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Getting Started

jspohrer's picture

Interested in developing a blended course, but unsure how or where to begin? Here are some tips distilled out the experiences of faculty who were developing courses for the NGLC study of blended learning in a liberal arts college setting. 

  1. First, identify your primary pedagogical goals or the pain points you are trying to address by adopting a blended approach. This will help you identify features you need to look for any computer-based materials (courseware) you adopt and parameters for how to integrate them into the class. For example --
    1. You want to use online assessments to get a real-time sense of students' understanding of lectures or readings. You will need to look for courseware that tracks this data for instructors (as opposed to, say, materials designed for independent self-review), and you will need to structure due dates and incentives to ensure students complete modules by the time you need the data.
    2. Students enter your introductory course with widely varying levels of previous preparation, and you want to use online materials to help underprepared students review basic concepts. One solution might be adaptive-learning courseware, which automatically steers students toward more challenging or more remedial material as needed, according to their performance on built-in assessments. If these are not available in the subject of the course, you can achieve the same effect by combining  online assessments that enable students to evaluate their understanding level they need for a particular topic.
  2. Look for ready-made materials first. Don't reinvent the wheel if you don't have to!
    1. Check out descriptions of the blended courses developed for our NGLC study of blended learning in liberal arts colleges, for links to online resources that participating faculty used.
    2. If you use a textbook, see what kinds of supplemental digital materials the publisher provides. Many publishers are creating online homework or e-activity supplements for common textbooks in large introductory courses. Some instructor's editions digital worksheet and quiz materials that you may be able to upload into or adapt for your college's LMS (learning management system, e.g. Moodle, Blackboard, etc.). Not all of these materials are created equal -- you'll want to double-check that their questions assess what you really want students to know (not just how well they can find information in the textbook) and prepare them for the kinds of questions they will see on your exams.
    3. Check whether your disciplinary professional organization curates a list of recommended resources or whether there is a journal or blog in your field that reviews them.
    4. If scholars in your discipline don't curate materials, there are a number of websites that index materials across fields, such as OER Commons, the National Digital Science Library (for science and math), or Connexions. These sites typically allow you to search by subject, grade level, and type of material, and some provide reviews or rating mechanisms.
  3. If there are no suitable, ready-made materials in your field -- or the ones you find are good, but not sufficienct -- you may be able to make your own within your LMS. Most LMSes have a quiz feature of some kind that asks students questions, gives them immediate feedback, and lets you track and analyze response data.
    1. Creating online learning materials is generally not difficult, but it can be quite time-consuming. Here are some strategies instructors in the study have used to cope:
      1. Hire student assistants for the grunt work. If you have paper assessments and worksheets, any somewhat tech savvy student should be able to input the pre-written questions and answers into the LMS. Students with disciplinary expertise (TAs, advanced majors, and veterans of your course) can probably also write feedback and create supplemental questions or review materials. Students can also help you clean up digital materials imported from another source (i.e. instructor textbook supplement).
      2. Share materials with colleagues. This is especially applicable in departments where faculty take turns teaching introductory courses. In our case, faculty shared materials by added their colleagues to their Moodle courses as "instructors"; anyone with instructor privileges can upload and download materials. Your LMS may have other sharing options, or it may make sense to develop a perpetual departmental course site to house shared resources, such as a collective question bank that everyone can draw on to make quizzes.  
      3. Look at this as a long-term project. Start small -- maybe the first semester you create tutorials for one or two areas where students have the most trouble, or very short, bare-bones quizzes for each section. Build on those resources with each subsequent iteration of the course. Just the act of being quizzed will help the first generation of students retain skills and concepts, and in subsequent years you can draw on their response data to tweak wrong answer choices or add feedback to enhance the quizzes.
      4. Have your students generate electronic learning materials as part of a course. The best way to learn is often to teach. Students can generate glossary items in Moodle (which can be used to create quizzes), create and share flashcards on Quizlet, or submit review questions.