Right-mixing Blended Learning for Optimal Student Engagement

Concurrent Session 5
Streamed Session Blended

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Brief Abstract

Blended learning can enhance and right-size education, mixing in-person and technology-enhanced learning to put the right activity in the right space at the right time. Questions remain, ‘what should happen in person, and what should happen online?,’ and ‘how can the online and in-person experiences support each other to best teach students?,’ and ‘what is the right mix?’.


Dr. Tawnya Means is the Assistant Dean for Educational Innovation and Chief Learning Officer in the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Prior to this role, Tawnya served as the Assistant Dean and Director of the Teaching and Learning Center for the College of Business at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Director of the Teaching and Learning Center at the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida, leading teaching and learning support and providing faculty development programs and resources for instructional innovation and adoption of pedagogical best practices. With 20 years of experience in higher education, course design, and educational consulting, Tawnya has also taught courses in entrepreneurship, strategy, technology, and leadership in remote teams. Dr. Means received her B.S. in Education, M.S. in Educational Technology, and Ph.D. in Information Science and Learning Technologies with an emphasis on learning systems design, all from the University of Missouri. She completed the AACSB Post-doctoral bridge program in Management and Entrepreneurship at the University of Florida. Her research interests are in online and blended learning, active learning, learning space design, technology for teaching, access to digital learning resources, and faculty preparation to teach. She has long been a leader in campus initiatives and committees and actively presents at conferences and other institutions and organizations on technology-enhanced learning.

Extended Abstract

Online and blended learning offer exciting opportunities to enhance and right-size education, to increase access to knowledge and expertise, and to provide greater flexibility for students, instructors, and institutions. New and emerging technological advances can be leveraged to increase student satisfaction, success, and engagement, as well as encourage student interaction with content, instructors, and peers. Even with all the challenges associated with change, the real potential for technology’s transformative effect on higher education is to harness the disruptive power of technology to impact the ways that we teach students.

In-person course delivery is steeped in tradition, with ranges of experiences from lecture to participatory activity. Even though considerable research indicates that active or cooperative teaching approaches that engage students in “doing” have benefits for student learning, many instructors still teach their courses using traditional lecture methods (Faust & Paulson, 1998). McKeachie wrote in the Handbook of Research on Teaching (Gage, 1963, p. 1125) that "college teaching and lecturing have been so long associated that when one pictures a college professor in a classroom, he almost inevitably pictures him as lecturing."

Online course delivery opens up access by breaking down the space and time constraints, but can leave students feeling isolated. Blended course delivery mixes the in-person and technology-enhanced learning environments to hopefully bring out the best of each, while also realizing the benefits of putting the right activity in the right space at the right time. However, often questions remain, ‘what should happen in person, and what should happen online?,’ and ‘how can the online and in-person experiences support each other to best teach students?,’ and ‘what is the right mix?’.

Relying simply on technology is not sufficient to change teaching. The philosopher Martin Heidegger noted that “Teaching is even more difficult than learning. We know that; but we rarely think about it.  And why is teaching even more difficult than learning? Not because the teacher must have a larger store of information, and always have it ready. Teaching is more difficult than learning because what teaching calls for is this; to let learn.” (1968, p. 15, as quoted by Sturm, 2001).

In order to let learning happen, teachers must create a learning environment that facilitates the delivery of content, while balancing student interaction with content, instructor, and peers. The fundamental transformation of education from lecture-based to activity-based learning can occur when technologies that allow for activities other than simply watching lectures are added. The addition of simulations, application-based projects, and discussions are activities that contribute to creating a more active student learning experience. The time and place for these activities must vary to let learning happen.

Business simulations provide students essential opportunities to apply conceptual knowledge to realistic problems and situations while the instructor serves as a facilitator to guide and direct application of theory and textbook information. As students repeatedly act and then reflect on their decisions and actions, they experiment in a safe environment, construct and scaffold their learning around authentic experiences, and through a combination of concrete experiences, reflective observation, abstract conceptualism, and active experimentation (see Kolb’s Cycle of Learning, e.g. Kolb, 2014), they deepen their understanding of business principles.

Application-based projects combine the conceptual and theoretical principles with activities that help students apply what they are learning to the world around them. Simulations are one tool to accomplish this goal, but another is to support students in connecting what they see in the news, at work, and in their day-to-day lives to concepts they are learning in class. However, incentivizing and facilitating this type of activity has its own challenges.

Discussions are more naturally facilitated when everyone is in one place at the same time, but with online and blended learning, technological tools can support sharing of information, interaction around content and topics, and connection between concept and application. Text-based discussions are one way to facilitate this learning, but web conferencing also provides a method for geographically dispersed people to go beyond text-based discussion and interact in real-time. Large and small group discussions through video can help learners to feel connected and engaged.

In designing blended learning courses, the challenge is to decide what to do online and what to do in person. We know that student engagement is the time and energy that students put into their academic activities (Jacobi, Astin, Ayala, 1987; Kuh, 2003), and we measure it with the efforts of the student to study a subject, practice, obtain feedback, analyze, and solve problems (Kuh, 2003). Engagement is considered the single best predictor of student learning and personal development (Astin, 1993; Kuh 2007; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991, 2005; Pace, 1984) and the more involved a student is in learning activities, the more successful he or she will be (Astin, 1984). Increased student involvement with both faculty and fellow students provide for the strongest positive involvement (Astin, 1996) and Kuh and Hu (2001) found that the probability of student persistence increased as students engaged in “educationally purposeful activities.” Since there is strong evidence that higher levels of engagement lead to higher levels of achievement, greater likelihood of graduation, and deeper satisfaction (Oblinger, 2014), it is imperative that we get the mix of activities right!

While many in education are familiar with Chickering and Gamson’s “Seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education,” they are often challenged to determine how to apply these principles in a blended environment. Using the following concepts, it is possible to increase the presence of the instructor in the online environment, thereby increasing the opportunities for students to engage online and face-to-face.

  • Time + energy = learning (increase time on task)
  • Timely feedback should follow assessment
  • Structured activities, discussions, peer critiques, team projects can be used to make a course more than lectures and exams
  • Learning or study groups and communities can be encouraged to promote interaction
  • Peer mentors and leveraging technology can facilitate outreach from instructors
  • Solicit input and interaction in class and online
  • Bring students to class in meaningful ways

This session will guide participants through a discussion of blended learning and promote a process to decide what to do in-person, what to use technology to support, what happens best synchronously, in-person, or asynchronously, and what aspects of the learning experience can be flexible, with the intent to guide the decisions to right-mix the learning experiences for students and to let learning happen.

Participants will engage through audience polling built into presentation slides, discussion pairs, and collaborative construction of a shared document used to guide the decision-making process for what learning activities fit best in which type of environment, using which technologies, at what time. During the demonstration of tools and techniques, attendees will be invited to participate and then to discuss with their peers about the fit with their teaching needs.

Session Outcomes

  • Relate presence and engagement literature to the need for increasing time on task and student effort to impact learning
  • Collect tools, technologies, and practices to promote student engagement and interaction
  • Balance the mix of online and in-person learning activities


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Astin, A.W. (1996). Involvement in learning revisited: Lessons we have learned.  Journal of College Student Development, 37 (2), 123-134.

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE bulletin3, 7.

Faust, J. L., & Paulson, D. R. (1998). Active Learning in the College Classroom, 9, 3–24.

Gage, N. L. (1963). Handbook of research on teaching. Rand McNally Chicago.

Heidegger, M. (1968). What is called thinking? (F.D. Wieck & J. G. Gray, Trans.). New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Kolb, D. A. (2014). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. FT press.

Jacobi, M., Astin, A. and Ayala, F. 1987. “(ASHE‐ERIC Higher Education Report 7)”. In College student outcomes assessment, Washington, D.C.: Association for the Study of Higher Education.

 Kuh, G. D. (2003). What we're learning about student engagement from NSSE: Benchmarks for effective educational practices. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning35(2), 24-32.

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Kuh, G. D., & Hu, S. (2001). The effects of student-faculty interaction in the 1990s. The Review of Higher Education, 24, 309-332.

Oblinger, D. (2014). Designed to Engage. Educause Review. September/October 2014. https://er.educause.edu/articles/2014/9/designed-to-engage

Pace, C. R. (1984). Measuring the Quality of College Student Experiences. An Account of the Development and Use of the College Student Experiences Questionnaire.

Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (1991). How college affects students (Vol. 1991). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (2005). How college affects students: A third decade of research (Vol. 2).

Sturm, S. (2011). Teaching as letting learn: What Martin Heidegger can tell us about one-to-ones. In ATLAANZ Conference.