On November 4th, 2021, a group of 20 Camosun faculty and staff got together for a conversation about blended learning – what works well, what can be challenging, and what are some solutions and considerations. I wanted to share with you some of the key takeaways from these conversations.

First, however, here is Camosun’s Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL)’s current working definition of Blended Learning:

A form of hybrid learning which blends in-person and online instruction and where all students generally follow the same mix of online and in-person activities. In some cases, particularly when traditionally in-person courses are moved to a blended model, online activities may replace some in-person activities. This practice is variously referred to as blended, hybrid, or mixed mode, and has important consequences for scheduling and registration procedures.

The first question we posed for open discussion was: What are the best bits (tools and strategies) from your online teaching experience during the pivot that you want to or are carrying forward this year when teaching in-person or in a blended environment?

Leveraging existing and supported tools (for example, in Camosun’s case, D2L tools). These tools provide both transparency around how learners are being assessed, as well as organization and consistency for both learners and instructors.

Providing learners with multiple content modes (text, images, audio, video). Content like this can be reviewed as many times as learners need to. Videos or audio could contain interviews or discussions between subject matter experts, allowing learners to listen to two seasoned readers modelling critical analysis, discussion, exploration of material.

Providing learners with the opportunity to work on content before coming to an in-person class discussion, problem-solving activity based on the content, or question and answer session, in a flipped classroom model.

Designing activities so that they can be done at home in case students can’t come to class (which is definitely an issue these days when students and instructors cannot come to class if they are sick.)

Bringing in guest speakers, either live into the classroom via videoconferencing, or via videos embedded in a course site.

Having learners create content to share and discuss with their colleagues, for example creating a short video outlining an assignment, checking their understanding of the assignment and explaining their work, why they know what they know and what they’ve learned, or having student teams use discussion boards to share their work with other teams.

In smaller groups, we then discussed the following questions: How could a blended delivery model support your students? What do we need to consider? What might be the challenges of a blended learning model? Potential solutions?

Benefits

Blended learning can make education more accessible, encouraging Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and recognizing the diversity of learners and instructors including the diversity of preferred modes of learning/teaching. It can accommodate students who prefer to learn on their own but also students who don’t have the best access to technology and provide flexibility for instructors and students with busy lives.

Blended learning can add options for students who are perhaps reluctant to speak in an in-person class, who need more time to consider questions before volunteering answers, thus broadening course participation, creating more opportunities for interaction, and supporting more collaborative learning.

Blended learning aligns with student expectations and the skills and experience needed in the current (often blended/ always technology assisted) work environment.

Challenges

As an institution we need to create/use consistent definitions for terminology – online, synchronous, blended, asynchronous – as well as acknowledging the different perspectives of students, faculty, institutional services, and administration around these terms.

Because it can be labour intensive to develop a good online or blended course, we need to provide faculty with funding and/or release as well as dedicated support. There can be a steep learning curve for faculty and students both for teaching/learning online and for using the technology. And additionally, access to technology and support can be limited for some students meaning that some aspects of the online component of a blended course may not be available to them.

We need to consider decision-making processes when deciding to run a course in a blended format. Faculty need the ability to structure the classes to what is best for student learning while recognizing the complexities of scheduling logistics between online and on-campus can be tough.

We need to reflect on changing technologies and institutional attachment to specific platforms and software, while ensuring those platforms don’t define our pedagogy but rather support what we need for teaching and learning.

We need to manage learner expectations by ensuring they understand that online courses or course components are not necessarily self-paced, and that the flexibility afforded by blended learning options may require learners to learn additional time management skills.

What’s next?

The participants in our conversation café are looking forward to continuing the conversations next term, and in the meantime, we in CETL will be sharing the key takeaways with our CETL team and leadership at the college, along with some recommendations for future discussion.

Want to know more about how we in CETL are supporting Blended Learning at Camosun? Contact Emily Schudel (schudele@camosun.ca)