This section will describe the hybrid or blended course models currently in use at the University of Missouri - St. Louis, what typically happens as blending occurs in the course, program and institution, and strategies for getting started in blended course design.
Blended Course Design: An Overview
Blended learning typically has two components. First, electronic media and access to online resources are integrated as online learning assignments. Web-based courseware (CMS), live and/or asynchronous web-based discussion boards, and online documents and web resources are considered basic tools at our institution. Second, unique variations of real-time class sessions and asynchronous course activities are planned to assist our students who are primarily employed heads-of-household and parents.
With respect to how “blended courses” are defined, staff at one Midwestern university (University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee) stated the goal for blended course design as “joining the best features of in-class teaching with the best features of online learning to promote active independent learning and to reduce class seat time.” (C. Garnham, personal communication, August 8, 2001).
Why teach blended or fully online courses? That’s a question posed by some reluctant faculty at higher education institutions. There are two primary reasons. First, we are experiencing a paradigm shift on our campus, like others, from teaching-centered to learning-centered instruction. In learning-centered courses, the instructor engages students in a variety of learning activities and expects them to take personal responsibility for learning. The resulting interactive model, where faculty and students interact with one another and the content, can improve the chances that students learn more deeply and richly with the help of their fellow students, instructor, practice and review opportunities, and a mix of media applications. Emerging research by Tang & Byrne (2007), Chen & Zimitat (2004), and Natriello (2005) testify to how moving courses away from exclusive face-to-face formats to more online components not only does not impede student learning, but, in fact, could actually increase it.
Incorporating any-time, any-where elements of blended design also provide increased access, options, and flexibility for our fully-occupied professional students. Students responding to a survey about CMS web-based courseware use in their courses during Winter Semester 2007 applauded a blended course design:
The major benefit for me with MyGateway [Blackboard] is the ability for professors to offer hybrid courses that combine in-classroom with online. This reduces the need for adult working professionals to have to physically come to campus, which often involves taking time away from work responsibilities (not to mention cutting into PTO or vacation time that has to be taken to do so). I applaud the growing use of this hybrid method in the doctoral program in higher education. The flexibility this provides to us is greatly appreciated. (MyGateway Student Survey, Spring Semester 2007, University of Missouri-St. Louis.)