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Best Practices

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Tips for Faculty Who Want to Get Started with Blended Learning

Blending a course can be daunting. Jennifer Spohrer has collected advice about how to get started that faculty have shared at the annual Blended Learning in the Liberal Arts conferences that Bryn Mawr hosts in this guest post on the Next Generation Learning Challenges blog

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Improved Success for Black and First Generation Undergraduates in Active Learning Course

The CBE-Life Sciences Education journal has recently published a study that resulted in improved success for black and first generation undergraduates who have a more activate role in class. Six semesters of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s introductory biology class (~400 students per class) were studied. Three of classes studied were simple lecture-based courses where students were not held accountable for coming to class prepared. The other three classes had an active learning approach which involved more in-class activities completed through teamwork, online exercises, and assigned textbook reading in order to prepare students for class. Overall, active learning improved test scores and significantly increased the number of students who passed exams. Specifically, for black and first generation active learners, exams scores increased by six percent. Additionally, the score gap between first-generation students and other students was not present for courses with an active learning structure. Students in the active learning classes were more likely to complete textbook readings, dedicate more hours on coursework, participate more in class, and view class as a community. These findings suggest that an active learning course structure improves student academic success and accomplishment particularly for students who are from an under-resourced background.

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Blended Learning in the News


Below, read all about what others have been saying about Blended Learning!


"‘Dubliners’Comes to Life in Boston College’s Annotated E-Book"

by Avi Wolfman-Arent in The Chronicle of Higher Education: Wired Campus on June 10, 2014

"Learning R"

by Andrea Zellner in Inside Higher Ed: GradHacker on June 10, 2014

"Five Things Online Students Want from Faculty"

by Rob Kelly in Faculty Focus: Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magna Publications on May 30, 2014

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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:


blendedlearning's picture

March of the Textbook Publishers

As the college experience becomes increasingly concentrated in students' technological spaces, the vendors of digital tools become more and more prominent parts of that experience. Textbook publishers and course managment system companies vie for market space, both seeking to gain control over the market. More and more, that means vying for increased control over the learning experience.

Between the textbook publishers and the course management providers, no one company has won out as the ultimate provider of every part of the learning experience. But as the two fight it out to provide an immersive experience, they're also taking control away from someone else: faculty.

Part of the immerseive experience, after all, includes creating activities, setting learning objectives, and designing assessments -- areas that are traditionally the domain of faculty. While the deadlock between companies suggests that faculty aren't in any immediate danger of corporations seizing control over their classrooms, some universities are working to partner with their supply companies. Working with publishers and CMS companies can allow faculty to engineer flexible materials. Freedom is important to faculty, and if ceding control to technology companies endangers that, the partnerships will fall flat.

For more information, read the Chronicle of Higher Education article "Textbook Publishers Push to Provide Full Digital-Learning Experience."

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Peer Response vs. Peer Grading

Peer response is a tested and respect teaching strategy. By reviewing and critiquing peers' work, students are expected to both help one another advance their projects, but also to gain insight into their own work. Ideally, it fosters reflection and self-awareness. It's less about evaluation and more about adding an extra dimension, and particularly a hands-on dimension, to the learning process. Peer grading, as John Warner of Just Visiting writes, is another story. The idea behind peer grading is, apparently, to reinforce the "right answers" by givving students the time and the incentive to reflect on them. For assessments like multiple choice or, to use Warner's example, spelling tests, peer grading would probably work just fine. But for the kind of work which liberal arts institutions encourage, peer grading does students a disservice. The problem isn't the actual scoring process -- students are probably capable of assigning grades -- but not of providing the kind of high quality feedback that really helps learning. It is the knowledge and experience of the professor which produces effective feedback, and relying on peer grading deprives students of this crucial opportunity to engage in dialogue with professors. Response is really for learning about your own work, which makes peer response useful and valuable. But grading is meant to help the person being graded, and that takes a more practiced hand.

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The Pedagogy of Discovery

According to Steven Mintz, Executive Director of the University of Texas System's Institute for Transformation Learning, it isn't just education that's changing: it's pedagogy. He recalls Jerome Bruner's work in the early 1960s which found that the standard pedagogy of the era, knowledge transmission, needed to be revised. He suggested "discovery learning," which emphasizes learning through inquiry and team work instead of passive reception. Professor Mintz believes its time for another change: as he wrote in a recent post for Inside Higher Ed, "The time is ripe to move toward Pedagogy 3.0: a pedagogy of collaboration, creativity, and invention which treats students not simply as learners but as creators of knowledge."

Mintz notes that the way undergraduate institutions work, they only really serve one out of three subgroups they should be serving: those struggling without proper preparation and faced with other demands, and potential students who are currently workin adults and full-time caretakers, often go unserved. The Pedagogy of Discovery, according to Professor Mintz, would help address these gaps. Instead of treating college students as passive, it treats them as "knowledge creators whose school work needs to be meaningul and subject to vetting not just by a single professor but a broader audience."

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Writing Better Multiple-Choice Questions

In a series of posts on the Teaching Professor Blog, Dr. Maryellen Weimer took on the challenge of improving college-level multiple choice tests. While multiple choice tests are a convenience for many professors, for instructors of blended and online courses they can be a necessity. The problem is, of course, that many instructors question what multiple choice tests are really testing -- student learning, or student ability to select an answer from a list of choices.

According to Dr. Weimer, not all multiple choice tests are bad tests. The real problem is crafting the right questions. According to the first post in the series, "A number of years ago, a cross-disciplinary faculty cohort reported that a third of their questions measured complex cognitive skills. An analysis showed that only 8.5% of their questions did, with the remaining testing basic comprehension and recall." Improving the quality of the questions, according to Dr. Weimer, can make multiple choice tests efficient and effective. In the second post, she provides some tips for writing good multiple choice questions, including:

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Giving Better Feedback: Oral Feedback

During an interview with Online Classroom, professor Rosemary Cleveland and instructional designer Kim Kenward suggested some tips for providing students with feedback in their online courses. Even though their interview was targeted towards completely online courses, there were some key takeaways for instructors teaching both blended, and even completely traditional courses.

One of their tips was to "Consider various formats" for giving feedback. As Cleveland and Kenward pointed out, most students and instructors are familiar with traditional, text-based feedback -- but that doesn't mean that it's the only way. They cited a survey of their own students, in which "70 percent liked having audio feedback because they could hear the instructor's voice, which makes the message more personal."

And it's not just students who like audio feedback: oral feedback is also more efficient for instructors to produce. With the steady advance of course management systems, it also doesn't require a lot of technical expertise to easily give audio feedback. Both Blackboard and Moodle, for example, have audio recording built-in to their grading components.

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