From Ground to Cyberspace: Re-necessitating General Education through Blended Learning, A Case Study

Concurrent Session 7

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

General education faces crisis, disregard by students as irrelevant to their lives and careers.  Our session will use a case study to discuss our program’s transformation into an exciting, relevant, and imperative blended learning program by adopting new pedagogical approaches, engaging student needs and motives, and embracing adaptive technology. 


Dr. Sloan has worked in educational settings throughout her entire career, with her experience spanning both secondary and higher education. Dr. Sloan worked as a Director of Grant Management and Student Support programs for four years at a charter school district for at-risk high school students. This experience allowed her to learn about all of the alternatives to traditional education that exist, making her passionate about finding ways to help reach anyone who desires further education. In 2007, Dr. Sloan entered the world of online higher education, as a literature and writing instructor. By 2009, she had moved fully into online higher education, teaching classes and taking on faculty management positions first at Grand Canyon University, Argosy University, and now Colorado Technical University first as a lead faculty, program chair, and now a Director of Academic Operations with oversight over the university's instructional initiatives and faculty training. Dr. Sloan has extensive experience working with curriculum and faculty management. Dr. Sloan graduated with her bachelor’s degree as a University Scholar from Baylor University. She also holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Finally, Dr. Sloan completed her EdD in Higher and Postsecondary Education at Argosy University Online. She has presented at a variety of conferences including the Distance Teaching & Learning Conference, ELI Annual Meeting, and OLC Innovate and has been published by Educause Review and the Journal of Higher Education Theory and Practice.
Dr. Torke is the Lead Faculty for English and General Studies at Colorado Technical University. Previously, he served as the Chair of English at Waldorf College and has been teaching writing, creative writing, and literature for nearly twenty-five years. He has published in every major genre and enjoys the synthesis of administrative and classroom work.

Extended Abstract

General education is in a time of crisis.  Students and administrators increasingly view the philosophy and pedagogy behind general education as outmoded, outdated, and out of alignment with student needs in a time where 85.9% of college freshman report their primary purpose in attending college is to get a better job (Almanac of Higher Education, 2012).  As such, the mindset typically associated with non-traditional students has become the primary mindset for most postsecondary students. Meeting the needs of students attending school to enhance their professional goals has long been the purpose of a career school, and innovation through the implementation of new technologies, methodologies, and pedagogies must necessarily follow.

Colorado Technical University, a career school where no humanities or liberal arts degrees are offered, continues to successfully transform its General Education department through a blended learning model that adapts to student needs and motives, embraces new pedagogical approaches, and deployment of adaptive learning technology.  The transformation of CTU’s General Education program has led to strong results including a 10% increase in completion rates in ENGL101 since 2015 for fully online courses and a thirty percent increase in retention rates in our ground courses.  With the adoption of a blended learning approach utilizing adaptive learning technology, further gains are expected over the next year.

In our session, we will take participants through the revolution of our first year writing program via the partnership of our ground and online programs into a blended learning approach with our new ENGL104 Introductory Written Communication and ENGL105 Professional Written Communication courses.  These courses serve as a model that could be adopted by any program looking to transform and innovate using blended learning; we will explore the potential value of our adaptive blended learning approach for other general education or liberal arts programs for any postsecondary institutions.  We will discuss the importance of employing transfer theory to address student motives, embracing new directions and new technology in each field while integrating adaptive learning technology in general education classrooms.   We will advocate for shifting the classroom (both real and virtual) from a lecture tool into an implementation tool by introducing students to the value and purpose of the skills and knowledge we teach in general education classes:  we will help students see, in other words, the practical application of critical thinking, analysis, argument, and effective writing habits they learn in our courses to their academic, professional, and personal lives.  By combining the most effective components of online and ground education with adaptive learning and transfer theory, we have created a classroom experience that emphasizes an effective blend of core skills and practical applications that energizes and empowers students.

In our session, we will present a case study of the blended learning partnership adopted by CTU’s first year ground and online writing programs.  The majority of first-year writing students, especially nontraditional learners, will not write for an academic audience beyond their degree requirements; they will, however, need the skills to form arguments, assess audience, and control their semantic and grammatical style for multiple personal and professional writing tasks regardless of their field of study.  Our goal in creating the ENGL104/105 cycle, ultimately, was to bridge the gap between the academic, institutional nomenclature of writing and the professional, personal models our students will most experience in their life outside CTU.  We wanted our students to acquire both a rigorous appreciation of rhetoric and argument as well as develop a practical application of writing and reading skills that will allow them to progress in their chosen career.  Certain fundamental habits and practices underlie all writing--stylistic control, mechanical correctness, recognizing a thesis, building component parts of a larger argument, an appreciation of tone--and we emphasize building these skills, but our models for practice and our expected production are anchored in the professional (and primarily online) modes of expression of contemporary culture. 

The presentation will address the formation of our blended approach both from an academic leadership and a faculty vantage point and will look at how the program has been developed and managed through the academic leadership team and then operationalized through faculty leadership.  Specific focus will also be given to developing faculty support for the program, training faculty to succeed in a blended learning environment, and providing ongoing support after program launch.  We will include in this portion of the presentation a consideration of how to collect and track the data needed to evaluate and adapt the program to ensure ongoing and continuing success.

The presentation will consist primarily of discussion and explanation led by the three key members of the Colorado Technical University group tasked with creating a “hybrid” English course sequence that would replace the existing two class sequence for both online and ground by bringing online and ground pedagogy, assignments, and progress into alignment to meet CTU’s goal of “One University.” This new composition sequence was designed to meet the needs of a twenty-first century student seeking to gain skills, habits, and attitudes (both humane and practical) necessary for success. 

In addition to an interactive PowerPoint presentation to supplement our talk, we will take the group inside the student experience of the online course and, more specifically, the adaptive learning homework at the center of the educational experience via a live demonstration.  Intellipath, the adaptive learning technology utilized by CTU, is a unique, competency driven online experience where students progress at their own rate through skills and exercises to demonstrate skill acquisition and to reinforce key concepts, and participants will get to see firsthand how this functions in a blended classroom environment. Furthermore, we will include handouts that outline the content of the presentation and illustrate the primary arguments.

Each of the three presenters will illustrate his or her role in the unique development of the two new classes, both the online and on-ground versions, and discuss the primary considerations, concerns, and opportunities the development of the new courses presented.  We will create context for what the original online and ground courses accomplished, how they were different, and how they served our students with a special emphasis on the PLM (Professional Learning Model) intrinsic to CTU’s mission; we will talk about how we began to imagine a new model and sequence, including our goals and the parameters for design and the intentional appreciation of technology’s role not only in the course delivery but our students’ experience. With a demonstration of the technology, we will explore the Intellipath system and articulate the habits and skills we hope the system reinforces and will explain why the style of the system is so effective.  Finally, we will discuss the goals of the unique discussion board assignments and how the progression of assignments serves multiple levels of outcomes for the sequence.

The presentation will be interactive with time for participants to engage with the presenters and the technology and/or ask questions.

While the goals for other programs will vary, the approach  our team pursued to weld academic and professional has wide applicability for all schools with a general education program or a student population with a nontraditional mindset; if your goals include developing programs that increase relevancy, engage and retain students, and highlight the educational benefits of technological innovation, the CTU model for transforming an insular ground class and an insular online class into a vibrant hybrid is well worth exploring.