Solving Blended Learning Challenges in 50 Minutes or Less!

Concurrent Session 2
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

Explore effective practices for blended learning based on the upcoming book, Blended Learning in Practice: A Guide for Practitioners and Researchers (MIT Press, 2019). After a brief presentation on blended learning at Georgia Tech, attendees will engage each other in fast-paced, small group discussions of meeting their own blended learning challenges.

Sponsored By


Rob Kadel is Assistant Director for Research in Education Innovation with the Center for 21st Century Universities at Georgia Tech. His research spans nearly 20 years, including evaluating the effectiveness of learning technologies at both the K-12 and higher ed. levels. Rob brings to C21U research foci in online pedagogy and effective practices, alternative learning spaces, learning analytics, and tools/strategies to help close the digital divide for economically disadvantaged students. He has presented both nationally and internationally on cutting-edge learning technologies and managing grants, programs, and research in their use. Rob held faculty positions at Penn State University and Johns Hopkins University prior to running his own educational technology research consulting firm for seven years. He continues to teach online courses in the sociology of education, criminology, and juvenile delinquency for the University of Colorado Denver. Rob earned his Ph.D. in sociology from Emory University in 1998.
Amy Arnold began her career as an elementary school teacher in physical education and technology. After traveling abroad on a gap year, she decided she wanted to earn a graduate degree from the University of Colorado Denver. She graduated in 2014 from the Information and Learning Technologies MA program and was named the Outstanding Graduate of her class. Quickly after graduation, she landed a job working at the University of Colorado Denver as a Course Developer for CU Online. She is currently an Academic Services Senior Professional and her primary focus is to assist faculty through online training and development. She is a huge advocate for embracing new educational technologies and finding ways to implement these new concepts in the online classroom. She is especially interested in video tools and recently developed the CU Online Creation Station- a self-service video studio for faculty to create high-quality videos. In her free time she enjoys adventuring around the state of Colorado with her husband and two children. She also enjoys hiking, skiing, and craft beer drinking!

Extended Abstract

Presenter Rob Kadel, and his co-editors Amanda Madden, Lauren Margulieux, and Ashok Goel, present Blended Learning in Practice: A Guide for Practitioners and Researchers(MIT Press, 2019). This edited volume is addressed to those who are interested in blended learning and its implementation and efficacy including practitioners, researchers, and administrators. The twelve chapters contain case studies and research on the effectiveness of using blended learning to improve student engagement and performance. For those seeking to try blended learning in their college classrooms, the authors demonstrate strategies for blending in the sciences, engineering, social sciences, and the humanities. The chapters are drawn together using a similar framework for implementation and research. Most prior books on blended learning have either described research on the subject or served as guides for implementation. This volume bridges the gap between those two areas.

In this exciting and fast-paced session, skilled OLC presenter Rob Kadel will provide an overview of the book and its main takeaways. He will then engage the audience through scenarios based around audience members’ own situations. Attendees will be asked to collaborate in small groups for 10 minutes to identify challenges and barriers central to the implementation of blended learning in one of their own disciplines. For example, those in the social sciences will be asked to engage with others in the social sciences, while those in the humanities will be asked to engage with others in the humanities. Attendees who are instructional designers or administrators will have the opportunity to choose a small group that best fits their own academic background. 

In the final 15 minutes of the session, each small group will report out on the challenges that its members have identified, and the audience as a whole will provide suggestions for overcoming them. This could include challenges such as limited class time for project-based learning, fixed classroom environments that make collaboration difficult, creating video lectures or other online content for learning outside of class time, etc. 

Dr. Kadel will use social media (such as PollEverywhere or Padlet) to collect feedback from the audience and share it back to them on the presentation screen.

Additional Background on the Book

Higher education is unquestionably facing a number of profound changes. Student demographics are shifting dramatically from a generation ago—the student population is now more diverse, students start college later, and adults are returning to school or acquiring more skills in record numbers. The needs of the 21st Century workforce and a changing professional landscape are shaping curricula, degrees, and skills acquisition. Technology is changing the classroom experience for both student and teacher. And while some facets of the university will remain the same, many aspects of higher education will be unrecognizable in twenty years.

Blended learning, which combines face-to-face and online learning, is at the forefront of this ongoing, rapid transformation in higher education. Blended classrooms infuse learning with technology-supported instruction, and often include a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning. In a popular configuration known as ‘flipped’ classrooms, lectures are often given outside of class time via mediums like online videos (Osguthorpe and Graham, 2003; Day and Foley, 2006; Margulieux, McCracken, and Catrambone, 2016). This can include the use of adaptive textbooks or videos in lieu of lectures (Valiathan, 2002). Other variations include redistributing class time to focus on problem solving, group activities, laboratory experiments, and other types of hands-on engagement and active learning. The important takeaway is that blended learning shifts the role of the instructor from a transmitter of content to a facilitator of learning; the role of the student changes from receiver of content to a creator of knowledge. This shift can have a large impact on the experience of both teachers and students that positively affects outcomes.

While configurations of blended classrooms are as varied as goals and contexts, the motivations behind rethinking the traditional lecture in the brick and mortar classroom are more straightforward and focus on improving learning outcomes (Garrison and Kanuka, 2004). Studies show that blended learning fosters deeper conceptual understanding, increased mastery of content, and enhanced metacognitive skills essential for further learning and success in the workforce (López-Pérez et al., 2011; Owston, York, and Murtha, 2013). Secondary gains include increased student engagement and the formation of learning communities (Strayer, 2012). Indeed, research shows that students in blended learning classes have higher test scores, enhanced content mastery, self-perception of expertise, and greater satisfaction (Bishop and Verlager, 2013; Biddix, Chung, and Park, 2015). The blended classroom also provides adaptability, flexibility, and space for the instructor to tailor the learning experience and to make rapid interventions with the class as a whole (Beatty, 2014; Bergmann and Sams, 2014; Picciano, 2014).

At the same time, there are very real barriers to experimenting with blended learning in practice despite the growing body of evidence that makes the case for it. Instructors may find it daunting to try out blended learning, especially on their own. As several contributors in this volume point out and is noted elsewhere, redesigning and blending a course can prove frustrating and time-consuming (Bergmann and Sams, 2014; Kenny and Newcombe, 2011; Picciano et al., 2014). Sometimes institutional barriers to adoption present themselves. These can include lack of support for new initiatives or outright skepticism (Porter et al., 2016). Technological barriers should not be effaced as access to technology and other resources can greatly impact whether an instructor can pilot the method (Taplin, Kerr, and Brown, 2013). Finally, the physical space can often be a challenge for blending classes in traditional lecture halls (Bergmann and Sams, 2012).

In the addition to these barriers, the issue of scale is one of the larger obstacles to the implementation of blended learning, as many authors in this volume address. For classes with hundreds of students—large-scale introductory courses, for example—blending the classroom can be difficult as it requires a great deal of initial attention and effort on the part of the instructor (Ferri et al., 2014). In-class pacing and direction can pivot rapidly in blended classrooms as it is particularly important to focus more on actively facilitating and guiding students. This can require changes in attention and a different toolbox.  

The horizon of possibilities for blended learning are widening each day. With the advent of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and open courses at scale, for example, or new developments in Learning Management Systems (LMSs) that enable timely feedback and automated assessments on a larger scale, inventive instructors are increasingly adopting the pedagogy. For example, some are using videos developed for MOOCs to enable blended learning (Rayyan, 2015; Fisher et al., 2015). LMSs, such as Canvas, D2L, and Blackboard, can also facilitate blended learning by providing more data on student behavior and cognitive gains (Dias et al., 2015; Zacharias, 2015). Additionally, with the advent of learning analytics and the influx of big data in education, researchers are increasingly able to quantify gains in learning outcomes and achievement, including in blended classrooms (Carbanaro et al., 2017; Saqr, Fors, and Tedre, 2017).