think. innovate. do.
Transcript – Dr. Bentz Audio
I’m going to be sharing my experiences of creating a blended learning class from a typical undergraduate class I’ve been teaching for the last several years and kind of the processes I went through to make that happen and some of the good things that are coming about because of blended learning and possibly some of the not so good aspects that I may change in the future. So the reason I started exploring blended learning as a means of delivering instruction to students, I was really interested in how to engage students with each other and with myself in a rather large class uhm partly because of limited resources in my department and limited teachers we combined two medium size classes into one rather large section of about 300 students uhm and it’s really important to me even in a really large class that I provide kind of a meaningful learning experience to the students uhm at that same time I had taken this class already and redesigned it to offer it as an online format in the summers and I had done that twice before and I developed or found some very interesting online materials that the students were using over the summertime to learn about the content so this class is the Culture of Disabilities and the typical format would be that once a week the students would hear a guest speaker and once a week I would deliver some kind of content in a lecture, they would write papers, take exams or work on some kind of project. So I was able to kind of bring together what I really like about teaching and apply it to a big class. So you might ask,”what is blended learning?” uhm there are many different definitions of what blended learning can be uhm but for me it basically means blending the best of online instruction with the best of face-to-face instruction. This semester to facilitate the blended learning and some activities I want to pursue I actually wrote a grant proposal to the Teaching Advancement Board at the University of Illinois and I was able to get some seed money to hire a graduate student to work with me to implement uhm some new ideas in both tracking student interactions in class and looking at their online performance. So in this class it would have typically met for an hour and twenty minutes twice a week throughout the whole semester and instead what we did is we meet face to face once a week and in the face-to-face time we typically have a guest speaker come in for about forty-five to fifty minutes and then the rest of the time is supplemented with additional information we provide to enhance what the guest speaker has been talking about. The second class session instead of meeting face-to-face we actually provide learning activities on the course management site and I’m using Moodle 2 this semester so that students can go to Moodle anytime during the week and on different weeks they have a variety of activities from watching online videos, sometimes they listen to podcasts about particular content areas, uhm I’ve recorded some of my previous lectures that they might go listen to or actually read the slides ahh and take their own notes about, uhm they respond to class forums so that they are reading each others responses and interacting that way, and then every week they have an online written assignment that they have to complete and it relates to a content area that we might not have talked about yet in the face to face class. These online assignments are graded by the TAs by the next class session and which we repeat the process every week. It’s working out well, the online information I designed it so it requires about the same amount of work that a student would complete when they come to a face-to-face class and prepare for that by reading the chapter. So it’s definitely not just extending homework or extending the content from the face-to-face but it’s delivering new content and asking students to interact with it rather than listening to me in class. Uhm part of the seed money that I got from the Teaching advancement board was use to learn iclickers. And iclickers are basically a response syst4em that was developed at the University of Illinois that allows students to have a handheld clicker and they can respond to questions that are posted on the screen during class. So these questions are uhm integrated through the class period. My goal is to have a question presented to students about every 10 minutes and the reason I chose 10 minutes is because when we were preparing the grant proposal we read a number of research studies that say that for undergraduates sitting in a lecture hall that after about 10 minutes they start to lose focus on what’s being said by the instructor. Uhm and since I teach for an hour and 20 minutes I thought it was silly to waste and hour and 10 minutes of their time if I have already lost them in the first 10 minutes. So we ask a variety of questions with the iclickers about every 10 mintues and I’m even getting some of my guest speakers to write questions to engage the students. So in a typical class period we will have anywhere from 5 to 10 questions that we ask uhm unfortunately because of the way the material have to be presented most of the questions have to be multiple choice or true false format. Uhm students answer the questions with the clickers uhm they have anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes to answer and then immediately I can show them a graph of their responses about how they are doing. Uhm what that does for me is that if there seems to be misunderstandings or I have just not taught a concept very well on the spot I can go back and review. I can also go back and ask questions that require students’ opinions and then from there once they answer the question we can find out global based on how the class responds – we can have them talk to their neighbors about why they might have answered a question a particular way. So the questions are necessarily right or wrong about class materials although we have asked them questions based on the readings of the day – mostly it is just for understanding and a way to engage with the material. Our plan is we have about 8 weeks left in the semester and we actually have a plan a couple of times to pose a couple of options to the students about what they would like to learn about next face-to-face class period uhm this class has virtually an endless supply of topics we could cover dealing with disability issues so we want to give them some choices about what they would like to learn about and so that will be coming up. So uhm the clickers uhm it was really important to me that the clickers reflected student participation in class rather than their accuracy in performing on the questions. So we’ve set it up that in order for them to get credit for being there that day they need to answer at least 50% of the questions that are asked for that day. Because most of the questions are not necessarily right or wrong, they get credit for responding to them and I think that alleviates that issue I’ve heard from some professors on campus using iclickers that they ask one or two questions at the beginning and then mark attendance and then they are done uhm this way the students now if they really want to get credit for attending they have to participate. Another thing I’ve done that is a little different because of the large class is that we formed a Facebook group just for the class instruction. Students can join. It’s optional. Two of my TAs have office hours which they monitor the Facebook group and email during a specific time and students can use this group to ask each other questions about the assignments, they’ve been great about using the group to form projects. Well uhm they’ve used the Facebook group to form their own projects. So in the past when I’ve had to pass a piece of paper around and say sign up, what topic are you interested in who do you want to work with, they are already doing this on their own and taken their own initiative. The nice thing about Facebook groups is that even through they can interact in the group they don’t have to have access to each other’s profiles on Facebook. Those are still kept private. This is a really nice online way to informally talk about questions from class or students have posted information about stuff they heard in the news that they thought was relevant. So that class is different than my face-to-face class in terms of the variety of ways I use technologies to have students engage in the material and to engage with each other as well. I know I mentioned online forums that students can respond to while I’ve used them before I hadn’t necessarily been conscious about grouping common topics that relate to a topic they will do and the online conversations back and forth that the students do is really interesting. I think part of the flavor of this class that makes its teaching unique to me is that there are a number of students with disabilities taking the class so their first hand experiences with the topic set the tone in terms of how others respond to them and what they are learning. So I think that is definitely a value added. So uhm hopefully you will come to the session to learn more about blended learning and I will share with you some of the the learning experiences of setting this up and dealing with university policy and what an innovative method of instruction and how it fits into a traditional model.