Friday, February 21, 2014

Educational Innovation: Blend@UW

As e-learning has become a popular way of learning, another concept- blended or hybrid learning- has also gain its popularity in education field. According to the Sloan-C criteria, a blended/hybrid course is comprised of both online and face-to-face delivery, while the content delivered online should be about 30-79%. Since a blended course falls between the traditional classroom learning and online learning, it solves some problems embedded in the other two course delivery formats; however, blended course is not free of limitations. As a report from the Badger Herald points out, although providing a more efficient learning experience, blended course also imposes new requirements on both students and instructors: students have to be highly active in both online learning and interactions with classmates and instructors; while instructors have to redesign the learning experience from content to classroom activities. In addition to the multiple programs to help students obtain a positive learning experience, the university also provides diverseprograms/workshops to support instructors developing their pedagogical and technological skills for designing a blended course. Among these efforts, Blend@UW program aims to help those instructors redesign their course to fit into a blended learning environment.

The Blend@UW program was first introduced as a semester-long series by DoIT Academic Technology (DoIT AT) in the 2013 Fall Semester, and the 2014 Spring series started on February 5. This program focuses on strategies only used for developing the Replacement Model among other blended learning models.

The participants of this program are instructors who wish to use the Replacement Model in their courses, and 20 instructors was accepted in the 2013 Fall program and 16 in the 2014 Spring one. Instead of providing specific technological training, Blend@UW focus more on the pedagogical training. By attending a 1.5-hour class weekly, participants work closely with instructional designers to learn the skills for redesigning a blended course, including: developing course activities, selecting appropriate delivery formats and technologies, and understanding different assessment models.  

Very few information about the assessment of this program could be found in the university’s website; however, Professor Jillian Sayre from the English Department, who is also one of the participants in 2013 Fall semester, shared her experiences in redesigning a course after attending the Blend@UW. Sayre taught English 591: Visions and Revisions of the New World, a course that is open to non-English-major students to fulfill their general education requirement. Due to the students’ varying backgrounds, Sayre faced the problems of how to deal with different writing levels, while she could not spend class time on teaching writing. In her redesigned blended course, Sayre adopted the backwards design by delivering the learning objectives at the very beginning of each lecture and understanding what students want/do not want to do. For instance, Sayre always communicated the learning goals in the previous face-to-face lecture, and re-address these goals in the online lecture; she then would check in students’ work based on the e-lecture during the following in-personal lecture. Another benefit of attending the Blend@UW is that it exposes multiple technologies for Sayre to select from in order to achieve her course goals, especially for the e-lectures. Overall, Sayre found out besides the flexibility generated by the resigned course, it builds up a learning community among students, which also encourages discussions in this class.          

After checking the 20 redesigned courses in the course enrollment system in the 2014 Spring semester, I noticed that most of these courses are still provided in traditional classroom model rather than a blended learning environment. It would be interesting to track the actual implementation and outcomes of redesigned courses after the instructors’ participation of the Blend@UW program.  

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