“I learned so much…I would highly recommend it.” That’s what Ranjit Dhari, a lecturer in the School of Nursing, said about her experience taking the six week course, Teaching in a Blended Learning Environment (T-BLE).
T-BLE is a short, immersive course aimed at instructors who are considering moving to a blended learning environment. The course runs for six weeks and is delivered in a blended format—a combination of online and face-to-face sessions. T-BLE participants have an opportunity to redesign a course module for a blended learning environment, while collaborating and receiving support from colleagues across campus.
Dhari decided to take T-BLE in order to increase her knowledge of online and blended learning. “I had no experience with online teaching,” she said. “I did one module with flipped learning and wanted to look at developing another module with T-BLE.”
Dhari was teaching a community health course while she was taking T-BLE, and was able to implement what she learned by making better use of the discussion board. “I tried it right away in my course,” she said. “I put my foot in the water to test it.” Dhari was interested in creating an online community for her course. “I set up a discussion board to try to create that community feel,” she notes.
For her community health course, Dhari used her experience with T-BLE to transform a social marketing module. She worked with Learning Technology Rovers to make video lectures and voice over PowerPoint slides. “Knowing there was support was a big plus,” she said.
For one of the assignments, Dhari had students complete a social marketing activity. “I usually do it during the class, [asking students to] pair up, discuss, and share with the class,” she says. With T-BLE, she decided to transform the activity into a video podcasting assignment. One of the T-BLE facilitators helped her set up a blog, and students were asked to create a video podcast and post it to the course blog. “I posted a survey to see who had experience with podcasts,” says Dhari. She noted that she learned about pairing techniques in T-BLE. “You don’t want two people who don’t know [how to make podcasts] together.” Rather, she explained that she needed to be careful how she paired up students, in order to balance the skill sets.
For Joyce Chan, associate professor of Church History and Vice President Academic at Carey Theological College, T-BLE was a good opportunity to learn more about teaching online and blended courses. “I never had any training in terms of teaching hybrid [blended] courses,” she explains. “I would deliver content to an IT person and they would set it up.” Chan teaches a fully online course, as well as two blended courses which incorporate online modules with a one week face-to-face intensive. “I wanted to better learn how to use the tools in Connect,” she explains. “I became academic dean back in September, so I wanted to help my faculty do better as well.”
Chan is currently teaching Introduction to Global Church History, a fully online course, and she was able to incorporate what she learned in T-BLE into her online course. “I am already seeing the fruit of it,” she says. With T-BLE, Chan really appreciated the module on collaborative learning. “Collaborative learning is good because everyone can bring a larger pool of knowledge and their own areas of interest,” she notes. “I redesigned my course to include more collaborative discussion.”
As a result, Chan has changed the way that she uses the online discussion board. “I used to give my comments as early as possible,” she explained. “Now, I am trying to hold back a little and see if the students will jump in. Instead of me setting the questions, I have students role play and post [reports]…and have them respond to each other.”
Chan is also using a wiki and blog to engage students in her online course. With the wiki, she gets her students to create a glossary of heresies. Once all of the students sign up for a heresy, they must build out the resource and contribute to the glossary on the wiki. Using the course blog, Chan then gets students to post and respond to comments about the heresies. “We use heresies from the wiki glossary,” she explains, “and I get the students to see if there are contemporary examples of heresies and to connect them.”
By participating in T-BLE, Chan was able to learn more about using videos and peer evaluation in her online course. “I learned to make a video with Camtasia,” she explains, and now has a five minute introductory video for her course. “Peer evaluation is another thing I introduced to this course,” says Chan, who is using iPeer for peer evaluation.
Another thing that Chan learned from her participation in T-BLE was the use of online badges to encourage student learning. “I use badges each week for things I want them to learn,” she said. “When they complete the module, they get a badge…last week they got an apostles award.”
For Brett Couch, an instructor in the Department of Botany, T-BLE was an opportunity for him to work on revising a specific online module for his course, Biology 121: Genetics, Evolution and Ecology. “It worked for me because I had a very specific idea of what I wanted out of it,” explains Couch. “I had an activity and wanted to improve it.”
“I had already written the case study,” he said. The case study involved someone who picked up tuberculosis, while traveling, and Couch wanted to revise this online module in order to improve the online presentation of the material. “It was mostly about presenting a cohesive package online,” he explains. Couch revised his online module by sequencing the material “in the order I want them to do things…discussion board, guided readings, quizzes.” By sequencing the material in a particular way, Couch noted that he was able to get students to “think about a particular question before class.”
“I had quizzes and presented them as reading checks,” Couch said. “The change in terminology helped them.” With a slight change in terminology, Couch found that students were more open to the learning experience, as they felt that “it’s there to help me.” Couch was teaching Biology 121 at the same time he was taking T-BLE, and he was able to implement the revised online module right away.
Couch also felt that his experience with T-BLE allowed him to improve the way he used the online discussion board in his class. He and his fellow T-BLE participants used the online discussion board while completing the T-BLE course, and this experience informed the design of his own discussion board activity. “It improved the way I asked discussion board questions,” he said. “I thought about how do you design a good discussion question [in order] to get students talking about it?”
Couch applied this to the face-to-face aspect of his course as well. “I was figuring out how to phrase questions, both in class and on the discussion board,” he said. “Students noticed that I was involved in the discussion board and bringing the comments into class.” After taking T-BLE, Couch noticed that he was better able to connect the online discussion with the in-class activities. “I think I did this better in the course,” he said. “The T-BLE activities got me thinking about interactions between online modules and the class…I am very conscious for the need of the two pieces to interact.”
Dhari, Chan, and Couch all found the T-BLE course to be beneficial, in that it allowed them to experience an online course as a student. “I wanted to see an online class from the point of view of a student,” Couch said. “I learned a lot about how students experience a course…I was informed through feedback from students and my experience with T-BLE.”
Couch noticed some differences between reading print materials and reading online. “It is more challenging to read online and actively read online, versus printing it out and writing on it,” he says. As a result, Couch encourages his students to take notes when they are reading online, and to summarize the content themselves in order to identify the most important content. After taking T-BLE, he is more aware of the student perspective. “I know the challenges students encounter when taking our courses and hopefully we can help them with course design to make it easier for the students,” he said.
Dhari also found it to be beneficial to take the course as a student. “It was interesting to experience what it is like to be a student, on the other side,” she explained. She found it interesting to “understand the bits and pieces that connect together for a learner.”
With T-BLE, Chan learned that it is important to “make things really clear for students.” She explains, “I created really clear modules…[and broke] down the navigation so it is easy to follow.”
The three participants also expressed how much they appreciated the support from their peers and the facilitators in T-BLE. “It was great to see what other people were teaching, and how they were teaching it,” Dhari says. “I learned a lot from the peers.” Dhari also found that it helped to expand her horizons about what instructors can do online. “The learning and sharing that happened was great,” she noted. Chan added, “I found the one-on-one drop in sessions really helpful…The coaching is the key to the success of the course.”
The next instalment of Teaching in a Blended Learning Environment will take place from June 3 – July 29, 2015. If you are interested in joining the T-BLE faculty cohort, please complete the online application by June 1, 2015.
For more information, contact kele fleming, Associate Director, Teaching and Learning Professional Development, CTLT.