Designing a Blended Course with Emerging Learning Technologies to Engage Learners: A Case Study

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session Research

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Brief Abstract

In this session, the presenters will share their experiences of designing an active learning environment with emerging technologies for collaborative learning and communication in a blended course. Participants will learn practical instructional strategies and emerging learning technologies that could be used to engage learners in a blended course. 

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Meina Zhu is Assistant Professor in the Learning Design and Technology program at Wayne State University. Her research interests include online education, MOOCs, self-directed learning, STEM education, and active learning. Contact:

Additional Authors

Ke Zhang is a Professor in Learning Design and Technology at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, USA. As a multi-lingual, international educator and researcher, her work focuses on e-learning, innovative technologies and emerging methods for research and development. Her collaborative research is supported by federal government and agencies, like National Institute of Health and the US Department of Health and Human Services, as well as private foundations, with multi-million grants to design, develop and research on emerging technologies for education, professional development, and health information management. Dr. Zhang is also a popular speaker and consultant in Asia, Eurasia, the Middle East, Latin America and North America. She has consulted for large scaled projects and initiatives by international organizations (e.g., UNESCO, World Bank, etc.), national governments and agencies (Singapore, Japan, etc.), corporations, educational institutions (e.g., Moscow State University, Russia, Detroit Public School District, USA, etc.) and healthcare systems (e.g., Henry Ford Health Systems, USA, Developmental Disability Center, etc.) in the USA and overseas. Inquiries are welcome by email to:

Extended Abstract



An increasing number of universities are adopting blended learning (Porter et al., 2014), which combines face-to-face (FTF) instruction with online instruction (Bonk & Graham, 2006; Voos, 2003; Ward & LaBranche, 2003; Young, 2002). Researchers predicted that blended learning has the potential to be widespread in higher education (Norberg, Dziuban, & Moskal, 2011) and transform FTF learning (Donnelly, 2010), given that Blended learning was considered as a paradigm shifts from teaching to learning (Nunan, George, & McCausland, 2000).

Not surprisingly, researches on blended learning emerged. Graham, Allen, and Ure (2005) found three primary advantages of choosing blended learning: (1) enhancing pedagogy, (2) increasing access and flexibility, and (3) improving cost-effectiveness. Regarding pedagogy, researchers consider that blended learning can increase learning effectiveness, efficiency, satisfaction (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004; Graham, 2013; Martínez-Caro & Campuzano-Bolarin, 2011), performance (Boyle, Bradley, Chalk, Jones, & Pickard, 2003; Lim & Morris, 2009), engagement (Owston, York, & Murtha, 2013), attendance (Stockwell, Stockwell, Cennamo, & Jiang, 2015), and foster collaboration (So & Brush, 2008). For instance, research conducted in the University of Central Florida (UCF) found that the success rates for BL were higher than either fully traditional face-to-face or pure online courses (Graham, 2013). Some studies argued that blended learning improved students’ knowledge construction and problem-solving skills (Bridges, Green, Botelho, & Tsang, 2015).  

Second, blended learning was considered having potential to increase access and flexibility (Graham, 2006; Moskal et al., 2013). Given that blended learning provides flexibility to instructors and students in terms of time and locations for online instruction (King & Arnold, 2012), it potentially increases universities access to possible learners (Piper, 2010; Shea, 2007).

In addition, blended learning can improve cost-effectiveness (Graham, 2013) as it may lower operating costs than traditional on campus learning (Harding et al., 2005; Vaughan, 2007; Woltering, Herrler, Spitzer, & Spreckelsen, 2009). 

Besides researches on the benefits of the blended learning, other research focus on the affordance of the emerging technologies for students’ collaborative learning (Gan, Menkhoff, & Smith, 2015). For example, Wang (2015) focuses on how learners use wikis for collaborative learning. However, research indicated that technologies can hinder teaching and learning if not used properly (Bower et al., 2015; Park & Bonk, 2007).  

Despite the advantages of blended learning, few researches focused on the design of a blended course and students’ perceptions of effective blended learning. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to inform researchers and practitioners who plan to design a blended course of effective instructional strategies leveraging emerging technologies through sharing the design practice and exploring students’ perceptions of effective instructional strategies in blended learning.  

The following two research questions guided this study:

  1. What are the effective instructional strategies in a blended course from students’ perspective?
  2. How can the emerging technologies be leveraged in a blended course from students’ perspective?  


Research design

This research will use a qualitative case study design to empirically analyze persons, events, decisions, and projects within a real-life context (Thomas, 2011; Yin, 1994). A case study can provide an in-depth and detailed examination of the situation and its contextual conditions.

Context, blended course design, and participants

The study context is a graduate-level blended course in an instructional technology program in a university that takes place in Fall 2019. This course introduces background, issues, research, and trends in the field of instructional technology. There are seven students in this course. Among these students, five are female and two are male. Five of them are native English speakers. Six students are Ph.D. students in an instructional technology program, most of whom had a full-time job at the time that they take the course. Only one student is in graduate certificate program of instructional technology. The assignments of this course included paper analyses, online reading reflection journals, online debates, annotated bibliographies, final presentations, and final exams. 

The class includes seven weeks’ face-to-face sessions and eight weeks’ online sessions. Normally, each online session was followed by one face-to-face session. For online session, students were required to read articles related to the topic and post reading reflection journals and comment others’ reading reflections in Canvas, a course learning management system (LMS). In addition, between Week 2 and 6, the students participate two rounds’ online role play to debate with graduate students who were taking a similar course in another Midwestern university. The technology that was used for online debate was Nuclino, a free online team collaborative tool. Two students worked in a group and read the chapter that was assigned to them from Carr-Chellman, and Rowland’s (Eds.) (2017) book, Issues in technology, learning, and instructional design: Classic and contemporary issues. A group from one university was assigned as the Authors’ role/Rejoinders’ role. And a group from another university was assigned as the Responders’ role. The group with the Authors’ role summarized the chapter from the authors’ perspective as well as presented their personal thoughts. Then, the group from another university did the same thing from the Responders’ perspective. Last, the first group rejoined the conversation. The instructors set deadlines for each posting. The instructor provided detailed feedback on students’ online discussion and assignments through One Drive, an online collaboration tool adopted by the university. The instructor uploaded the feedback on the assignments for each student in a folder that was created for each student in One Drive. 

In addition, the instructor provided students with the opportunities to attend Zoom talks of five guest speakers, who are prestigious scholars in instructional technology field. These five guest speakers were either the authors of the textbooks or the authors of the readings assigned in this course. Students can discuss with the guest speakers about their thoughts and clarify their confusions.  

In face-to-face session, the instructor summarized students’ achievement and places for improvement of the previous week. Then she lectured for a few minutes. After that, each student presented his/her paper analysis, meanwhile, the rest of the student provided feedback to the presenter’s paper analysis base on the rubric. The purpose of peer feedback was to let students critically evaluate each other’s work and help each other improve.

A mid-term evaluation and final evaluation will be conducted in the come to obtain students’ feedback and to improve the course.

Data sources

Data sources in this study will include: 1) seven students’ semi-structured interview, 2) mid-term and final course evaluations, 3) two rounds’ online debate of four groups, and 4) four weeks’ online reading reflection journals. The research will conduct a semi-structured interview with students at the end of the semester. Each interview will last approximately 30 minutes. The interview will be audio-recorded. The other three data sources will be generated by students during the semester. 

Data analysis

Two researchers will analyze the interviews and assignment documents using thematical analysis (Braun, Clarke, & Rance, 2014). The interviews will be automatically transcribed through Kaltura and revised by the researchers. Once the researchers transcribe the data verbatim (Paulus, Lester, & Dempster, 2013), we will select one interview transcript as a sample to analyze individually. Each research will independently read it, and come up with codes (the smallest unit of information), categories (the next level of information), and themes. The unit of analysis for this transcript review will be the meaning unit. Once each research finishes the above process, two researchers will gather together to discuss it to reach consensus regarding coding. Then two researchers will continue to analyze the remaining six interview transcripts individually. The analysis of the document generated by students will follow the same analysis methods.

The anticipated results

The anticipated results of this study are students’ perceptions of the favorite learning activities, technologies, and effective instructional strategies in a blended course.

Plan for interactivity

Session participants will actively engage in discussion throughout the session. Background experience with active learning design and technologies used in a blended course will be posed at the beginning of the presentation using Poll Everywhere. The purpose of the interactive polling activity is to find out the ways in which the session participants have been involved in the design and delivery of a blended course for active learning and students’ perceptions of learning a blended course. The session will include a brief brainstorming activity to share possible instructional strategies and existing technologies to create an active learning environment in a blended course. The session will conclude with a discussion of effective active learning strategies in a bended course.

The takeaways

Attendees in this session will learn practical instructional strategies and emerging learning technologies that could engage learners in blended learning.