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Teaching and Learning

4 Online Tactics to Improve Blended Learning

An accounting professor shares how best practices from online pedagogy have helped her create a blended learning environment that supports student success.

online learning

The pandemic forced students to shift to an online learning environment with little warning. Two years later, many students and teachers are suffering from videoconferencing fatigue. However, in my role as an accounting professor, I picked up a number of best practices from online learning that have been very effective in engaging students and helping prepare them for career success. Now that students are back in the classroom, I have been combining these tactics with in-person instruction to create a blended learning environment that gives my students the best of both worlds.

1) Create an Engaging Online Classroom

The first step in creating an effective blended learning environment is designing an engaging online classroom. Prior to the pandemic, I used a lot of hands-on activities, including things like Monopoly Boards, Jenga, fly swatters, and other exciting tools that captured students' attention. In an online classroom, it's possibly even more important to have engaging strategies in place. An excessively long lecture will just leave students feeling bored and distracted. The right activities, on the other hand, can make a significant difference. For example:

  • Breakout rooms (for think/pair/share);
  • Polls and quizzes that are low-stakes and anonymous to encourage full engagement;
  • Using the whiteboard option; and
  • Having reviews of material at the end of class.

The goal is to make sure that every student gets something out of the class. In an in-person class, changing up instructional styles and encouraging interaction is an important part of that strategy. In a virtual classroom, that shift is even more important, since it's easier for students to zone out from the other side of the screen.

2) Combat Lecture Fatigue with Transparency and Tools

Honestly, both students and faculty are tired of staring at a static screen or listening to long lectures. No matter how pleased you are to connect with students in-person again, it's important not to plan for three hours of lecture in a class each week. Everyone involved is likely to be checked out by then!

Instead, begin by offering clear goals for each session. Since students are still readjusting to being in a classroom together, be very clear about offering them the opportunity to speak and interact. Then review objectives at the end of each class to give students and yourself a chance to reflect.

For the online part of your blended classroom, shorter chunks of lecture videos — less than six minutes, focused on very specific, narrow learning objectives — that students view throughout the week can make an immense difference in overall learning. Then, you can spend class time on application and engagement using tools like Kahoot! quizzes, Poll Everywhere, Top Hat and Jeopardy-style games to keep students engaged.

Another strategy for encouraging students to engage is bringing in guest lecturers. You can Zoom in a variety of guests who might not be able to visit a physical classroom, which may help spice up lectures and get students more interested.

3) Make Career Prep Part of Blended Learning

No matter how you're presenting material, the goals are still the same: You want students to learn a concept and be able to apply it, not only in the classroom but in their future careers. For me, that means helping students prepare for the CPA Exam. I use a variety of strategies to help ensure that students get in that practical CPA work no matter what environment they're learning in.

I use the UWorld Roger CPA Review learning platform, which offers engaging online lectures, questions that mimic the real exam, and in-depth explanations of every answer. I regularly include CPA Exam questions from various exam prep providers on exams and assignments to help students understand how they should be studying and to reduce their exam study time in the future. 

I also encourage faculty (and myself!) to get out and meet with employers and ask what we can do to better prepare students, so that we can get a better feel for what first-year staff really need to know — and ensure that we present that knowledge and information in the classroom.

4) Find Multiple Ways to Measure Mastery

Students need a variety of skills to succeed outside the classroom, and how you measure them is critical to ensuring that you're preparing students for their first years on the job. For example:

  • To measure communication skills, students must either speak in front of the group or write. I usually use rubrics to help measure student performance.
  • For taxes, I use tax return projects and problem-based skills and quizzes to make sure students have the skills they need in order to excel.
  • I frequently provide students with cases to measure their ability to apply their comprehensive knowledge of a subject or concepts, rather than using multiple-choice questions that focus on a single concept.

Keeping up with the academic and career needs of students in an online environment has been challenging. But, whether you are teaching online, in-person or both, you can apply what you've learned to improve your students' overall performance and engagement. Blended learning has its disadvantages, but it also offers you a number of opportunities to set your students up for future success.

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