In today’s busy world, students are able to fit their classes in in between working full time and maintaining a busy social life. As such, many of them are turning to less traditional methods of classes. Online classes have seen tremendous growth in the past few years, as have blended classes. The less talked about blended classes, use a combination of in-person and online classes to engage students. In this manner, students are able to enjoy the benefits of both types of learning – the flexibility of an online class and the interaction of an in-person class. As such, there are a few aspects that need to be considered when creating a blended learning course.
Be sure to engage students in discussions while they are in the classroom. Don’t spend all that time lecturing. Encourage students to share their thoughts as well as discuss different points from the lesson. You never know where a discussion will lead, and with student’s feeding off one another, they are bound to learn something they would have missed otherwise.
It is just as important to encourage this type of lively discussion in the online portion of the class as well. Many students do not feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions in front of a large group; as such, they will sit quietly and not contribute to in-class discussions. However, these students are likely to open up under the protection of the internet. When they don’t have to see the other students reading their comments, they are more likely to be willing to share their thoughts than they are in person. Online discussions can lead to incredible conversations, especially if students are encouraged to link to outside resources they have.
Use a Variety of Media Resources
Do not expect or require students to read a chapter, essay or article for every assignment. They will quickly loose interest. Instead, include videos for students to watch and images for them to analyze as well as audio clips for them to listen to. Using a variety of media resources requires students to think critically about a subject as well as appeals to a variety learners.
Use Video Chat
For those days or weeks when there is no in-person class, have students collaborate through video chats. Break the class into small groups at the beginning of the course, and then have these groups virtually meet weekly or monthly to discuss what they are learning in class through video chats. However, it is important to understand that many students in the class will have busy schedules (that’s why they are taking a blended class after all) and may not be able to coordinate a time with their group. Consider allowing students to form their own groups based on their availability as well as allowing them to switch groups if their schedule changes.
Video chats fill in when in-class discussions are not an option. The smaller group will encourage even the shyest person to contribute and will allow students to delve deeper into the discussion than is possible during large class discussions.
Use Tools Students are Comfortable With
Today’s students have grown up using cell phones and social media. They are more comfortable with these tools than traditional e-mail or learning management systems, such as Blackboard. Keep this in mind when developing your course. Consider creating a Facebook group for the class that allows students to interact and receive reminders of upcoming due dates. Don’t put anything in this group that you don’t have on the course website already, use it as a backup.
If you are comfortable with it, consider allowing students to text you questions they have or to set up an appointment to meet outside of office hours. However, with the proliferation of smart phones among today’s students, many of them will have access to their e-mail account wherever they are and should not have a problem sending an e-mail when questions arise.
Provide Additional Links to Learn More
Occasionally, a particular lesson may resonate so deeply with a student they will want to learn more on the topic. Assume this will be the case with every lesson. Provide links to additional resources for those students who are interested. Encourage them to own their education by learning more about the subjects that interest them. (Websites can be saved in MediaCAST to make it easy to remember great links from semester to semester.)
Be Available to Answer Questions
Most importantly, be available outside of class time. Students have high expectations for being able to reach their instructor whenever they have a question. At the beginning of the course, tell students how quickly they can expect an email reply from you. And stick to it. Once the standard has been set, students will expect it to be maintained. Before setting the standard, keep in mind that many students complete their assignments at night or at the last minute (you might want to avoid saying you’ll respond within 2 hours). Be sure to check your email regularly and answer any questions that students submit.
The tips within this post can be used for any type of class. No matter what type of class you teach, it is important to encourage discussion as both a way to for students to deepen their understanding as well as for you to find out where the holes in understanding are. Using a variety of resources – text, video, audio and images – will keep all students interested and engaged in learning. And for those days when a student needs a little more help, be available and willing to provide that help. After all, if students don’t need you, then what are you teaching for?