How to Customize Your Blend

Photo of Blender

Here at West Chester University, teaching a blended course means that anywhere from 30% to 79% of your course can be taught online. That’s a big range. So it’s not surprising that I often meet faculty who are struggling to find their unique blend of online and face-to-face instruction for their blended course. What should go online? What should be done face-to-face? Isn’t there a formula for this?!?

Photo frustrated woman at computer

Unfortunately, there’s no formula, but there is a method for “customizing your blend”:

  1. First, look at your lesson plans. What learning activities are best suited to your objectives? Forget about the mode of delivery for now- the very first thing you want to do is determine the ideal learning experience for each week’s lesson, unit, or module. What would be the absolute best learning experience for your students? Write out an outline including all the learning activities for your course if you haven’t already.
  2. Next, analyze the elements of each learning experience and start sorting. Is there anything that naturally lends itself to an online environment? What experiences will work best in the classroom? Can you think of ways to keep students connected and engaged as they move between online and face-to-face formats?
  3. Now you’re ready to start exploring how technology can support and enhance the learning experience. At West Chester University, you have access to the Desire2Learn LMS and tools such as Adobe Connect and VoiceThread. There are also countless, free, web-based tools available online. The key is remembering that the learning experience should be the focus, not the technology!

It’s only three steps, but they are big, messy steps and like the first few steps at my house, they’re kind of cluttered with leaves and a basket meant for shoes that’s instead full of mail, toys, and who knows what else until I sort it. Figuring out your customized blend can be challenging whether you’re working with an existing course outline or building one from scratch. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the instructional design team in the Office of Distance Education at any step in the process.

Fostering Engagement with Social Media

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Social media has a lot going for it as an educational tool: nearly everyone has some type of social media account, it’s easy to create an account if you don’t have one, social media makes it easy for people to connect, collaborate, and share, and social media platforms are optimized for mobile devices. In short, social media makes it easy for people to engage.  Faculty want to engage their students; students want to be engaged. Social media inherently engages. So how can you harness the power of social media to foster engagement in your course? Let’s look to Facebook and Twitter for examples.

Facebook

The groups feature in Facebook is an excellent tool for connecting faculty and students. Groups can be public, private, or secret depending on the privacy level desired. The groups feature allows for file sharing, polls, as well as the commenting and reaction features that we all know and love. Examples include an instructor making a group for the class to ask questions and connect with each other, share thoughts, applicable articles,

twitter feed
WCU Online Twitter feed embedded on a WCU D2L homepage

and news events. Students can make groups to collaborate for group projects or connect over similar interests.

 

Twitter

How much can you accomplish in 140 characters? A lot. Establishing a course hashtag by combining the course code and section number (e.g. #PHI12502) is a quick and easy way for faculty and students to start connecting over course topics. Liking and re-tweeting people and organizations in the field being studied can connect students to important names and current research. Faculty at West Chester University can even embed their personal twitter feed or a hashtag based feed as a widget on their course homepage.

These are just a few ideas for using social media in your class but the options are endless. I’ve heard of using Pinterest and Instagram for scavenger hunts and Snapchat for storytelling.

Have you used social media in your course? Tell us about it in the comments!

Want to try using social media in your course but you’re not sure how to get started? Contact us! We’d love to help.

 

 

3 Essential Tips for Online Learning Success

Student
“Student” by CollegeDegrees360 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

So, you’ve taken the plunge and signed up for your first online course. Or maybe it isn’t your first online course but you feel like you have some room for improvement as an online student. As a current online graduate student with nearly a decade of experience working with online faculty and students, I’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to be a successful online student. Below are my top 3 tips.

1. Communicate

Saying “communication is important” is really broad, so let’s break it down into who you should be communicating with, how, and why.

Who?

Your Instructor:

  • Read your syllabus so that you know the best way to get in contact with your instructor and then use that information whenever you need to. If they’ve provided a discussion area for the class to ask questions, use it! I know so many online students who hesitate to contact their instructor because they don’t want to bother them or because they feel like they should be able to figure things out on their own. These are the same students who wouldn’t hesitate to raise their hand or stay after class to ask a question in a traditional face to face course. If you don’t say anything, your instructor will assume that everything is fine- they can’t see the confused look on your face, so speak up!

Your Classmates: 

  • Discussion boards, wikis, and blogs are just some of the ways that you’ll likely interact with your online classmates. Make an effort to engage with your classmates in class, but also exchange emails or start groups to connect through social media.

Your Resources

  • Know who to contact when you need help. You know you can reach out to your professors and your classmates but did you know that many institutions offer online tutoring? For example WCU students have access to online tutoring through Smarthinking. Do you have a disability that could affect your participation in class? Make sure it’s documented with your institution’s Office of Services for Students with Disabilities so that your professor can make the appropriate accommodations. Know who your advisor is. Know how to use the library services available to you. And know who to call for technical support!

How?

In all communication with the institution, your instructor, and other students use proper spelling, grammar, and mind your netiquette.

Why?

An online class can be isolating if you let it. Make an effort to reach out. Get to know your instructor, your classmates, and your resources. You’ll be a better student, have a more enriching learning experience, and feel more connected to your academic community.

2. Be Honest with Yourself

Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses as a student because they’re going to be amplified in an online environment. Are you motivated but disorganized? A great communicator but have poor time-management skills? Take stock and focus your efforts on strengthening your weaknesses. Almost all institutions have student support services dedicated to helping you succeed, like the Academic Success Workshops offered through the WCU Learning Assistance & Resource Center.

3. Sharpen those tech skills!

Make sure you have the basics down:

  • You’ll need a computer AND an internet connection- or at least access to both on a regular basis. Most online courses are not (yet!) designed to be taken on your phone or tablet. The excuse that you didn’t have access to a computer or internet to take your test/hand in your assignment/contribute to your group project won’t go over well with anyone. Other recommended hardware includes a webcam and a headset/microphone combo for online meetings and presentations.
  • Software and Applications. If you’re a student at WCU, you have free access to Microsoft Office 365 as well as other useful software downloads. Also be sure to have at least 2 browsers installed on your computer. Most new PCs come with Microsoft Edge and Macs come with Safari, but we also recommend installing Chrome and/or Firefox.
  • Know the basics. Make sure you know how to edit, save, and attach files.
  • Be open to trying new technology tools in your online course- it’s part of the learning experience!

 

What tips would you add to this list? Tell us in the comments!