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Getting Started

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. 

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Thinking about the "micro-lecture" ...

Many faculty are experimenting with reducing the amount of class time spent lecturing in order to devote more time to discussion, problem-solving, and other activities designed to engage students in active learning. Thanks to Salman Khan of Khan Academy, perhaps, the most famous example of this is the "flipped classroom" approach, in which lectures are partly or wholly replaced by short instructional videos designed to be viewed as "homework" outside of class. In Introduction to Key Concepts in Five Minutes or Less: The ‘Did You Know?’ Microlecture Series, Julia VanderMolen explains talks about the potential benefits of the recorded "microlecture," the tools and pedagogical approach she takes when recording them, and how she integrates them in to her classes. Although the focus is recorded lectures, the approach could be used for in-person "micro-lectures" as well. 

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Bryn Mawr's Liz McCormack featured in HHMI Bulletin article on Flipped Classrooms

The Science Education article in the Spring 2014 issue of the HHMI bulletin interviews several faculty in biology, physics, and chemistry about their motivations for flipping the classroom, the strategies they used, and the results the have seen. Among them is Bryn Mawr College's Elizabeth McCormack, who discusses her her experiences flipping a sophomore electromagnetics class, including initial resistance from students and what she has learned from that resistance. (Click here for slides from McCormack's 2013 Blended Learning Conference presentation on this experience.)

Learning impacts described in the article seem consistent with those reported by faculty who discussed their own experiments with flipping the classroom at the 2014 Blended Learning Conference -- high-performing students continue to do well, and middle- to lower-performing students show improvement. One quasi-experimental study that compared students in a section of introductory physics course that introduced students to content through pre-class reading assignments to free up class time for active-learning activities to a section taught in a traditional format, found that the form scored significantly higher on a standard test of their knowledge of quantum mechanics.     

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Historicizing the Flipped Classroom

The latest article posted to the Tomorrow's Professor mailing list, "1330. Flipped Classrooms- Old or New?," reconnects the idea of the "flipped" classroom to long-standing educational practice.

Current media coverage paints "flipped" as a revolutionary form of blended or technology-enhanced teaching. Instead of lecturing, an instructor introduces key concepts and skills though online videos or interactive tutorials, which students are required to complete before class. The instructor then uses class time for active learning exercises designed to help students engage with and master that material -- such as problem-solving, group projects, in depth discussion, debates, etc.

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Schedule Posted for 2014 Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts Conference 5/21-22 at Bryn Mawr College

The schedule for the 2014 Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts Conference is up! This year's conference has something for everyone, from reports on experiences with flipping a classroom to faculty experiments with using threaded discussion, gaming, mapping and Twitter to achieve pedagogical goals. Speakers were drawn from almost a dozen colleges across the country, and include a range of perspectives -- faculty across a range of academic disciplines, instructional support staff, administration, and students. 
A detailed schedule is available here:

This year's conference will be on May 21 and 22 on Bryn Mawr College's campus, just outside of Philadelphia. The deadline for registration is May 15:

For more information about the conference and to register, go to our website:

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WestChester University's RECAP2014

Philly-area faculty and IT's looking to develop academic technology skills and strategies should check out Westchester University's RECAP conference and hands-on workshops. This year's themes include mobile pedagogy; engaging students; assessment; universal design; and using technology to develop critical thinking and other soft skills. Technologies discussed include both commercial and open-source options. For more information and to register, see

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Registration Open for the 2014 Blended Learning Conference

Bryn Mawr College is pleased to announce that the third annual Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts Conference will be held on 21-22 May 2014 at Bryn Mawr College, located in the Philadelphia suburbs.

This conference is part of the college’s Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts Initiative, funded by Next Generation Learning Challenges and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It is designed as a forum for college faculty and staff to share resources, experiences, and findings related to blended learning. Particular emphasis is placed on using blended learning to improve learning outcomes and support the close faculty-student relationships and deep, lifelong learning that are the hallmarks of a liberal arts education. Faculty and staff from all undergraduate institutions are welcome to attend. Advance registration is required; the deadline for registering is May 15.

For more information and to register:


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Tips for Working with New Software Tools

One thing I have learned from the NGLC blended learning and from working with various edu-tech tools and developers, is that the market is very much in flux. Inspired in part by the success of blended learning and the buzz around MOOCs, many companies are working on many different innovative tools and courseware packages, often in response to real needs identified by teachers and students. This is great news, but for the immediate future it means that most of us at some point will need to teach and learn with a tool that is still "in beta" and lacks the robust customer support or functionality of older, more established software.

I've written before about how difficult, yet ultimately rewarding, it can be to get used to working in a "live beta" mode, in which you publish or publicly try something you know to be half-baked, in order to get feedback on how it works in a real-world setting. A recent EdSurge article also offers some concrete logistical tips for instructors who find themselves in this position, due to the newness of the software tools they are trying to use -- such as workarounds for tools that lack "single sign-on" functionality.

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Metacognitive exercises for starting a course

In my workshops on building effective blended courses, I talk about the importance of metacognitive skills for learning, and how faculty can use blended learning to help students develop and exercise those skills.

Maryellen Weimer posted a great article on Faculty Focus, describing quick exercises you can use to start a course off with a metacognitive reflection. I think they could also work as mid-semester reflections, as a chance to reflect on a course experience thus far and make adjustments as needed. You could introduce the exercise the same way, but follow with a debrief discussion or writing exercise that prompts students to compare their best experience with their experience in the current course so far and think about ways to incorporate elements of the former into the latter.

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"Exam Wrappers" as a Tool for Helping Students Develop Metacognitive Skills

Our study suggested that blended learning was successful in part because faculty used the online materials to provide students with more opportunities for formative assessment. In the best cases, these included exercises designed to help students develop metacognitive skills, or the skills needed to judge their own learning and the effectiveness of their learning strategies, and identify things they can do to improve. In a recent edition of the faculty development mailing list Tomorrow's Professor, Rick Reis introduces us to Marsha Lovett's concept of "exam wrappers," or short metacognitive exercises for students to complete shortly before and after an exam to get them thinking critically and integratively about their preparation, their performance, and the instructor's feedback. In the article, these are described primarily as in-class and/or on-paper exercises, but they could just as easily be adapted as online exercises for a blended course.

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