Final Week of BlendKit2012

Five weeks pass pretty rapidly!

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In this final week of BlendKit2012, we focused on quality assurance.  Kelvin Thompson suggested the following questions to ponder:

  • How will you know whether your blended learning course is sound prior to teaching it? How will you know whether your teaching of the course was effective once it has concluded?
  • With which of your trusted colleagues might you discuss effective teaching of blended learning courses? Is there someone you might ask to review your course materials prior to teaching your blended course? How will you make it easy for this colleague to provide helpful feedback?
  • How are “quality” and “success” in blended learning operationally defined by those whose opinions matter to you? Has your institution adopted standards to guide formal/informal evaluation?
  • Which articulations of quality from existing course standards and course review forms might prove helpful to you and your colleagues as you prepare to teach blended learning courses?

These are interesting questions, because as Kelvin noted in the reading, there are no universal standards for blended course quality.  One could go further and say that there are no national standards, no state standards, and I would be hard pressed to say that there are institutional standards across our multiple schools and colleges.  While I like the SLOAN-C definition of blended courses (page 7), there really is not even a standard to what constitutes blended learning.  Given that, Kelvin shifted to look at how different institutions have addressed quality in online courses.  While these in many cases are minimum standards, Kelvin suggests in this week’s readings that these “…provide the closest analogue to articulations of quality for blended learning courses.”  Here at VCU, we have used both CSU Chico State’s rubric and the Quality Matters rubric as informal guides to quality, so the resources Kelvin provided in Table 1 below help round these out:

Table 1. Selected examples of online course standards

Title URL
Quality Matters
Blackboard’s Exemplary Course Program
Online Course Evaluation Project
CSU Chico’s Rubric for Online Instruction
Michigan Virtual University’s Standards for Quality Online Courses
(Best viewed in Internet Explorer)
Texas Virtual School Network’s Scoring Rubric for Online Courses
Mountain Empire Community College’s Online Course Quality Review Form
Florida Gulfcoast University’s Principles of Online Design

I really like the direction Kelvin took in the second half of the reading.  His (and my) issue with most “standards” is their one-size-fits-all prescriptive nature of the beast.  They also tend to focus heavily on the design of a course without considering the effectiveness of the teaching done with the design.  I would prefer that they be used as a self-assessment instrument rather than as an administratively required one.

Kelvin suggests finding allies to help improve the effectiveness of blended courses.  I agree.  Allies can be peers, but they can also be your own students.  A tip I picked up from Jeff Nugent and have used in my courses is a simple embedded Google Form in the LMS that allows students to provide quick feedback or questions during the online portion of a class.

Kelvin provided two forms this week.  The first is a Before/During/After Checklist with common to-do items based on best practice.  The second is a Blended Course Peer Review form that aggregates good practice from the standards above and provides an instrument for discussion between the teaching faculty and the peer reviewers.  Unlike QM or others, it has distinct “blended” aspects covered.

I again want to thank Kelvin Thompson and the good folks at UCF for providing this thoughtful exercise.  The lessons were well paced, not overwhelming, and integrated with a community of practice.  I used the blogging option rather than the Canvas discussion forum option, so when the dust settles, I would like to go back and see what I missed on that side of the course.

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Blendkit2012 Weeks 3 and 4

BlendKit logoI fell behind in BlendKit 2012 for the simple reasons many of my students fall behind in some of my classes – life intervened.  I managed to keep up the first two weeks, but in the past two, I attended SLOAN-C’s International Conference on Online Learning, our Center started a new Learning Path for online learning, and we held a strategic planning retreat.  Layer on top contractors adding an addition to my home as well as continuing to engage in our own fully online faculty development program, and I flat ran out of time.  So here it is, early Sunday, and I am catching up.  Sounds just like some comments some of my students have made, but the beauty of BlendKit is that one can actually catch up!  And I need to since the final week starts tomorrow!

SLOAN-C’s conference was an opportunity to once again meet Kelvin Thompson face-to-face, as well as several others taking BlendKit.  We did a meet-up one afternoon.  While I had never met any of the other participants, there was a natural community associated with this course and a common experience.  I hope this community continues…I certainly added some new “faces” to my Twitter network.

In Week 3, the topic was Blended Assessments.  The readings covered both formal and informal assessments.  Kelvin’s questions to ponder included:

  • How much of the final course grade do you typically allot to testing? How many tests/exams do you usually require? How can you avoid creating a “high stakes” environment that may inadvertently set students up for failure/cheating?
  • What expectations do you have for online assessments? How do these expectations compare to those you have for face-to-face assessments? Are you harboring any biases?
  • What trade-offs do you see between the affordances of auto-scored online quizzes and project-based assessments? How will you strike the right balance in your blended learning course?
  • How will you implement formal and informal assessments of learning into your blended learning course? Will these all take place face-to-face, online, or in a combination?

Good questions…but viewed primarily through the lens of the instructor (which makes sense).  It is just that in recent weeks, I have been thinking about the cognitive and teaching presence of students as much as my own. None of these questions raise the issues of self- and peer-assessment.  Something to ponder as well!

In undergraduate blended business leadership courses that I have taught, I used randomized questions in timed tests every 2 weeks to cover reading assignments, but I always included essay questions to push higher level thinking.  The LMS graded the randomized questions and I graded the essays…and I typically had about 80 students each term.  That worked for me, but it could be problematic if the numbers rose substantially.  Marcus Messner gave a talk this week at our online course showcase, and in his class of 200-300 students, he alternates quizzes with discussions every other week, giving equal points to both (with two TA’s to help with grading).  I like his approach and think it would work equally well in a blended course.

In my graduate courses, I tend to not use quizzes, and instead use weekly blogging for a significant portion of the assessment, based on a course rubric.  This is in line with the assessment strategies Kelvin noted in the reading.  One of the things I have done recently in graduate classes is put the rubric up in a class wiki or Google Doc and let the students suggest improvements over how they are being assessed.

If there is a buzz word (besides MOOC) in the higher ed blogosphere, it is probably “open.”  One of the questions I began to ponder in this reading is assessment in an open environment.  Blackboard is certainly not open, so are there processes for creating the kind of randomized quizzes from the reading in a gaming atmosphere that could be open to the world?  Sebastian Thrun seems to have solved this…but I do not have his AI background.  Thoughts from other BlendKit folks?  Daphne Koller mentioned peer-assessment for the kinds of essays I do, but she has a critical mass of students.  Would it work for the relatively small numbers in most blended courses?

More questions to ponder!

For week 4, we moved to a review of blended content and assignments.  To me, this is the heart of the issue for blended courses – matching content and assignments with physical and virtual environments so that both enhance learning.  Kelvin’s questions to ponder included:

  • In what experiences (direct or vicarious) will you have students participate during your blended learning course? In what ways do you see these experiences as part of the assessment process? Which experiences will result in student work that you score?
  • How will you present content to students in the blended learning course you are designing? Will students encounter content only in one modality (e.g., face-to-face only), or will you devise an approach in which content is introduced in one modality and elaborated upon in the other? What will this look like?
  • Will there be a consistent pattern to the presentation of content, introduction of learning activities, student submission of assignments, and instructor feedback (formal and informal) in your blended learning course? How can you ensure that students experience your course as one consistent whole rather than as two loosely connected learning environments?
  • How can specific technologies help you present content, provide meaningful experiences, and pitch integration to students in your blended course? With your planned technology use, are you stretching yourself, biting off more than you can chew, or just maintaining the status quo?

Figure retrieved from

Kelvin provided this figure in the reading to demonstrate how technology expands the walls of a blended class.  As he noted:

Experts and resources outside of the university are readily available for educators to use. For example, a psychology course directing learners to view a presentation of the Stanford Prison Experiment is much more vivid and meaningful than reading an article about the experiment alone. Technology can open doors closed by geographical distance or time.”

In my summer hybrid course, I provided much of the content during the first two weeks, but during the middle four weeks, the students were turned loose to explore and create.  The collaborative work they did online created more powerful learning (in my opinion…backed by their blog comments – see previous posts).

Marcus closed his showcase session by noting that he wanted to open his course to the world next spring.  The prospect of “open” is exciting and one I want to explore as well.  Participating in BlendKit2012 has given me some great new ideas!  I look forward to wrapping the course up next week.

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BlendKit2012 Week 2

In a post last week, I discussed starting UCF‘s MOOC on blended learning.  In the first week, we looked at what our blend might be.  This week, the focus is on how and when students will interact, with each other and with the instructor.

There are some things I like about this course and things that I do not.  Before starting, let me first say that I commend Kelvin Thompson and his team for providing this free course and providing avenues for discussion about blended learning.  My discomforts are not directed at them at all, but rather at my own questioning as to the evolution/revolution occurring online in higher education.

Johnson bookWhile taking this course, I am reading Steven Johnson‘s (2010) Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation.  Johnson argues that innovations do not simply emerge as sparks of brilliance, but rather percolate in the environment, building on lots of possibilities before emerging – sometimes in multiple ways.  Johnson noted that we are often better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them, so the concept of an open course seems in line with this concept.  I was therefore expecting a lot of innovation in this MOOC (or any MOOC), but what I have been finding instead is a nice packaging of traditional online options.  I guess I should not be surprised…but I was.  The BlendKit2012 course consists of:

  • text heavy web pages
  • short synchronous “lectures” with little interaction
  • asynchronous individual tasks with Word templates
  • online discussion boards
  • Twitter / Hootcourse commentary
  • blog journaling and commentary

In other words, a course precisely like many I have built!  The only difference is that this course has over a hundred active participants, whereas my courses tended to have less than forty.  But my very comfort with this layout is uncomfortable!

Part of what I am wrestling with is the notion of an online course and how it is morphing.  For seventeen years, I have taught online – and my passion for online teaching emerged precisely because I found a richness and value in the close connections I made (and make) with my online students.  I got to know my students very well, and they me.  Now it seems that higher education is embracing the concept of online courses with large numbers of students.  Back in August, I blogged about Daphne Koller’s TED Talk.  She discussed Coursera and the core concepts behind providing massive courses for free to the world.  She suggested that the focus had shifted from teaching to learning – with computer automation allowing for individualized and customized democratic learning for each participant.

Maybe…or maybe the focus has shifted from learning to data collection and data mining.  That is what the cynic in me says.  It certainly is unclear what entities like Coursera, Udacity, edX, and even UCF are doing with the data they are collecting.

But back to BlendKit2012.

One of the things that I think Kelvin has nailed is his choice of questions to ponder each week.  This week, the questions (and my thoughts) are:

  • Is there value in student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction in all courses regardless of discipline?
    • The quick answer for me is YES.  I have used the Community of Inquiry model in my past classes, where there is interaction between the student and myself, fellow students, and content.  Terry Anderson expands on this concept in his ebook Theory and Practice of Online Learning.  The types of interactions may change, but the need for interactions is there no matter the discipline.
  • What role does interaction play in courses in which the emphasis is on declarative knowledge (e.g., introductory “survey” courses at the lower-division undergraduate level) or, similarly, in courses that cultivate procedural knowledge (e.g., technical courses requiring the working of problem sets)?
    • To me, what differs is the scaffolding needed within differing levels of courses.  Lower level or introductory courses need more scaffolding.  Even in BlendKit2012, it is obvious that different people are connecting in different ways.  A tweet mentioned to me yesterday that he did not realize there was a Canvas LMS course site in addition to the BlendKit website.  I was aware of it, but have chosen to devote my time to the blog commentary and not the discussion board commentary.  As this course is designed, that is fine, but I could see how that might be confusing in introductory classes (or even this one):

  • As you consider designing a blended learning course, what kinds of interactions can you envision occurring face-to-face, and how might you use the online environment for interactions? What opportunities are there for you to explore different instructional strategies in the blended course than you have in the past?
    • A great question.  My litmus test is to think about what I could do online that I could not do face-to-face, and what I could do face-to-face that I could not do online.  With all the great digital tools now available, the line between these two is blurring.  In my blended course this past summer, I was struck by how some of the adult students wanted synchronous opportunities for interaction even though we met half the time (and they self-organized on Google + Hangout to meet this desired need).
  • What factors might limit the feasibility of robust interaction face-to-face or online?
    • Technology is still a limiting factor.  I was web conferencing with a colleague this morning, who lives in rural Virginia and has satellite download / phone upload for internet.  The quality of the conference was less than optimal.  Kelvin had us read excerpts from Education for a Digital World, which considers student expression in face-to-face, synchronous, and asynchronous environments.  I like this aspect of student voice, a term my colleague Mary Secret discusses often.

In the Week 2 Activities page, I liked the Module Interaction Worksheet.  Straightforward and useful.

Next week, we get into assessment in blended classes.  I look forward to continuing this course, even as I question just what “course” means (at least in October 2012).  I would be interested in your reactions … particularly if you are taking BlendKit2012.



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Starting BlendKit2012

This semester, Joyce Kincannon and I are both facilitating two separate faculty learning communities on blended learning.  I am also trying to wrap my brain around the whole MOOC thing.  So what better way than to sign up for a MOOC on blended learning!  Joyce is taking it too, so we will see if we can keep each other on task.  (This while co-teaching our online faculty development course, Preparing to Teach Online).

BlendKit2012 Banner

Kelvin Thompson of University of Central Florida will be directing / teaching / facilitating this course, which runs September 24 through October 29.  Kelvin has set up a Twitter hashtag – #BlendKit2012 – to help with communication and socializing.   I am looking forward to seeing just how Kelvin manages this “class”.  I also look forward to “meeting” some new people through the tweets and blog commentary.

Being an open course, anyone can access the course materials.  Kelvin provided a narrated slidedeck for the orientation and has a set of weekly readings available through the website.  He starts this week with some good questions:

  • Is it most helpful to think of blended learning as an online enhancement to a face-to-face learning environment, a face-to-face enhancement to an online learning environment, or as something else entirely?
    • I see it as something else, requiring a thoughtful design
  • In what ways can blended learning courses be considered the “best of both worlds” (i.e., face-to-face and online)? What could make blended learning the “worst of both worlds?”
    • To me, the best of both worlds means taking advantage of the affordances each provides.  The worst of both worlds (which I have done) is trying to shoehorn a textbook organization into a blended approach (Chapter one face-to-face, chapter two online, etc)
  • As you consider designing a blended learning course, what course components are you open to implementing differently than you have in the past? How will you decide which components will occur online and which will take place face-to-face? How will you manage the relationship between these two modalities?
    • Great questions.  It also leads to a caveat – will your hours face-to-face (and online) be dictated by room scheduling?  I designed a blended approach for my summer course, but that required face-to-face meetings at the beginning and end of the term, and a significant online portion in the middle.  It would not work if one took a twice a week course and made it meet once a week with an online component.
  • How often will you meet with students face-to-face? How many hours per week will students be engaged online, and how many hours per week will students meet face-to-face? Is the total amount of student time commitment consistent with the total time commitment of comparable courses taught in other modalities (e.g., face-to-face)?
    • I would think for accreditation reasons one has to be able to show comparability…

Kelvin asked us to put together two maps of courses we might further develop as blended courses, so I am using ADLT 640 – The Theory and Practice of eLearning.

I am looking forward to seeing the posts of my fellow MOOCers, and learning more about blended learning.  Stay tuned!  (…and whether you are in the course or not, feedback is welcome and encouraged – particularly my good friends in ADLT 641!)


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