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Jeff Nuckles

The End of the Blend?

Posted by Jeff Nuckles Jul 26, 2016

blended graphic.pngMy institution recently renamed our “Blended” courses to “Hybrid” in the hope of easing perceived student confusion. Following some brief research, I’ve come to the conclusion that students aren’t the only ones confused by the terms used to describe the variety of modern course types. On ground, traditional, face-to-face, web-enhanced, blended, hybrid, flipped and online are just some of the words that educators are using to describe the ways in which they deliver courses. I found many definitions for each of these terms. Some consider “Hybrid” and “Blended” to be the exact same thing, while others describe their “Blended” courses as those where no seat time has been replaced by online course work even though much of the course work is completed online. Using this definition, our “Hybrid” courses have always been mislabeled as “Blended” and around 60% of our “On Ground” courses should actually be labeled “Blended”…or should they be “Web-enhanced”?

 

The only agreement in all of the definitions that I have found are that they all include some description of the amount of time spent in the traditional classroom setting with an instructor present, often called “seat time” or some quantification of the percentage of learning activities that take place outside the classroom. If 50% of the learning activities are online but the college does not reduce the amount of time that the students spend sitting in a seat in a classroom, is this a “Blended” course? If the 50% of the course is online and the time in the classroom has been reduced, then is it a “Hybrid” course? If the course is only 25% online then is it a “Web-enhanced” course? If the instructor only uploads documents but none of the assignments, is it still “On ground”? If there is proctored testing in a physical testing center can we call it an “Online” course? The questions go on and on. I believe that educators are making things unnecessarily complicated for students in order to suit our need to classify what we are doing. With all good intention, we try to educate students on these different course types because educating is what we do. Of course, in this case, we are trying to educate students on a subject that we can’t even agree upon ourselves.

 

We know that instructors (70% of them at our institution) are putting at least some content online for their “On ground” courses. There will soon be a day when this number reaches 100%. By that point, using the previously mentioned definitions, none of our courses would be considered “On Ground”. We don’t really know exactly what percentage of these courses take place in the classroom and online and neither do the students when they register. It could be 1% or it could be 49%. Hasn’t this always been the case? How long has the concept of homework existed? Students have always been expected to complete coursework outside of the classroom. The fact that homework now requires more than a paper textbook and a spiral notebook doesn’t really change anything for the student except for the required access to more advanced technology than a pen or pencil.

 

Some time ago we stopped using the term “Course Sites”. I felt that this was a remnant or the days when having a class website was something very uncommon. We now just refer to “Courses”. The days of going to college and never using a computer are gone. We need to embrace this fact and make sure that it is clear to all of our incoming students, no matter their background.

 

Haven't we also reached the point where we no longer need to categorize and define the type of courses for students? Even if we could agree on what they are, could we ever get our students to understand this mess? I think it is time to end the “Blend” and the “Hybrid” and the “Web-enhanced”and probably even the “Online”. These are all just courses now. Can’t we just say to our students:

 

“Classroom time may be reduced or replaced by outside coursework. Outside coursework may require the use of computers, tablets or smartphones in varying degrees.

 

I know that there are many additional complications to doing something like this, such as the legacy of fees that some schools (including mine) still charge only the students who take online courses and the ability for the college to continue to ensure that the proper seat time rules are being observed as well as requirements for accreditation. These are all details for us to work out internally. Students don’t need to know how the bread is made, they just need to buy the end product.

 

Welcome students! Some courses meet in-person frequently, some meet a little less, some don’t meet in-person at all. Pick the courses that fit your schedule and learning preference.

Having supported faculty and students using 3 different Learning Management Systems (LMS) in Higher Education, I've seen the support and training needs of our faculty shift over time.

 

When we started with Blackboard, there were so few adopters, we had the time to work with individuals for as long as necessary for them to feel comfortable. As we moved from one LMS to the next, these instructors adapted quickly to the changes and have needed very little help from us over the years.

 

As we moved to ANGEL in 2008, we found that a massive number of faculty jumped on-board and usage of the system quickly climbed to about 80% adoption. This seemed to be spurred by the fact that it was a new system, as the increase in usage started with a large uptick and then a gradual increase every semester onward. This group, for the most part, needed some initial handholding and a good manual to refer to in those times when they couldn't remember how to do something. Most of these users fell in love with ANGEL, even though it's interface wasn't what I would call simple.

 

A year ago in early 2014, we moved to Canvas. Canvas is very intuitive to use compared to any system that we have used in the past. As I expected, following the change in systems, we are seeing another quick increase in the number of faculty using the system. From all appearances, these are our late adopters, really late adopters, 10 years too late adopters. Some of them are nearly retired, others are "the last holdouts of their department". I think that they thought it was the Alamo and they were making some kind of last stand for a tech-free education. Now their departments or peer pressure or in many cases, the constant haunting moans of their students pleading with them to get with the times have finally broken them down.

 

This brings me to the problem. We're kind of at a loss in how to work with this group. Most of them are impatient about getting caught up with their counterparts (finally) but frustrated and easily discouraged by every minor difficulty that they encounter. They want to jump into using publisher LTI integration when they are not even wet behind the ears in Canvas yet. They require a lot of personal time with support specialists, sometimes needing to be calmed down first. Canvas is so simple to use, but this group of faculty really seem to be struggling. Providing them online resources for self-help is not the answer. This group is used to a simpler life on the plains where nothing ever changed, let alone changed every three weeks. They "Thought this would make everything easier" but I don't think they are seeing how it does.

 

I welcome any thought or ideas about working with this group of faculty. I have a feeing the number of these faculty reaching out to us is only going to grow as those last 20% (now more like 15%) start using Canvas.

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