmartSparrow to others unless you enjoy tinkering with software and don’t need the Blackboard integration and other course management tools.
Here’s a feature comparison for the platforms I looked at:
|Content Creation||Activity Tracking||Adaptive Learning||Encourages Interaction||Enables Teamwork|
Richard Simpson, PhD
Associate Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering
New York Institute of Technology
An essential lifelong skill for students is to think about their learning, or be metacognitive about it. Although metacognition ties directly to student success, it is often not taught, and it is a skill that many college students lack. One of my goals is to purposefully structure my courses to help students focus on and be more aware of their own learning.
The three strategies I use most often to foster metacognition are:
I explain to the students that these techniques give them immediate feedback on how well they understand concepts, help them to realize that they are in charge of their learning, and determine what topics they need to spend more time on. Another strength of these methods is that they are easy for the instructor to implement. After the initial set up, none of these methods takes much time, and there is no manual grading.
A challenge to these techniques is the initial time commitment, which varies. Good ConcepTest questions are difficult to write, but there are some websites where instructors share questions, and you can reuse them in following semesters. Setting up and writing good online quizzes also takes time initially, but they can be reused (and some quiz questions can be used again on exams).
I have several indications that these techniques are effective with my students. When I ask students to reflect on how they studied, students report using many of the strategies I provided, such as reviewing quizzes and focusing their studying on areas where their weaknesses were. When I’ve had students who have taken a class in which I used the online quizzes, and then take a class where I have not yet developed them, they unanimously asked for the quizzes, even though they require more work from the student. Although some students complained about the time involved, they also saw how valuable the quizzes were to their learning.
Finally, as measured by the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire survey instrument, students in my classes do not experience a decline in motivation and attitudes during the semester as is commonly seen in other introductory classes. This is significant because research is increasingly showing the importance of student affective domain (motivation and attitudes) on their learning.
To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University and organized by Seneca College and New York Institute of Technology.
Karen M. Kortz, Ph.D.
Department of Physics
Community College of Rhode Island
Was your class affected by the weather? Are you behind on your syllabus, trying to catch up while still ensuring that your students have meaningful learning experiences? Don’t wait till the next snow day to engage your students in the course and use new technology to support student learning. Renew and revive your course by simply trying out VoiceThread with your students before the end of the spring semester.
What is VoiceThread?
VoiceThread adds a visual dimension to an online conversation. VoiceThread allows you to have a conversation about objects such as videos, images, documents, and presentations. You can narrate your presentation, and students can pause it at the point where they have a question to make comments using any combination of text, a microphone, a webcam, a telephone, or by uploading an audio file. These conversations are asynchronous, meaning that students can log in and participate at any time. As a result, it’s an ideal way to have a conversation either before or after class, or to make up lost class time. The combination of increased interaction and time for reflection helps to create an engaged learning environment for your students.
VoiceThread is an application that runs in a web browser (in Blackboard, so you don’t have to leave the familiar class environment). There is no software to download, install, or update. Creating a VoiceThread within your Blackboard shell is as easy as creating an assignment.
VoiceThread can be used in many ways:
Selected Key Features:
The Center for Teaching and Learning has purchased an institutional license for VoiceThread - you can access it through your course’s Blackboard shell. Try it out and let us know if you like it!
For assistance getting started, please contact Olena Zhadko or Jea Ahn at the Center for Teaching and Learning: