Terms in bold can be found on the Glossary page.
Backward design helped me design the course better because I could start at what I wanted the students to do at the end. So what it was I was looking for the students to be able to do helped crystallize the layout of the course, rather than starting in the traditional way, or starting the content and the course modules, when I got my head wrapped around what I wanted the students to actually do, it helped me design the assessments, design the course content around that. And it made it make more sense.
Well, my personal guidelines for deciding what goes face to face and what goes online really has to do with the complexity of the material. So I have some content that lends itself easily to being online. You can just post the content online. The things that have a higher level of learning, things that require a lot of back and forth explanation about it I save those for my face to face.
And I also experiment back and forth sometimes. Sometimes I’ll try it online and sometimes I’ll try it face to face. And I can switch them around and sometimes it’s just trial and error. But I will say that as a rule, it’s the complexity of the course that can go on face to face and something that’s more simple can be done. When the students need to do something that’s discovery, they can discover that themselves online. But something that needs more of a complex explanation, I save that for the face to face class.
I find that I like to be creative in my teaching and I find that the blended format lends you a lot of different voices and lots of different tools at your disposal. Like you can use media clips, you can use voiceover PowerPoint, you can use links to different movies online. So it lends itself to a lot of creativity. So it doesn’t really dampen my creativity; it sort of enhances it.
I would say the challenge is to be careful of creating a course and a half which often gets talked about when you’re talking about blended course design. You tend to take your original course and then add things to it and so after a couple of years of doing that, I find myself winnowing back so that I’m sort of cutting out some of the content and the course assignments.
That’s one of the things that I find that’s real challenging is to make sure that it’s not too much material for the students and it’s not too much material for me, too, because it’s easy to add more content to it rather than trying to go back and reevaluate it and cutting things out.
I make sure that the course has clear expectations from the outset. And granted, I go back and I create new expectations because you learn; every iteration on the course I learn. Oh, I forgot to include that the last time. But clear expectations up front.
I set up a category icon so that the students can see class expectations and a welcome letter so that I let them know up front that this class is different. That it’s a blended course, that there are expectations that are different than traditional face to face classes. Plus, sometimes it’s their first experience in a blended class. So I want to make sure that I communicate the expectations up front so that there are no surprises.
In order to succeed as blended students, the students really need to plan the course out in advance. So they really need to be good at time management. I really – I set the expectations that you have to look at the course as a whole and figure out when your assignments are due and how to plot out and plan out when you need to do the assignments ahead of time. And not to wait for Sunday night to be planning for the assignment for Monday morning because it’s too late.
So I really try to drill home the idea that they have to plan out in advance and they have to look at the course as a whole from the beginning rather than day by day.
Well, as a teacher, you have to plan out in advance, too. But I like that a lot. I like to have; because when I plan a course, I like to plan it as a whole myself because it makes for better continuity between the modules and the sessions. And so if I can see it as a whole, it makes for better connections for the students. So but yes; that is one of the disadvantages to a blended in a sense that it requires a lot of up front work so you have to plan your course out all in advance. You don't have to release the course all to the students, but if you have it all planned out; especially because you're tying your assessments into your backwards design. You have to know that the end result is going to look like in the beginning. So it does require a lot of planning.
To address some of the challenges, I try to stay continually organized. I keep a notebook, really, and I write down what I need to address and so when I’m doing one course, I’ll keep myself notes of how to change it the next time. And just really being careful if I’m going to add more content, to cut out content someplace else.
Or one of the things that I’ve done in my modules is that when I think that it’s really important for the student to have access to some of the content but it’s not really necessary, it’s part of absolutely necessary for their learning. I’ll create a section in the module that’s a sort of like a need to know and nice to know section so that I create if you’re still interested, here’s more. And then I move some of the content that I’ve selected in the past so the student has an option of using that experiment or going to that information. But then I don’t feel obligated to either take it out or to test them on it. But it’s sort of just a nice to know. So that’s one of the ways I’ve addressed the challenges.
Another challenge that I find that becomes ongoing is in the nursing classes, we use adjunct faculty. So I’m continuously having to train adjunct faculty. So I have meetings at the beginning of every course where I sit down and I – they all have access, obviously, to the eLearning Website, too. So I create materials so that there are no surprises, so that the adjunct faculty gets all the information that they need to be up to speed with grading their students’ papers.
And so I also find that using the grading forms or the rubrics within eLearning for the adjunct faculty, it helps level the field a little bit so there’s some continuity in the grading for the students.
Well, for people who are just signing out, doing a blended course, it’s definitely a challenge. And you’re afraid you’re going to lose your voice in a classroom. They won’t get to know you and you won’t get to know them and you don’t have that Internet personal touch with the students.
But I was really pleasantly surprised the first time I taught in a blended format because I heard all of the students’ voices, where in the classroom, you only hear one or two people. And the people that raise their hand and speak out freely. And those are the only voices that you hear.
But in the blended format, especially in the online discussions, all of the students have to participate and so you get to hear their voices. And an added benefit to that too, is, the students’ feedback is that they say they get to hear all of their classmates’ voices, too. And they don’t get to hear those in the classroom, either.
So it’s amazing you get to hear all of the students’ voices. Especially the students that are quiet or students who are English as a Second Language and are shy about speaking out in class. They get to carefully compose a response and post it online and you really get to see how they’re processing that material and how they’re thinking about it. So it’s a completely new experience.
So I was afraid in the beginning, too, but it really is. It’s just a wonderful way of getting to know your students.
The Frequent Low Stakes Assessments give me really good feedback. I mean, I get addicted to the quick response of being online that the students give, too. So I like to know how I’m doing – not me, personally, but how the course is going; how they’re finding the information; so whether or not it’s making any sense to them.
So the Frequent Low Stakes Assessments means that they don’t – they’re not really – there’s not a high grade weighted about it. But I can evaluate pretty quickly whether or not they’re getting the material or what they’re missing about the material. And so I get instant feedback about that. And then I can quickly adapt my content either to the next face to face or the next online so that I can address some of the issues that come up in the feedback that they’re giving me.
I use online quizzes, I’ll use like this one point questions just to assess whether or not they’ve read the material before class. Or I’ll use some of the assessments called, like a one minute paper just to give me what they found was the most interesting, what they were still confused about, what they still would like to learn more about. Just one minute paper feedback.
Or their muddiest point; what they’re most confused about. I just find those assessment feedbacks pretty valuable to help me to help me structure the content so that I know that they’re getting it.
Well, I use that feedback assessment if I need to make instant changes, then I do like – it depends on the feedback. If they tell me they can’t find something as a layout, I can quickly change the layout. If it’s a bigger piece like this assignment doesn’t work, then the next time I run the course plus I also evaluate how many students give me that feedback, too. If it’s just one or two, then I sort of evaluate whether or not it was just that student. But I get a lot of students that give me feedback about something, and then I’ll try to change it in the next course design.
The first time you design the course, you probably put a lot of time into it. But then each successive course - and it never becomes done, unfortunately. You kind of are always tweaking it.
But each succession becomes a little bit easier and you can structure your time to be more efficient. And I don’t recommend starting from scratch every course design. I recommend building on your own core. Taking your course and copying it and then you can delete what you don’t need and add what you don’t have – maybe you want to use it in the future. It makes it much easier than trying to start from scratch every semester.
It’s a lot of fun. I mean, I really enjoy it. I enjoy the creativity and I enjoy hearing the students’ voices. I wish I could say it wasn’t a lot of work but it’s work that goes into your course planning anyway. I find it a lot of fun. I enjoy it. I enjoy it.