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Wk 1-Overview of blended + online [Aug. 17, 2011, 7:53 p.m.]

Blended and online instruction are hot topics, but what are the real benefits and challenges associated with these models?

And what is "blended" anyway? To some, it just means a hybrid of face-to-face (f2f) and online. To others, there is more to it, often involving things like student choice, self-direction, and reduction of seat time.

What is blended? “Combin[ing] f2f classroom instruction with online learning and reduced seat time” - EDUCAUSE “Substantial proportion of the content is delivered online.” The Sloan Consortium defines blended courses as having between 30% and 79% of their content delivered online. - Allen, Seaman and Garrett  “25-75% of the content is delivered online and the remainder delivered face-to-face” - Quality Matters Student-centered, active learning, both f2f and online

hands on work iconPost a comment with your thoughts about what "blended" means (or should mean). Is it improtant to have a consensus definition of this?

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Online Instruction

Some of the obvious benefits of online instruction are that it allows students greater access to more courses, helps facilitate differentiated learning, and give teachers more options in how they teach. Online learning allows for teachers and students to teach and learn anywhere or anyplace.

Some of the disadvantages can include different expectations for teachers, student access issues, and the fact that online learning may not suit every learner.

Expectations for teaching online

Teaching online is very different from teaching in a face-to-face (f2f) classroom. Many teachers find that teaching online is more intense than teaching f2f, and it often requires more time. Having good online communications skills is very important. Online communication lacks the subtlety that f2f communication has, particularly when trying to convey humor. Individual feedback to students in very important online and can make or break a course. Students often demand timely feedback that makes online teaching much more of an "on call" job that traditional teaching.

Here are some things to expect and tips that will help you and your students in your online class:

  • Online teaching takes a lot of time. Plan accordingly.
  • Set clear expectations for students up-front. You might include information on participation, timeliness, online civility, plagiarism (covered below), etc.
  • Communicate as clearly as possible. If you are saying something intended to be humorous, include emoticons. :)
  • Establish communications protocols. For example, do you want students to use regular email or email through the course? What email address should they use? etc.
  • Establish reasonable turnaround times for feedback and stick to them. For example, you might agree to respond to email within 24 hours and to provide assignment feedback within three days or as posted per assignment. (And remember that weekends count online!)
  • Provide ample and timely feedback to students.

Student access

Particularly in a blended classroom, one concern teachers often have with this is whether students will have adequate access to a computer and a network connection. Considering equity issues is critical. However, there are many ways that students can work on their online coursework. Here are just a few:

  • Many students have cell phones or other mobile devices that they can use to do work.
  • Students can often use parents, or caregivers', siblings', or friends' computers.
  • There are many places that provide public computers and public wireless access that students can use. (If students can get on Facebook, they can get on their online course.) These include the library, McDonalds and other eating establishments, and even truckstops and rest areas.
  • The school library or classroom computers are often open to students outside of regular school hours.
  • Many schools provide mobile devices (laptops, netbooks, iPods, etc.) for check-out to students who don't have other ready access. While there are often administrative concerns about possible theft, breakage, loss, etc., most schools' experience is that students are responsible with this as long as safeguards are put in place.
  • Much online coursework can be done off-line and even off a computer. For example, students can download materials to read or watch off-line or complete writing assignments off-line and then upload their work later.
  • Knowing how your students will be accessing the course outside of school can help you design your course to be most appropriate for those needs.

Another consideration for student work is in terms of productivity tools. Some student devices won't have Microsoft Office installed, so you will need to offer options. Below are a few choices. It may be convenient to standardize on one of these tools and provide students with a link to it.

  • Google Docs
    Free and online; can be accessed from a wide variety of devices, including mobile ones. This tool makes document management and paperless grading very simple and can really improve student engagement and interaction. (Also has a school version that makes administration easier.)
  • Zoho
    Free and online; not used as widely as Google Docs
  • LibreOffice (formerly known as Open Office)
    Free and open source; installed to local device (better off-line support)

hands on work iconPost your own thoughts about the advantages and disadvantages of online instruction for your own student population. (If you have a blog and want to write about this there, just post a link.)