Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Further Brainstorming our Blended Learning Course


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I’ve got to do this brainstorming for work anyway, and I was doing it in a google doc, then thought I might as well blog it, crowdsource some feedback 🙂 I have already learned from several others who have shared their own brainstorming in various formats so far in #blendkit2014 and others who have shared ideas and concerns about tech-enhanced learning in #octel

I am not working on this alone, but I’m blogging this in advance of a meeting with a colleague where we will be crystallizing the ideas some more.

So basically, we’re starting blended learning at my university, and we’re hoping to have a small group of faculty from diverse disciplines pilot it in their courses. So we want to design a 4-week (constraint for many reasons) blended learning course that provides professional development about blended learning.

One important thing to keep in mind is (inspired by David Jenning’s post in #ocTEL) is that formal learning is different from informal learning. So whereas I would like to use the prof dev course to  “model” good blended learning pedagogy, I am keeping three important things in mind:

  1. Prof dev is relatively informal learning (though more formal than, say, MOOCs) – so it is not and cannot be the same as the kind of courses the faculty will be teaching, especially not undergrad teaching;
  2. Faculty are coming from diverse disciplines and so whatever works for a course on blended learning might not make sense for their own courses; it might make sense for our course to involve blogging or online discussion or collaborative document editing; it might not make sense for theirs. How to make the course useful to them (as in they learn about blended learning), while making it useful to them (as in, they learn useful technologies/pedagogies they can later implement as well) in a synergistic way is not as easy as I had at first imagined (why would I imagine it being easy???)
  3. Participants will have different needs and goals, but may not be prepared for a totally rhizomatic approach; we’ll probably need a mix of structure and flexibility. My natural teaching style is often closer to the flexibility end of the spectrum (I’ll write a good-looking syllabus then do something totally different in the course; I often come up with great ideas 5 minutes before a class starts – seriously! )

Doing a blueprint for this course, as in DIY activity for Blendkit2014 is difficult because it’s not like it’s a course that already exists and I want to blend it – I am designing it from scratch. I’ve found the Cutting Edge Course Design Tutorial useful for designing courses from scratch in the past. It has good guidance on creating good learning outcomes and then designing authentic assessments and relevant activities. We may use parts of it in our own blended learning course (see later).

So: the overarching goal, I think, is to prepare AUC faculty to design, implement and assess blended learning courses. There are some great, open access courses about this already. Blendkit being one, of course (with great DIY activities and templates to re-use), and also BYU has one (they seem to take a very different approach, though, and I’m currently comparing them in order to pick and choose and adapt parts we might want to use for our own context) – but I definitely know I will be “borrowing” some readings, activity and assessment ideas inspired by these courses. Thank God for open access 🙂

But I also don’t want the existing courses to limit my thinking about what we know (think?) we need, so it’s a balance

We (my colleague & I) were thinking the workshop needs to contain 3 overlapping components (but that it was important to separate them in case different people need different levels of depth):

1. Course design – inspired by the Cutting Edge tutorial which basically should help them create a syllabus with clear learning outcomes and authentic assessments that help meet those outcomes. Without a good grasp of the learning outcomes, everything else will be much more difficult to do, I think. (I say this as a former instructional technologist; as a teacher, I have a different approach entirely and prefer to have learning outcomes emerge from within the class, to have different goals/paths for different people, and so on…)

2. Blended design – inspired by Blendkit2014 & the BYU course – to be able to judge which aspects of the course should be kept f2f, which online, and how to move smoothly between the two. To know about blended/online pedagogy approaches and find one that works for each person’s teaching style, their students’ needs, their discipline, their context.

3. Ed Tech knowledge – this will vary by faculty member. We want to create a “technology taster” component where faculty can come in during a day of the week (e.g. Tuesday) to have an STA (Student Technology Assistant) help them with learning a particular technology of interest to them. If several faculty are interested in the same technology, this can be done as a small workshop; if not, it can be done one-on-one. The question for me is: how do we give faculty enough of a “taster” to help them choose which technologies to learn/try out? Given they will also have different amount of tech skill to begin with.

What I am finding tricky is, if people are not aware of much ed tech to begin with, how are we going to talk about pedagogy? It might sound like Chinese to them. On the other hand, technology and platforms are not the end goal (as many of us have been saying on the #ocTEL forums) – we should start with the pedagogy.

But it is easier to say this when you know a lot of the tech that is out there (though at this point in time, it’s impossible to know it all, there is just so so so much out there). For that, UCF have a great initiative TOPR: Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository – which needs to be populated a bit more, but is a great start because it gives ideas for how to use tech for pedagogical purposes. Another great resource is Educause’s (ELI) 7 Things You Should Know About series as quick intros to new technologies that have worked for educators. I use it myself to learn what’s new. There are good magazines like Instructure’s Keep Learning blog – so for example, I always liked Chris Friend’s explanation of how he uses Google docs for portfolios in his class – it’s pedagogical (portfolios, writing, peer review) and also shows off the technology (sharing, commenting, linking).

There is also finding a balance between:

  • Theory or at least reading about other people’s practice (which I think is very valuable, and valuable to get used to doing, not just during the prof dev course but beyond it)
  • Hands-on tech activities – and I think if the blended aspect of our course uses tech, this should hopefully cover enough different relevant technologies for interaction, expression (content creation) and collaboration to give the “hands-on” feel
  • Hands-on syllabus creation
  • Working on each person’s course and their needs vs. group and peer work amongst faculty of different disciplines, and helping them build a supportive learning community

I should have spent the past hour looking at the various courses out there (been wanting to do it in detail and analyze them for the past few months – but writing this post has also helped me think of what I might be looking for as I do that).

P.S. I also wanted to get ideas from Gilly Salmon’s Carpe Diem process but kind of forgot it for a moment there because of some constraints


  1. Hi Maha, Thanks for sharing all those links through this post.

    Am not sure how relevant this would be to your blended course but I think before designing one, it is important to participate in a few and analyse what works and what doesn’t. I think it’s important for the faculty to experience a blended learning course for themselves before designing one.

    As for teaching technologies, do you mean apps, tools, softwares? There are effective teachers who know how to build authentic learning experiences and then there are those who know how to use technology. It is important to build rich learning experiences and not just teach technology. To learn how to use tech in learning, one shouldn’t be learning how to share a google doc but to communicate effectively and engage in discussion.

    Technology has only added to the repository of tools that are available to teachers for examples flipped classrooms are an efficient way to deliver/present direct content, online portfolios allow direct access to students’ knowledge and understanding and so on. So I think it’s more important to understand how technology in education can be used to deliver effective learning experiences to the students and identify aspects in a course that can be efficiently handled through the use of technology.

    Hope am making sense 🙂

    • Hey Maddie, you are making complete sense 🙂 And I agree completely on importance of teachers experiencing blended learning as learners first. We plan to design our course as blended itself for that reasons (and are against making it self-paced because we feel they can benefit from the interactivity which is essential and closer to how they might develop their own courses). So they’ll have that experience. But of course a prof dev course is not really like a for-credit undergrad or grad course.

      So RE: building learning experiences vs teach tech, I agree completely. That’s where the links like Chris Friend’s article is good: it is about doing writing portfolios, for peer review, for assessment and reflection – and then google docs is just one way of doing it. They could have been totally offline…

      Aaand responding to your comment just gave me a brainstorm to something i should have noticed earlier: we cannot know in advance which readings case studies tools etc will benefit our group of teachers. We need to meet them, understand their teaching philosophies, current practices, aspirations, etc., and from there help them find what others have been doing to convert some of their activities or assessments to online. It is sometimes useful to introduce them to pedagogies they might not use immediately, but I think they’ll benefit more if most of what they learn can go into their courses immediately. We might be able to tell a little about their philosophies, etc. from their applications to join the course, and this would affect how we design the skeleton of the course as well.

      Thanks, Maddie! This has helped a lot

  2. Hi Maha, thanks for the reminder, the blended course has gotten away from us. Leslie was saying yesterday her first goal was to start a discussion on Universal Design for Learning. I think her purpose, like yours, seems to be is to get people to declare their teaching “style” which also speaks to their own ways of learning. Experience here is that adults need to Know the Intro to Blended Learning she’s thinking of will be relevant and usable.

    Maddie’s right about letting the instructors experience some sort of blended course first. The theory driving the call for blended has not really been announced so I called the big shots in Advanced Education here and got a few answers for Leslie that I’ll share when I get caught up. My initial sense is blending going to be an open door to the world outside school here where students learn but in-class and also being credited for “outside” work.

    Right away I see this as moving from mono-sourcing information from teachers / schools to multi-sourcing. This changes the dynamics of the teaching relationship which makes Maddie’s call for experiencing a blended course all the more important. Our instructors are sick of top-down orders without any explanation and this potential sharing of “authority” embedded in blended is just the type of message that makes them feel powerless.

    As you can see I’ve already stolen a bunch of ideas from your blog and and replies. Do I really need to do the course work too:-)?

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