Open Menu Close Menu

C-Level View | Feature

Staking a Claim on the Future of Education: Blended Learning

A Q&A with Jared Stein

blended learning

If there's one thing we've learned from the massive rush to move courses online this spring, it's that a sudden change to fully online, even in the year 2020, isn't easy. Here, in a Q&A with CT, Jared Stein, VP of Higher Education Strategy for Canvas by Instructure, shares some thoughts and comments from his writings on blended learning. He's proposing an important takeaway from the pandemic: Blended learning environments can help us prepare for the future.

Mary Grush: Are most faculty experienced and well grounded in teaching online?

Jared Stein: Online teaching has long been an option for higher education faculty, but most have rejected online education and have chosen the traditional mode of teaching face-to-face in physical classrooms.

Grush: Where does this put colleges and universities that may need to offer courses online, especially as we move into the fall with the uncertainty of the pandemic?

Stein: As colleges and universities grapple with the possibility that the coronavirus outbreak will keep campuses closed through summer and into fall semesters, educators may no longer have the luxury of a choice between online and face-to-face modes. Emergency remote teaching in response to a campus closure may be tolerable to finish out a semester, but students who do return in the fall will expect a higher-quality learning experience than online files and video conferences.

This leaves administrators and faculty with a huge challenge: Do we bet on another semester of "good enough" remote teaching? Or do we scramble to develop online versions of all scheduled courses to meet established standards of course design?

Grush: It's starting to sound like this is a continuum that could go well into the future… if not with the present pandemic, then with something new coming around the corner. I apologize if that seems too negative.

Stein: Oh no, don't apologize — that's a realistic observation. Looking beyond fall 2020, how will institutions adapt to be more resilient in the face of potential future closures? Some have suggested that the current crisis may cause a permanent change in higher education, motivating greater investment in and attention to high-quality online offerings.

Some have suggested that the current crisis may cause a permanent change in higher education, motivating greater investment in and attention to high-quality online offerings.

Grush: Yes, but it's not that simple, is it?

Stein: No, because high-quality online teaching is not easy. While some classroom teaching practices can be adapted to online, expectations and behaviors may be different than you might expect or hope. Terry Anderson wrote about the sense of "distance" that is all too common in online environments. Faculty who prefer face-to-face environments talk about the value of dynamic interactions, and being able to "read the faces" of students. It's true that the online modality has various strengths and weaknesses.

Grush: So, let's try for something more optimistic. What's the opportunity here?

Stein: Some have called the COVID-19-related campus closures education's black swan event. It may well prove to be. At the very least, the current moment presents higher education with an opportunity to adapt how it designs and delivers education in ways that anticipate future crises, and ultimately make teaching more effective and engaging for students.

I don't mean that every faculty member must become an ardent online teacher, content with remote interactions over face-to-face. But every faculty member must become fluent with critical technology, leveraging it even in their traditional brick and mortar courses as naturally as they might.

This mix of face-to-face and online teaching — blended learning — will become an important component in the professional development strategy for many colleges and universities going forward.

This mix of face-to-face and online teaching — blended learning — will become an important component in the professional development strategy for many colleges and universities going forward.

Grush: Great! So how can blended learning be incorporated effectively, assuming we're planning for a post-pandemic timeframe?

Stein: The key to effective blended learning will be understanding the fundamental differences between online and onsite environments, recognizing that each has strengths and limitations. This allows teachers to choose learning activities according to the strengths of one mode, without sacrificing the strengths of another.

Grush: For example…?

Stein: For example, while a face-to-face discussion may be ideal for creating personal connections between students and generating enthusiasm about a topic, a major limitation of in-class discussions is time — there's never enough time for each and every student to share what's on their mind or respond to every peer. Further, the pressures and expectations of a live class discussion may cause some students to opt out of participating. An instructor can blend this class discussion with an online discussion in order to leverage the strengths of each. A topic discussion may begin face-to-face but continue asynchronously in an online course environment, which gives all students a chance to reflect, draft, and post their response — in text, with images, or even as recorded video.

Grush: So you want educators to blend the best of both worlds…

Stein: Absolutely. And perhaps it's because blended learning enables the best of both worlds that, compared to either fully online or face-to-face course design, blended learning tends to win out in both learning outcomes and teacher opinions. This suggests that blended learning may be a better cultural fit for U.S. higher education, one that's easier to adapt to for many teachers than fully online courses. And even though a blended course is not fully online, teachers who blend have a familiar online course environment that is already used regularly and consistently by students and teachers.

Grush: Then the benefit alongside adjusting for good pedagogical fit is that you'll have both faculty and learning resources at the ready if there's a sudden need to go to online only?

Stein: That's right. A well-designed blended course will reduce both the stress and the workload on teachers and students in the event they must suddenly shift to remote teaching. Higher education institutions that set a goal of blended learning for every course are staking a claim on a future for their institution that acknowledges how quickly and dramatically the environment can shift. Our institutions need to be ready to meet high student expectations, and colleges and universities that find the most success will be those that commit to learning as much as possible from our present coronavirus-driven transition.

[Editor's note: Jared Stein is co-author of Essentials for Blended Learning: A Standards-Based Guide.]

comments powered by Disqus

Campus Technology News

Sign up for our newsletter.

Terms and Privacy Policy consent

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.