Monday, December 8, 2014

Preparing Faculty for Blended Learning

This post is the second in our new series dedicated to sharing SLATE member expertise on the same topic as our monthly meetings. Look for information below to get involved and write a post for us!

photo of ying liu
Ying Liu
Our guest author this month is Ying Liu, an Educational Specialist and Instructional Designer for Teaching and Learning at Northeastern Illinois University. This post is written to accompany our December 17, 2014 meeting about Defining Hybrid Learning at Chicago State University.

Blended learning has been around for well over a decade and has been seen as combining the best of two worlds (Lindsay, 2004). With the increased need for hybrid or blended courses in higher education, many institutions launched training programs to prepare faculty for this teaching mode. Nevertheless, the literature on how to train people on blended learning is in the early stages (Ciabocchi & Ginsberg, 2012).

Although some faculty members at Northeastern Illinois University had started exploring the world of online and blended learning on their own, a formal training program to prepare them for teaching blended courses was missing until this summer. In an effort to bring the university’s hybrid programs up to speed, the Center for Teaching and Learning at NEIU launched a new Hybrid Teaching course that offers faculty both theories and best practices in this area. An end-of-course survey over two semesters indicates that of the 10 participants in the pilot offerings, 90% reported confidence in teaching blended courses as a result of this professional development; 20% are currently teaching in a blended mode, and the number is expected to increase in the near future. It is still too early to claim success with our training program. However, we hope the following tips for developing training in blended learning will be useful for colleagues in similar roles, especially those who are going to create such programs from scratch.

Planning Tips:
  • Find out how the institution defines blended or hybrid courses and other policy-level information or recommendations that faculty members need to know. Although there is not a universally agreed-upon definition regarding the blend of on-campus and online components for a hybrid course, some institutions may have their own recommendations about the ideal combination of online and face-to-face sessions and about inclusion of synchronous course elements, which should be used as guidelines to lead faculty’s efforts.

  • Take flexibility and convenience into consideration when scheduling training sessions. Faculty members are busy individuals juggling researching, teaching, and many other responsibilities. When it comes to training planning, we always think about busy times to avoid during a school year (such as beginning- and end-of-semester), the realistic time commitment for faculty members, and seek their input for specific meeting times during a given semester. Our hope is to better engage faculty in this learning experience by maximizing their chances of attending training sessions and fulfilling training requirements.

  • Clarify time commitment, expectations, and compensation (if any) for taking part in the training. It’s important for training participants to understand what to expect, ideally prior to the training program starts. Some institutions offer a stipend or similar incentives for participating faculty members if serious development work is involved, but others don’t. At NEIU, participants who successfully complete the training are awarded a Hybrid Teaching Certificate by the Center for Teaching and Learning as a recognition of their efforts and skills.

  • photo of computer lab classroom at neiu
    Hybrid teaching training site at Northeastern Illinois University
  • Choose a space that fits the pedagogy of the training if participants would convene at a physical location. As our training integrates blended learning “theory” and hands-on experience, the face-to-face sessions take place in a campus computer lab with AV equipment and white board to accommodate the need for lecturing, individual work with LMS, discussion, and in-class presentations. Although the work station layout somewhat limits participants’ ability to move around during face-to-face sessions, we manage to keep the training interactive through a number of activities that emphasize brainstorming, reflection, open sharing, and synergizing.

  • Discuss benefits of blended learning at various levels at the beginning of training to help get faculty buy-in. Faculty members often participate in such training in a professional development effort voluntarily or to fulfill a requirement from administration, and thus may vary much in type of motivation and level of interest. A discussion of the role of blended learning in strategic development of the institution and of the department as well as how it may transform students’ learning experience helps faculty members to see the meaning and potential of their investments.
Design Tips:
  • Offering training for blended teaching in a hybrid modality seems effective. Our training sessions are conducted both face-to-face and online in a 50-50 mix, which allows participants to get a first-hand blended learning experience. Moreover, the participants better understand the blended learning design process through the facilitator’s explanations of the design considerations for the training program. Additionally, they get a chance to feel for themselves many important aspects in blended learning, such as learner role, self-regulation skills, time management skills, pitfalls from the students’ and the instructor’s perspectives, etc.

  • Design and technology go hand in hand. When it comes to transforming a face-to-face course to hybrid or online course, many have realized the importance of emphasizing course redesign over simply using technology for “bells and whistles”. Our program provides opportunities for faculty to reconceptualize their courses and recreate part of them (due to time constraints) so that the benefits of blended learning can be maximized. Concurrently, the same experiential learning approach is applied to familiarizing participants with essential features of the Learning Management System used on campus, since we have realized that a lack of understanding of technological affordances could largely limit participants’ course design and hinder their course development process. It would be ideal if faculty members are already proficient with using the LMS prior to the blended learning training, but the program should offer support when such skills are still developing. The fact that NEIU switched from Blackboard to Desire2Learn two and a half years ago complicates the scenario. Regardless of other formal and informal training opportunities designed for using Desire2Learn, this blended training program embeds elements to assist faculty in learning about Desire2Learn tools.

  • Knowing the participants enhances the whole training experience, which includes several aspects:
    • Faculty members are by no means on the same page. There are large variations in terms of technology competency, attitude and prior experience towards new learning modes, and goals for attending the training. Also, participants’ discipline and the current status of their programs or departments regarding distance education play a role in their new endeavors in blended learning. Thus, our program’s goal is to help faculty members with diverse backgrounds and skill levels to succeed.

    • Knowing the participants well makes it possible for the facilitator to help them learn from each other’s experience. Those with greater experience can be natural models for other participants to learn from because peer learning is as effective in this situation as in many others. While some advanced participants have had answers to their peers’ questions and concerns, they also learn from colleagues’ different perspectives and can use the experience to improve their future practices.

    • The program can also help connect participants with each other and encourage exchange and collaboration beyond the training.

  • Make the training program a starting point that participants can revisit for what they need down the road. During the training, participants access the blended teaching course in Desire2Learn for both face-to-face and online sessions. After completion of the program, all the course materials are made available for as long as the course exists in Desire2Learn. In addition to the session materials, we also put together a repertoire of resources in LMS that participants can use later. Further, faculty members know from the training what to expect in terms of workload, time, and resources for developing and teaching a blended course. Last, we try to communicate to them where and who they can contact for resources and continuous support.

  • Encourage small steps to help beginners overcome fear and discomfort. Teaching a blended course for the first time can be intimidating. We recommend participants start small if they are not feel ready to teach half of a course or more online right away. For some, it is even a good idea to start with teaching a web-enhanced course until they are comfortable with using LMS tools and then move on to think about pedagogy and design that are fitting for a blended course environment.

These strategies focus on increasing instructors’ understanding of blended learning environments and empowering faculty to create meaningful experience therein. We will continue to reflect and summarize useful techniques as our program evolves. We appreciate your input if there is any experience or feedback that you would like to share.

References:
Lindsay, E. B. (2004). The best of both worlds: Teaching a hybrid course. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 8(4).

Ciabocchi, L., & Ginsberg, A. (2012). Faculty Development for Blended Learning. Retrieved from http://wcetblog.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/facultydevelopment-blendedlearning/ on December 3, 2014.

Ying Liu, PhD is an Educational Specialist and Instructional Designer in the Center for Teaching and Learning at the Northeastern Illinois University. She can be reached at y-liu3@neiu.edu. She supports faculty with course design in multiple course-delivery modalities and uses innovative learning technologies to facilitate student learning. She has a range of experience in instructional design, teaching, and adult education in different learning environments, including face-to-face, hybrid, and online. Prior to joining NEIU, Ying worked with the University of Wisconsin Extension's Continuing Education, Outreach and E-Learning division on collaborative online programs.

Thank you to Ying for her insight! 

Are you interested in or have experience with one of the upcoming topics for the monthly SLATE meetings? Want to write a guest post on our blog sharing what you have learned about it? Email Stephanie Richter with your proposal to be considered for a guest post!