In the Fall of 2019, during the Covid-19 pandemic, I began teaching an online course for first-year, first-generation students. Along with most universities across the country, my campus had decided to temporarily move all traditionally in-person courses to an online or hybrid delivery platform for the sake of student safety. As an instructor, I found myself grappling with questions I had never thought of before – how can I keep students engaged during a Zoom lecture? Are breakout rooms a good use of student time? How can I tell if students are truly learning the content across the semester?
This experience prompted me to start exploring best practices in blended instruction, defined as any combinational use of online and face-to-face formats for instructional purposes (Keengwe & Kang, 2012). As I began reviewing the literature on this topic, I wondered, ‘Are other teachers using blended instruction for the first time? Are they also wondering how the heck to do this correctly?’
Based on conversations with colleagues, I realized that I was not alone – and I started pulling together resources on best practices in blended instruction. Here, I present a list of three self-assessment questions, inspired by Oliver and Stallings’ work (2014), to prompt reflection on your own blended or online instructional practice.
Self-Assessment #1: Should you utilize asynchronous or synchronous instruction?
Before jumping into blended instruction, it’s important for teachers to consider the contextual, instructional, and technological aspects of the approach (Oliver & Stallings, 2014). Specifically, the authors ask teachers to consider whether particular topics should be covered through asynchronous (not live) or synchronous (live) instruction.
There are pros and cons to both instructional methods – while asynchronous instruction offers students extended time to mull over difficult topics and think critically about them, it can be hard for students to understand complex processes or new terminology without live guidance from an instructor. Alternatively, synchronous instruction allows for rich group discussion and thorough presentation of a new topic, with time built in for students to ask questions regarding misunderstandings. If you’re an instructor, which topics might lend themselves better to asynchronous or synchronous instruction?
Self-Assessment #2: Are you providing students with the right support and resources?
In an online or hybrid environment, it can be easy for students to feel lost or confused, especially if the instructional platform (i.e., learning management system) is hard to navigate. Oliver and Stallings (2014) suggest thinking about which supports, resources, or learning scaffolds your students might need.
For example, will your students be oriented to the learning management system before your course, or should you provide them with a quick overview (in the form of Google documents, an FAQ document, or a quick video)? How will you track student engagement virtually (online polls, tracking attendance, having students meet one-on-one with you during the semester)? Can you embed learning assessments into your instructional time with students or will students complete assessments outside of class? How will you ensure that students with special needs are getting the support they need from a distance?
Self-Assessment #3: Are you encouraging student collaboration?
There are a number of ways to prompt student collaboration in the hybrid, blended, or remote environment. First, consider the assignments being provided to students – case studies and problem-solving activities are great for student engagement in a blended environment, making the learning experience more authentic.
Second, set specific guidelines and goals for peer interactions; sending students to breakout rooms to discuss a topic that isn’t meaningful (or very closely related to course content) can lead to conversations that fizzle out or go off-track quickly.
Finally, consider some creative options for student-centered learning. Allow students to spend 20% of class time on a project of their own interest (an idea that I read in Linton’s Blended Learning Blueprint); start class time with a ‘Question Session’ where students bring their top questions from the recent readings and homework; present interdisciplinary content and activities that encourage students to make connections across content areas (Oliver & Stallings, 2014). There are endless ways to encourage student connections and collaboration.
Although this is far from a comprehensive self-assessment when it comes to blended instruction, I hope this sparks some reflective thinking for instructors who are engaging in blended and online instructional methods for the first time. How might you change your instructional approach based on these ideas?
Keengwe, J., & Kang, J. J. (2012). Blended learning in teacher preparation programs: A literature review. International Journal of Information and Communication Technology Education (IJICTE), 8(2), 81-93.
Linton, J. (2018). The blended learning blueprint for elementary teachers. Corwin.
Oliver, K. M., & Stallings, D. T. (2014). Preparing teachers for emerging blended learning environments. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 22(1), 79-103. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265963851
Annie Cole, Research Analyst, Modern Classrooms Project