6 Blended Learning Case Study 2

Case Study 2: Detailed Personal Reflection

A story of blended instruction

Typically described as an instructional strategy that incorporates the best of face-to-face learning and online content and discussion groups, blended instruction often meets with mixed success. A key challenge to designing blended learning strategies is to sort out what content is best suited to which format—online or face-to-face. If that decision is not well considered at the design level, the workload for both the teacher and students may seem overwhelming, and the learning experience may be inconsistent with the curricular goals.

In blended learning, typically the face-to-face component is supported by supplementary online content. This is usually contained within an LMS, often with asynchronous discussion groups and synchronous sessions, and it may take the form of blogs, podcasts and multimedia simulations. Conversely, a blended course might exist primarily online, with a few face-to-face meetings for more experiential learning opportunities such as labs, visits to specific sites, or face-to-face orientation sessions so students can meet each other and the instructor.

In winter of 2004 I [Susan Crichton] had the opportunity to design a campus-based course for preservice teachers. It was entitled Distributed Learning: Teaching and Learning Online. The desire to build and teach this course came directly from my personal experience as a K–12 online educator, as well as my research into the practices of K– 12 online teachers. I felt the course had to model excellent practice and leverage emerging technologies, as it would introduce blended and online learning to preservice teachers.

The course, an elective, met on Friday mornings for three hours, and it was assumed that students would work an additional three hours per week independently. Further, all similar electives within the program, required students to complete an inquiry paper based on action research.

Before the semester started, I met with the students and determined that none of them had taken an online course before. The majority had very limited technology skills and were actually enrolled in the course to gain them. Therefore, I started the design of the course by considering the amount of time available (13 weeks) and listing the learning experiences that I wanted the students to have; I then organized the content to fit those constraints. I sorted the content into experiences that I felt were best shared, either face-to-face during the Friday sessions or online during the expected independent study time. Further, I modified the inquiry paper to include the development of a student-negotiated learning object.

I planned for the final face-to-face class to be a celebration of learning where the students could share their learning objects and talk about their successes and challenges. Therefore, I was left with 11 sessions to present content, develop technology skills, and model more student-centred approaches to learning.

Assuming the first session and the last were orientation, introduction and celebration, respectively, I distributed specific content to each of the other 11 sessions, covering topics such as roles and responsibilities for online educators, content development, issues of pedagogy and assessment, characteristics of asynchronous and synchronous learning, global issues—digital divide, employment opportunities, and universal design. Paralleling each topic were weekly online content structured within the LMS and opportunities for students to practise moderating the discussion forum. The face-to-face sessions became workshop opportunities, with matching software complementing the various topics. For example, the week on content development was supported by concept mapping using Inspiration software for storyboarding and an introductory, hands-on session in digital filmmaking.

The most critical design decision on my part was where on the continuum (Figure 31.3) I should start. As our program is inquiry-based, I felt it would have been inappropriate to start with online instruction only. Further, because there was an existing face-to-face expectation, the facilitated online instruction model would not work either. The choice rested with a blended approach or a studio-based approach, and I chose blended, designing the face-to-face sessions as a studio-based model in terms of the handson learning and open critiques of the products and process.

Continuum Type Online Instruction Facilitated Online Instruction Blended Instruction Studio-Based Instruction
Role of teacher / student

Teacher-prepared content

Teacher-directed instruction

Teacher has minimal or no direct involvement with students

Need for students to participate online

Teacher-prepared content

Teacher-directed instruction

Interaction between teacher and students

Need for both to participate face-to-face and online

Teacher-prepared content

Teacher-directed instruction

Increased interaction among teacher and students

Need for both to participate face-to-face and online

Teacher-prepared learning environment and initial problems / task

Student-centred approach

Active interaction between students / teachers

Changed role for teacher and student

Online Approach

Asynchronous teaching / learning

Learning controlled by time — fixed start / stop time

Synchronous teaching / learning options

Asynchronous options

Collaborative options

Learning controlled by teacher

Synchronous teaching / learning

Increased oppportunities for asynchronous learning

Opportunity for face-to-face collaboration

Learning controlled by teacher

Asynchronous learning with synchronous support


Online gallery with
forum for crits

Learning negotiated
by teacher
/ student

Example of software Content managed in
system (LMS)
such as Blackboard,
Moodle, WebCT;
via computermarked
Content in LMS,
support via
email or
(e.g., Elluminate
Live, MSN
Messenger); online
Online discussions,
LMS, synchronous
software (e.g.,
CMAP, shared
simulations, VR,
LMS, synchronous
Instructional Strategy Lecture / information transfer Lecture, discussion Lecture, discussion, task negotiation Lecture, discussion, task negotiation, problem-solving
Evaluation Testing / computer
(true or false,
multiple choice,
short answer
Formal testing /
teacher marked
Formal testing /
teacher marked, potential for alternative, more open-ended assessment (essay, project, etc.)
assessment using
checklists / rubrics
for project
Link to Bloom’s Taxonomy Knowledge level

Knowledge level

Comprehension level

Knowledge level

Comprehension level

Application level

Analysis level

Potential for all levels, including the higher-order thinking tasks of synthesis and evaluation

Figure 31.3 Continuum of Instructional Practice Typically Found in Online and Blended Learning

This course has been offered each year since its introduction in 2004, and students have been hired directly from the course for jobs in online teaching for the local school board. Each year, the course content has changed as new technology emerges. In the last offering, I included podcasting, wikis, and blogs, and I am still exploring options for the upcoming course. The course has exceeded my expectations, and the evaluations have been excellent.

During the first offering, a graduate student (Shervey,2005) researched this course for her thesis. The study was positive and reaffirming, as it revealed that the students’ perceptions of promise and potential of online learning changed as they experienced them firsthand.

Blended learning worked well for the Distributed Learning course. For example, it allowed me to share asynchronous technologies during the sessions on asynchronous and synchronous learning. Rather than attend class, I encouraged the students to connect from home during the Friday class, letting them experience what it felt like to be learning along from home. One of the most successful sessions was the discussion of employment. I invited colleagues who work in various online professions to join the discussion forum. I created a forum topic for each of them, introducing them to the course and explaining to the students how I knew them or had worked with them, thereby personalizing these potentially anonymous guests. Each guest then posted a description of their work and invited the students to ask questions. And question they did, asking everything from who are you, to how much do you make, and are you lonely sitting at home.

Over the three offerings of this course, I have done little to change the structure or my instructional strategies, which appear to be working well, but the design is flexible enough to allow me to change the content as new things emerge. I cannot imagine offering this course in anything other than a blended approach, as I have learned that our face-to-face time is as important as our online time.



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Blended Learning Handbook by University of Alberta Centre for Teaching and Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


Comments are closed.