Teaching online and face-to-face simultaneously: pedagogical concepts for creating one group of students

Concurrent Session 5

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Brief Abstract

Blended Synchronous Environments (BSLE) are defined as live environments with the instructor(s) present in a physical classroom and students have the option to attend class either face-to-face or virtually. This session will present student perceptions of the BSLE and interactions among their peers and instructor. 


Sheri Conklin is the Director of e-Learning at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She collaborates with colleagues to deign faculty professional development for online and web-enhanced course design and delivery. She also disseminates information regarding pedagogy for online and web-enhanced courses to the faculty through print and web media, as well as hosting socials. Sheri has taught both web-enhanced and fully online for UNCW for the last 8 years. Her prior experience includes Instructional Designer, e-Learning Instructional Support Specialist and special education teacher and department chair. Sheri earned a Bachelor of Arts in Art History and a teaching certificate in special education. She recently finished her Ed.D from Boise State University.

Extended Abstract

Blended learning environments have been defined as face-to-face environments that incorporate asynchronous or online activities, with reduced face time for the face-to-face environment (Osguthorpe & Graham, 2003). Osguthorpe and Graham (2003) have defined three types of blended environments (a) blending online and face-to-face activities (b) blending online and face-to-face students and (c) blending online and face-to-face instructors. Blended learning is often referred to as the blending of online and face-to-face activities (Garrison & Vaughn, 2008; Garrison, 2011). This study examined student perceptions of blending online and face-to-face students within one learning environment which Hastie, Hung, Chen, and Kinshuk (2010) explored and coined the term blended synchronous learning environment (BSLE).

BSLE are defined as live environments with the instructor(s) present in a physical classroom and students have the option to attend class either face-to-face or virtually from a virtual classroom such as Cisco WebEx or Adobe Connect. This type of environment combines two or more learning settings in one flexible environment (Hastie, et al., 2010). The BSLE environment is one that allows flexibility and collaboration. Both the face-to-face students and the online students have the ability to interact with the instructor(s), as well as their online and face-to-face peers. This ability to interact with other students both online and face-to-face enable the instructor(s) to create a unique learning community (Oyarzun & Martin, 2013).

The BSLE is different from a face-to-face environment and different than an online synchronous environment. As Oyarzun and Martin (2013) noted, there can be a delay in the audio from the instructor(s) to the online students and vice versa. It is important for the instructor to be aware of communications and purposefully pause to ensure online students have an adequate chance to participate in dialogue with their face-to-face peers. It is also important for the instructor(s) to give equal attention to both the face-to-face and online students. In the case of Szeto (2015), face-to-face students felt the instructor spent more time focusing on the online students. Bower, Dalgarno, Kennedy, Lee, and Kenney (2015) found that instructors need to develop organized lessons for the BSLE due to the complexity of interacting with both the online and face-to-face students. Chickering and Ehrmann (1996) stated best practices for a cyber classroom include increasing interaction between the instructor and students, increasing cooperative learning among students, and providing clear expectations.

Creating social presence within online courses requires deliberate planning on the part of the instructor to ensure the learning environment promotes probing questions, skepticism, and the contribution of ideas. The social environment should develop naturally and progressively.

Szeto and Chang (2014) explored the social presence of online students compared to face-to-face students, the types of interactions to create social presence, and the patterns that emerged in the BSLM. The findings suggested there is much higher intra-group interactions (student- student) for the face-to-face group but the online group had much high inter-instructor interactions (student – instructor). The study concluded that the face-to-face group were more apt to seek consultation from their peers whereas the online students preferred to consult with the instructor. It was noted that student-student interactions did not happen outside their immediate vicinity (Szeto & Chang, 2014). Grouping strategies such as grouping online students with face-to-face could potentially “level the playing field” and creating more interactions between the online and face-to-face students (Bower et al., 2015).

This study examined student perceptions of the Blended Synchronous Learning Environment. It used an embedded research design to support the qualitative data. Students were surveyed with both closed and open-ended questions. A survey tool was developed to ascertain students’ perceptions of the BSLE, the instructor, and interactions between the face-to-face and online students. This tool was developed from Sahin and Shelley (2008) and O'Malley and McCraw, (1999).  The survey is divided into three sections: environment, instructor, and interactions. The environment section contains twelve Likert questions, the instructor section contains ten Likert questions, and the interaction section contains eight Likert questions. These items used a five-point response scale (1=strongly agree to 5=strongly disagree) after each section there is an open ended question allowing the students to elaborate on their answers in the Likert section. A pilot study was conducted in the summer and the survey tool was validated with Cronbach’s Alpha .873.

Preliminary results showed that if students live geographically close, they would prefer to alternate between attending in class and online. Overall, students were highly satisfied with the instructor (=4.32), environment (=3.82), and interaction (=6.67), but some of the comments written by the students that contradicted the satisfaction constructs. One student felt, “if there is a class and a student chooses to use WebEx to attend the class, I feel they are more of an observer than a participant in class compared to their in-person classmate(s).” This comment is particularly concerning that face-to-face students do not perceive their online peers as equal contributors to the class.  This session will explore best practices for creating a cohesive class among the face-to-face and online students.

Further analysis is being conducted using structured observations, student and instructor interviews, and text chat analysis to hone in on the instructional strategies that can be effectively employed to create a cohesive environment while reducing cognitive overload for the faculty.