What is blended learning

In this section the DHET definition of blended learning is interpreted by comparing its implications for contact and distance modules by:

  • Unpacking the elements of the definition
  • Summarising the requirements of contact-time as specified by the DHET
  • Showing various course delivery options that are available within the parameters of the definition

DHET definition of blended learning

The Department of Higher Education and Training provides the following broad definition of blended learning:

Blended learning is the provision of structured learning opportunities using a combination of contact, distance, and/or Information and Communication Technology (ICT) supported opportunities to suit different purposes, audiences, and contexts.

This definition thus implies that blended learning includes modules with a combination of contact and distance components; contact and ICT supported opportunities; distance and ICT supported opportunities; or contact, distance and ICT supported opportunities. Since contact and distance programmes are funded differently, the definitions of these modes of delivery have not only pedagogical implications, but also financial implications. The DHET stipulates that for contact qualifications, the following should be adhered to:

Summary of contact-time required for contact-based modules

  • Undergraduate courses (NQF Levels 5 – 6): more than 30% of the stated Notional Learning hours must be spent in staff-led, face-to-face, campus-based, structured learning activities.
  • Undergraduate courses (NQF Level 7): more than 25% of the stated Notional Learning hours must be spent in staff-led, face-to-face, campus-based, structured learning activities.
  • Initial postgraduate courses (NQF Level 8): more than 25% of the stated Notional Learning hours must be spent in staff-led, face-to-face, campus-based, structured learning activities.

What does this mean practically?

For a 16-credit module on NQF Level 5 or 6, with 160 stated Notional Learning hours, more than 48 hours should be contact-based, while for a 16-credit module on NQF Level 7 or 8 with the same Notional Learning hours, more than 40 hours should be contact-based.

What constitutes contact time?

It raises the question, what does staff-led, face-to-face, campus-based, structured learning activities entail? The answer is not definitive but could include the following activities:

Examples of staff-led, face-to-face, campus-based, structured learning activities

  • Traditional lectures in a classroom
  • Campus-based practical sessions
  • Face-to-face tutorials
  • Face-to-face lecturer consultation hours

Blended learning in different modes of delivery

Both the DHET and the Council for Higher Education (CHE) recognise that the distinction between contact and distance education is more complex than a simple continuum with pure distance and pure face-to-face provisioning at opposite ends, especially with increasing use of educational technology over the last few years. To this end, the DHET and CHE published documents to conceptualise the difference between contact and distance learning. Each presents a two-dimensional figure (see Figure 1) that illustrates the variation possible in designing learning programmes in South African higher education institutions.

Figure 1: Programme provision grid (adapted from the Department of Higher Education and Training, 2014 p.9)

Figure 1 shows various course delivery options. Modules that are completely online and campus-based would, for instance, be a module that is presented in the computer labs on campus (Block A in Figure 1). All lectures would be in the computer labs. Block B shows an example of a module delivered at the other end of the contact-based spectrum. Modules presented in this way would not have any online or computer-based components. Study guides and class materials would be paper-based and the module would not be on Blackboard. All communication between lecturers and students would be face-to-face in class or during consultation hours. Block C is an example of a contact-based, blended module. Such a module would include any number of face-to-face activities but would also include activities on the LMS or any other digital / internet-supported activities (such as requiring students to do an assignment on a Word document for which they need to consult sources either in the library or online that they need to submit on a LMS). Area D shows the possible combinations for contact-based, blended modules. Block A, B, C and Area D assumes the minimum contact-time as specified by the DHET per NQF level. If the minimum contact-time is not spent in a module, it becomes a distance module. Block E is an example of a module delivered in a similar way as the delivery method depicted by Block C without the minimum contact-time.


References

Council for Higher Education (CHE). (2014). Distance Higher Education Programmes in a Digital Era: Good Practice Guide. Pretoria.

Department of Higher Education and Training. (2014). Policy for the Provision of Distance Education in South African Universities in the Context of an Integrated Post-school System. Pretoria

Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. D. (2008). Blended learning in higher education: framework, principles, and guidelines (1st ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kintu, M. J., Zhu, C., & Kagambe, E. (2017). Blended learning effectiveness: the relationship between student characteristics, design features and outcomes. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 14(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-017-0043-4

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., & Baki, M. (2013). The effectiveness of online and blended learning: A meta-analysis of the empirical literature. Teachers College Record, 115(3), 1–47.

Okaz, A. A. (2015). Integrating Blended Learning in Higher Education. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 186, 600–603. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.04.086

A more comprehensive understanding of blended learning

In this section, a more comprehensive description of blended learning is provided by:

  • Proposing a definition from the literature elaborates on the DHET’s definition of blended learning
  • Unpacking the key components of the definition
  • Distinguishing between blended learning and technology-enhanced learning

In the past eight editions (with the exception of the 2018 edition) of the NMC Horizon Report blended learning has been featured as a key trend in higher education globally (Alexander et al., 2019). Despite its relevance, there is no consensus in the literature on a single definition for blended learning. It may be useful to consider some of the most widely accepted definitions to gain a clearer understanding of what blended learning is, as well as what it is not. Such an understanding is crucial if one is to implement it effectively in practice.

The International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) produced an insight paper to address the varied interpretations of blended learning, as well as its implementation in higher education institutions (Ossiannilsson, 2017). One of the most prevalent definitions in the literature is offered by Christensen, Horn, and Staker (2013, p.7):

Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace and at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home. The modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.

Key components of blended learning

This definition thus implies that blended learning includes modules with a combination of contact and distance components; contact and ICT supported opportunities; distance and ICT supported opportunities; or contact, distance and ICT supported opportunities. Since contact and distance programmes are funded differently, the definitions of these modes of delivery have not only pedagogical implications, but also financial implications. The DHET stipulates that for contact qualifications, the following should be adhered to:

1. Some components of the module are delivered online and some components are delivered in a face-to-face environment

2. For the online components in the module students have control of one or more of the following:

Time

Learning is not restricted to a specific day and time. Students are allowed to complete the activity at their own time. Student control over time refers to asynchronous activities, however, it is important to note that it is not only asynchronous activities that are included in blended learning. For this reason, the definition specifies that students only need to have control of one of these elements. If they, for instance, have control of one of the other elements (such as place), synchronous activities, such as attending an online tutorial at a specific time from home (or anywhere else) would still satisfy the criteria of this definition.

Place

Students do not have to be at a specific place (such as a classroom or computer lab) to complete the activity.

Path

Learning is not restricted solely by the pedagogy of the lecturer. This means that students are presented with a choice regarding some of the online activities they complete and how they complete them. It also means that they can access any additional material related to the content without it specifically being indicated by the lecturer.

Pace

Students are not restricted to the pace of the rest of the classroom. They can, for instance, go through some of the content at a quicker pace or can revisit the content that they struggle with.

3. The online and face-to-face components are designed to provide an integrated learning experience
The following examples of what blended learning is and what it is not are simplified to clarify the definition and to highlight the importance of planning and design of online activities.

  • Not blended learning

    Paper behind glass – uploading class slides to Blackboard.

  • Why not?

    The online components should be integrated with the face-to-face components. It cannot merely be supplemental to the face-to-face components.

  • Blended learning

    Flip the classroom: Upload a screencast with a portion of the class slides that students must review before coming to class. Add additional reading material that will clarify the content further. Class time is then used to do a different portion of the content and to have deeper discussions/ class activities on the slides and material students had to review before class.

  • Not blended learning

    Uploading a lecture recording to Blackboard.

  • Why not?

    The online components should be integrated with the face-to-face components. It cannot merely be supplemental to the face-to-face components.

  • Blended learning

    Flip the classroom: Upload a screencast with a portion of the class slides that students must review before coming to class. Add additional reading material that will clarify the content further. Class time is then used to do a different portion of the content and to have deeper discussions/ class activities on the slides and material students had to review before class.


  • Not blended learning

    Providing additional reading material on Blackboard.

  • Why not?

    The online components should be integrated with the face-to-face components. It cannot merely be supplemental to the face-to-face components.

  • Blended learning

    Flip the classroom: Upload a screencast with a portion of the class slides that students must review before coming to class. Add additional reading material that will clarify the content further. Class time is then used to do a different portion of the content and to have deeper discussions/ class activities on the slides and material students had to review before class.

  • Not blended learning

    An online assessment(s) completed in a computer laboratory with invigilation.

  • Why not?

    Students have no control over time, place, path or pace.

  • Blended learning

    An online assessment that students can complete in their own time at home or in the open computer laboratories.

This does not mean that the examples provided that do not qualify as blended learning should be discarded as bad practice. Nonetheless, it does make a distinction between ‘blended learning’ and ‘technology-enhanced learning’. Simply using technology in your teaching does not automatically imply that a module is blended. While effective technology-enhanced learning does not have to satisfy the specific criteria for blended learning, lecturers should always aim to create an integrated learning experience between the face-to-face and online components of a module. For the use of technology to really enhance learning, it cannot be used without considering pedagogy.

Getting started with blended learning

In this section, practical considerations for getting started with blended learning are provided through:

  • A step-by-step approach
  • An overview of some contextual challenges South African higher education practitioners are faced with concerning the implementation of blended learning

Getting started with blended learning can be a daunting task. The challenge does not lie in finding useful information on the web about blended learning, quite the opposite! A quick Google search with the search terms ‘Blended Learning’ will yield tens of thousands of results. The challenge lies in scrutinising available literature and practical advice that can be found online and making it applicable to your context. For this reason, the information provided in this section are aimed at lecturers who are inexperienced in blended learning as it provides a summary of what you need to consider when getting started with blended learning. It includes practical steps to take and it highlights some of the contextual challenges that need to be considered in the South African higher education context.

  • Why blended learning

    1
  • What are the challenges?

    2

    What are the challenges?

  • What impact are you aiming for?

    3
  • What technology is available?

    4

    What technology is available?

  • What support is available?

    5

Why blended learning?

The benefits of blended learning are well documented but the pitfalls associated with poor planning for and execution of blended learning are equally widely cited. Blended learning provides opportunities to enhance the following good teaching practices:

  • Improved student-lecturer interaction: frequent contact between students and lecturers is a key factor of good teaching practice. Student-lecturer interaction implies two-way communication and is different from a lecturer providing feedback to students or communicating information about the module (although both of these are also important in learning and teaching). Technology provides additional opportunities for student-lecturer interaction outside of the classroom.
  • Improved peer interaction: working with others often increases involvement in learning, while sharing ideas and responding to others can deepen understanding. Although it may be easier to incorporate group work in a face-to-face environment (whether this happens in class or outside of the classroom), technology provides more flexibility for working with others with the added benefit of asynchronous interactions.
  • Reflective learning: reflection is essential for deep learning. Online activities outside of the classroom can be designed to provide students with more frequent opportunities for reflection throughout the course.

The above-mentioned practices are all indicators of student engagement. Several studies have investigated the effect of student engagement on student success (see Bibliography).

What are the challenges?

Student-lecturer interaction and peer interaction were two of the challenges particularly highlighted in the large-scale move to blended learning that many South African universities attempted at the end of 2016 during the #FeesMustFall protests. In addition to this UFS staff and students identified the following challenges specifically, although it is believed that these challenges may resonate with lecturers in other South African universities:

  • Large classes: increased student numbers at the UFS over the past two decades has led to numerous modules with large student numbers. There are several challenges associated with large class teaching, some of which can be addressed with technology. However, not all educational technology tools can be used effectively in large classes. The challenge lies in identifying both the tools and methods that work well in large classes.
  • Technology access: Although most students have smartphones and many have access to a personal computer, possibly the biggest technology challenge that students are faced with in South Africa, is the prohibitive cost of data. Consequently, only a small percentage (21%) of UFS students have access to reliable internet off-campus. It is important for lecturers to know that their students will likely need to make use of the Wi-Fi on campus for online activities when they plan the online components of their course.
  • Supporting students: it is a common misconception that all students are comfortable with technology. Many UFS students come from impoverished backgrounds and have never been exposed to computers before they entered university. A critical success factor of blended learning is student support. Implementing any type of technology or online activities will require support to students in ensuring that they are made familiar with both the software and procedures to complete online activities.
  • Time: while the use of technology in learning and teaching can save time in the long term, it requires a significant initial time investment. Lecturers planning to incorporate more technology and or online activities in their modules need to be aware of the time investment required.

What impact are you aiming for?

Alammary, Sheard, and Carbone (2014) suggest three major design approaches for blended learning based on the changes to the existing teaching methods and student learning experiences. These approaches are summarised below:

Low-impact blend: adding extra activities

What it is
Extra online activities are added to a traditional face-to-face module without eliminating any of the existing activities.

Benefits

  • Minimal experience in teaching a traditional course is required for this approach.
  • It is a quick and easy way to integrate online activities without reviewing the entire module.
  • There is a low risk of failure when applied carefully.

Challenges

  • Lecturers need to have some skills in the use of instructional technology.
  • This approach has a high risk of producing a ‘course-and-a-half’, which is a common pitfall of blended learning where the student workload increases with the added online activities, without reducing contact-based activities. It is important to note that the notional hours of a module is determined by how long it will take the average full-time student to gain the necessary skills and knowledge required to successfully complete the module. Below average students may need to already be spending more time on the module than the estimated notional hours. One therefore needs to be careful not to add too much to the existing workload with a low-impact blend.
  • Students may respond negatively to the added online activities if these activities do not meaningfully add to their overall experience in the module.

Medium-impact blend: replacing activities

What it is
Replacing some existing face-to-face activities with online activities.

Benefits

  • The approach can be implemented incrementally, allowing lecturers to redesign their module gradually.
  • Experience gained with this approach helps lecturers to build their confidence in blended learning.
  • Allows for low-risk experimentation with educational technology and different teaching approaches without losing the benefits of the traditional module.

Challenges

  • Lecturers need to have good technological knowledge of the tools they use and some confidence to implement this approach.
  • The replacement and integration of activities require a dedicated time-investment.
  • Long-term planning and evaluation of the module are necessary as this is a gradual process of introducing new resources and techniques.
  • Some experience in teaching the traditional course is useful to identify parts of the course that do not work properly and that can potentially be replaced by online techniques.

High-impact blend: building from scratch

What it is
A total redesign of a module that requires a lecturer to consider each learning outcome and determine the best delivery option. This is consistent with the constructive alignment model of curriculum development (Biggs, 1996) as well as the backward design model (Stein & Graham, 2014).

Benefits

  • Starting from a fresh perspective allows lecturers to reduce issues with the current module and design a more effective module as a whole.
  • This approach allows for the most effective integration of online and face-to-face components.
  • Lecturers have an opportunity to get the maximum benefits of blended learning and consider a wider variety of delivery options and teaching techniques.
  • Rethinking the entire module allows for more thorough consideration of students’ needs.

Challenges

  • A high level of technological knowledge and confidence are necessary for the successful implementation of this approach.
  • Lecturers need to consider a wide variety of possible blended learning components and have a sound understanding of the implications of these.
  • This approach requires some experience in both blended learning and traditional teaching.
  • Redesigning the entire module is time-consuming and the implementation of the new module will require continuous monitoring and evaluation to refine.

Figure 2: Example of three different blended learning approaches (Adapted from Alammary et al., 2014, p.451).

Figure 2 is an illustrative example of how each of these three approaches can be applied to a traditional face-to-face module. In all three examples, the use of technology in the module is integrated with the face-to-face activities. Even in low-impact blends (that require the lowest level of technical expertise and experience), the activities added should still be integrated to create a cohesive face-to-face and online experience.

What technology is available?

A Learning Management System (LMS) is a repository where information can be stored and student online activities can be tracked. It is also a useful environment to stimulate online collaboration between lecturers and students, as well as among students. Most South African universities make use of an institutional LMS. It is important that you are familiar with the different tools available on the LMS that your institution makes use of as well as the benefits of each of these tools so that you can make an informed decision on which tools would work best in your module.

In addition to the institutional LMS, you need to be aware of other educational technology tools available. There are many free tools available, whether you are able to use the tool effectively in your module should depend first and foremost on the pedagogy employed but will also be dependent on your university’s ICT policies.

Tool What? How? Why?
Content Freemind Create concept maps for your courses with Freemind (free software). A concept map is a type of graphic organiser that highlights the main ideas of a module/unit and is an effective way to organise knowledge in your module. It helps you to organise your module content and it helps your students to better understand both the overarching goal of the module as well as how different units or sections are related.
Audacity A free easy to use audio recorder and editor. Once downloaded, you can use Audacity to make audio recordings for your students to give generic audio feedback on an assessment or to do lecture capturing. Multimedia, such as an audio file, provides opportunities for alternative methods of presenting key information of a module – one of the principles of Universal Design for Learning.
ActivePresenter Screencasting software (free version available to download) Screencasts (PowerPoint slides with a voiceover) can be saved as video files and can be uploaded as content on a your LMS course. Screencasts are useful in units that you want to ‘flip’ as part of a flipped-classroom approach.
Collaboration Mentimeter Web-based freeware that can be used as a classroom response system (clickers) Mentimeter be used to set up some questions about the content of a lecture that students can respond to with their smartphones, basically using their phones as a ‘clicker’. They can also ask questions anonymously during the lecture. It can increase student engagement and help the lecturer to quickly gauge students’ understanding of a topic. It can also increase student-lecturer interaction if the Q&A feature is used.
Info Survey Monkey Survey tool SurveyMonkey can be used for online course evaluations or to gather informal feedback from your students on their experience of an intervention implemented in your course. It is important to continuously gather feedback from your students on their experiences in the module. Not only does it form part of most university’s quality assurance frameworks, it is invaluable when implementing new interventions to understand how students are experiencing it to know where you need to refine or change your methods.
Assessement Hot Potatoes An assessment tool for setting up crossword puzzles Hot Potatoes crossword puzzles can be used as informal assessment activities to help students to learn a language or discipline-based terminology. It can be integrated into an LMS course. Can be effective in language learning as well as helping students to familiarise themselves with difficult and/or technical discipline-based terminology.

What support is available?

A Learning Management System (LMS) is a repository where information can be stored and student online activities can be tracked. It is also a useful environment to stimulate online collaboration between lecturers and students, as well as among students. Most South African universities make use of an institutional LMS. It is important that you are familiar with the different tools available on the LMS that your institution makes use of as well as the benefits of each of these tools so that you can make an informed decision on which tools would work best in your module.

In addition to the institutional LMS, you need to be aware of other educational technology tools available. There are many free tools available, whether you are able to use the tool effectively in your module should depend first and foremost on the pedagogy employed but will also be dependent on your university’s ICT policies.

Bibliography

Alammary, A., Sheard, J., & Carbone, A. (2014). Blended learning in higher education: Three different design approaches. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 30(4).

Bates, A. W. (2015). Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning. Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/

Bernard, R. M., Borokhovski, E., Schmid, R. F., Tamim, R. M., & Abrami, P. C. (2014). A meta-analysis of blended learning and technology use in higher education: from the general to the applied. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 26(1), 87–122.

Downing, C. E., Spears, J., & Holtz, M. (2014). Transforming a Course to Blended Learning for Student Engagement. Education Research International, 2014, 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/430732

Kinzie, J., & Kuh, G. (2017). Reframing Student Success in College: Advancing Know-What and Know-How. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 49(3), 19–27. https://doi.org/10.1080/00091383.2017.1321429

Kuh, G. D., Ikenberry, S., Jankowski, N., Cain, T. R., Ewell, P., Hutchings, P., & Kinzie, J. (2015). Using evidence of student learning to improve higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., & Baki, M. (2013). The effectiveness of online and blended learning: A meta-analysis of the empirical literature. Teachers College Record, 115(3), 1–47.

Meintjes, A. (2018). The Aftermath of #FeesMustFall: an Activity Theoretical Analysis of Blended Learning at the UFS. University of the Free State.

Strydom, F., Kuh, G., & Loots, S. (2017). Engaging students: using evidence to promote student success. Bloemfontein, South Africa: Sun Media.

Turner, P. M., & Carriveau, R. S. (2010). Next Generation Course Redesign. New York: Peter Lang.

Blended learning in practice

In this section, Allamary et al’s (2014) impact model for designing blended learning are unpacked through:

  • Low and medium impact suggestions for improving student-lecturer interaction
  • Low and medium impact suggestions for improving student (peer) interaction
  • Low and medium impact suggestions for fostering reflective learning

In this section low and medium impact activities are provided for improving student-lecturer interaction, improving student (peer interaction), and fostering reflective learning. Low and medium activities require you to add online activities to your existing face-to-face module (low impact) or replacing one or two of your face-to-face activities with an online activity (medium impact). A high impact blend, as explained in the previous section, requires a complete overhaul of your module that may take anything between 3 – 12 months. The suggestions provided in this section were specifically chosen for the minimal time investment required from the lecturer. If you are interested in redesigning your module completely (high impact blend) some suggested readings are provided at the end of this section.

Improve student-lecturer interaction

The table below provides some examples to improve student-lecturer interaction. Student-lecturer interaction implies two-way communication. It is not just the lecturer communicating with students, but also students communicating with their lecturers. While face-to-face lectures or practical sessions provide opportunities for student-lecturer interaction, it becomes more challenging with large classes. Technology provides additional opportunities for student-lecturer interaction both in and outside of the classroom

Recommended practices to improve student-lecturer interaction
Recommended practiceBlended learning?ImpactTechnology skills requiredApproximate set up time
Add an extra online lecturer consultation hour to your existing face-to-face consultation times per week. You can use conferencing software such as Skype/ Zoom (depending on class size) or a discussion board on your LMS for this session to discuss specific questions from students about the face-to-face lecture. This way, it creates an integrated learning experience and students have control over the place from where they interact with you.Yes. Setting up a consultation opportunity to discuss specific issues related to the content ensures an integrated learning experience. It also allows students control of the place from which they engage the activity.
Low
• Setting up a discussion board on your LMS; or
• Conferencing software (Skype/ Zoom/ Blackboard Collaborate – if the LMS you are using is Blackboard)
• Training (once-off): 30 minutes – 1 hour
• Set-up (for each session): 15 – 30 minutes
• Communication with students about procedure (planning & execution): 30 minutes – 1 hour (for each session)
Does not include time that you need to be available for each consultation session
Use Mentimeter to allow students to ask questions anonymously during the lecture. No. Linking to activity to the face-to-face lecture leads to an integrated learning experience. However, students do not have any control over the time, place, path or place of the activity. It is a technology-enhanced learning activity that provides additional opportunities for student-lecturer interaction. If the activity is adapted to ensure that students either have control of the pace or path, it has the potential to qualify as a blended learning activity.
Low
• Using Mentimeter to allow students to ask questions during the lecture• Learning how to use the software (once-off): 30 minutes – 1 hour
• Set-up: 30 minutes – 1 hour
Does not include the time required in class for the activity
Replace one of your in-class group activities with an online discussion forum on your LMS. This will require rethinking how the activity can be structured to work in an online environment. Yes. The activity should be linked to the content covered in class to create an integrated learning experience. The discussion board can remain open for a couple of days to ensure that students have control of both the time that they participate as well as the place from where they participate.
Medium
• Setting up a discussion board on your LMS
• Creating groups in Bb (if Blackboard is your institutional LMS)
• Training (once-off): 30 minutes – 1 hour
• Planning activity as replacement of in-class activity: 1 – 2 hours
• Setting up groups on Bb: 1 – 2 hours (once-off) (if applicable)
• Set-up (for each session): 15 – 30 minutes
• Communication with students about procedure (planning & execution): 30 minutes – 1 hour (for each session)
Does not include time that you need to be available to moderate the session
Replace one of your face-to-face lectures with an online session on Blackboard Collaborate (if your institution uses Blackboard as a LMS). Consider starting off with a revision classYes. Replacing a contact session with a Bb Collaborate session requires you to think through how the session will be structured to fit into your module plan and should ensure an integrated learning experience. It also allows students control of the place that the engage the activity from.
Medium
• Setting up a Bb Collaborate session on Bb• Training (once-off): 30 minutes – 1 hour
• Planning activity as replacement of in-class activity: 1 – 2 hours
• Set-up: 15 – 30 minutes
• Communication with students about procedure (planning & execution): 30 minutes – 1 hour
Does not include time that you need to be available to present/ facilitate the session

Improving student (peer) interaction

The table below provides some recommended practices to improve peer interaction. Dividing your class into into smaller groups and allocating activities or assessment tasks to each group.is often a good place to start with. An LMS such as Blackboard has the groups tool for this purpose.

Additionally, a discussion board can improve both lecturer-student, and peer interaction and is a popular tool used in blended learning. It requires students to interact with each other by commenting on others’ work but it also requires lecturers to monitor the discussion board regularly, often adding inputs and asking further probing questions.

Recommended practice to improve peer interaction
Recommended practiceBlended learning?ImpactTechnology skills requiredApproximate set up time
Open a discussion board in your module (non-graded) that students can use to post questions to each other about the module. Yes. Set up clear guidelines for the use of the discussion board to ensure that issues related to the content are covered to create an integrated learning experience. It also allows students control of the place from which they engage the activity. If the discussion board is open for the entire duration of the module it allows students control of the time they choose to participate.
Low
• Setting up a discussion board on your LMS• Training (once-off): 30 minutes – 1 hour
• Set-up: 15 – 30 minutes
• Communication with students about procedure (planning & execution): 30 minutes – 1 hour
Does not include time that you need to be available for moderation on the discussion board. Consider setting aside time once a week.
Replace one of your assessments with a peer-assessment. Students can submit a group assignment electronically or on the LMS and then group members can also anonymously grade other submissions. The advantages of peer assessment include that it allows students to internalise the assessment criteria and it reduces the lecturer’s marking load (although moderation is required). Yes. The activity should be linked to the content covered in class to create an integrated learning experience. Students have control of both the time that they participate as well as the place from which they participate.
Medium
• Using the group tool in Bb (if applicable);
• Setting up an assignment on the LMS
• Understanding how to set up peer-assessment in your LMS
• Training (once-off): 1- 2 hours (all tools)
• Planning activity as replacement of an existing assessment: 1 – 2 hours
• Setting up groups on Bb: 1 – 2 hours (once-off)
• Plan and set up rubric in Bb: 2 – 3 hours
• Set-up assignment: 15 – 30 minutes
• Communication with students about procedure (planning & execution): 30 minutes – 1 hour
Does not include time that you need to be available to moderate grading.
Replace one of your assessments with a group assignment that students have to submit electronically or on the LMS. Use either the wiki or the assignment tool. The advantage of a wiki is that it allows students to work on a live document where everyone can see everyone’s contributions. It also allows the lecturer to see the extent to which each group member participated.Yes. The assignment should be linked to the content covered in class as well as specific outcomes that need to be achieved in the module to create an integrated learning experience. Both wikis and assignments on Bb can remain open for an extended period (a week or two) to ensure that students have control of when they work on the assignment (time control), as well as the place from which they participate.
Medium
• Using the group tool in Bb (if applicable); and
• Setting up an assignment in your LMS or
• Setting up a wiki
• Training (once-off): 1 – 2 hours (all tools)
• Planning activity as replacement of in-class activity: 1 – 2 hours
• Setting up groups on Bb: 1 – 2 hours (once-off)
• Plan and set up rubric in Bb: 2 – 3 hours
• Set-up wiki/ assignment: 15 – 30 minutes
• Communication with students about procedure (planning & execution): 30 minutes – 1 hour
Does not include time that you need to be available to grade assignments and provide feedback.
Replace one of your assessments with a group blog assignment where group members can take turns throughout the module to post an entry based on the topic/ content covered, and other group members must contribute by commenting on the entry. Yes. The assessment should be linked to the content covered in class as well as specific outcomes that need to be achieved in the module to create an integrated learning experience. The activity can remain open for the duration of the module to ensure that students have control of when they work on the assignment (time control), as well as the place from where they participate.
Medium
• Using the group tool in Bb (if applicable); and
• Setting up a graded blog in your LMS; and
• Training (once-off): 1- 2 hours (all tools)
• Planning activity as replacement of in-class activity: 1 – 2 hours
• Setting up groups on Bb: 1 – 2 hours (once-off)
• Plan and set up rubric in Bb: 2 – 3 hours
• Set-up blog: 15 – 30 minutes
• Communication with students about procedure (planning & execution): 30 minutes – 1 hour (for each session)
Does not include time that you need to be available to grade assignments and provide feedback.

Fostering reflective learning

The Table below provides some examples for fostering reflective learning. Journaling is particularly useful for this purpose. It allows students to reflect on specific aspects of the module outside of the classroom. In addition, educational technology tools can be used to allow students additional opportunities to reflect on the module content such as assignments, Turnitin, and online surveys.

Recommended practices to foster reflective learning
Recommended practiceBlended learning?ImpactTechnology skills requiredApproximate set up time
Add journaling activities to the module by requiring students to reflect on the content at various times. Consider a journaling activity at the start of the module and again at the end of the module so that students can reflect on how their views have evolved throughout the module. The journal tool on the LMS can be used for this or students can submit it as an electronic assignment.Yes. Journaling actvities need to be linked to the content and outcomes of a module to create an integrated learning experience. It also allows students control of the time and place.
Low
• Using the LMS journal tool; and
• Using the online marking tool linked to the journal tool (such as a Blackboard Rubric on Blackboard).
• Training (once-off): 1 – 2 hours
• Planning activities: 1 – 2 hours per activity
• Plan and set up rubric in Bb: 2 -3 hours
• Communication with students about procedure (planning & execution): 30 minutes – 1 hour
Does not include time spent on grading and giving feedback
Send out a survey at the end of the module with open-ended questions that guide students to reflect on what they have learnt in the module. You can allocate a participation mark for completion of the survey to increase response rates.Yes. The survey questions should be linked with the content and outcomes of the module to create an integrated learning experience. It also allows students control of the time and place.
Low
• Using an online survey tool or the survey tool in your LMS (if available)• Learning how to use survey tool (once-off): 30 minutes – 1 hour
• Planning (developing survey questions): 1 – 2 hours
• Survey set-up: 30 minutes – 1 hour
• Communication with students about procedure (planning & execution): 30 minutes – 1 hour
Does not include the time to go through the responses
Create a screencast/ video where you provide feedback to students on their performance in an assessment. The feedback can include your general impression of students’ overall performance, common mistakes as well as ways in which these mistakes could have been avoided. Video feedback allows students to watch it at their own pace and reflect on how they can improve their individual performance.Yes. Feedback should be linked to the assessment and course content to create an integrated learning experience. Students have control of pace, time, and place.
Low
• Using screencasting software; and
• Uploading a video/ content to your LMS;
• Training (once-off): 30 minutes – 1 hour (once-off)
• Planning and recording the screencast: 2 – 4 hours
• Uploading the video to Bb: 5 – 10 minutes
• Communication with students about procedure (planning & execution): 30 minutes – 1 hour
Replace one of your assessments with a written assignment that students must upload to the LMS or submit electronically. Grade the assignment using an online marking tool such as a Blackboard Rubric (if available at your institution). Yes. The assessment should be linked to the content covered in class as well as specific outcomes that need to be achieved in the module to create an integrated learning experience. Students have control of time and place.
Medium
• Setting up an assignment on your LMS; or
• Setting up an assignment on Turnitin
• Using the rubric tool in Bb/ Turnitin (or other online marking software)
• Training (once-off): 1 – 2 hours (all tools)
• Planning assessment as replacement of existing assessment: 1 – 2 hours
• Plan and set up rubric in Bb: 2 – 3 hours
• Set-up assignment: 15 – 30 minutes
• Communication with students about procedure (planning & execution): 30 minutes – 1 hour.
Does not include time that you need to be available to grade assignments and provide feedback.

Key considerations of low and medium-impact activities

Time – Do not add too many low-impact activities. Choose one or two activities to ensure that the course is not overloaded. Medium-impact activities require redesigning existing activities where the time investment is at the planning phase, so time should be set aside for redesigning some components in the module.

Blended learning vs technology-enhanced activities – Even if the activities you add or replace in your module do not satisfy all the criteria for blended learning, they may still be useful in your module. It is just important to ensure an integrated learning experience when using technology in a module.

Pedagogy before technology – None of the examples provided will achieve the goals for which it is suggested, if the activities are not designed effectively. Learning activities should be aligned with both the outcomes and assessment in a module, while assessment activities should be aligned with both the content and outcomes.

Suggested readings for those interested in a complete module redesign (high impact blend):

Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. D. (2008). Blended learning in higher education: framework, principles, and guidelines (1st ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Stein, J., & Graham, C. R. (2014). Essentials for blended learning: a standards-based guide. New York: Routledge.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2011). The Understanding by Design Guide to Creating High-Quality Units (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA, USA.

Addressing some common blended learning challenges

In this section practical advice is provided to address some common blended learning challenges

Be mindful of common pitfalls in designing a blended learning module:

  • Replicating face-to-face activities online – Designing a blended module goes beyond simply moving existing face-to-face activities online. It is important to consider which environment will work best for each activity. Online activities often have to be structured differently from face-to-face activities.
  • Designing a course with an unmanageable workload – Merely adding online activities to existing face-to-face activities in an attempt to design a blended module can easily lead to too much work for students (low-impact blend). To avoid this, only add one or two activities and carefully monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of these activities so that necessary changes can be made in the following year, if required.
  • Ineffective use of technology – Using technology for the sake of using technology without a continuous focus on learning outcomes can hinder students’ progress in the attainment of learning goals. When introducing technology into the delivery of your module, ensure that the activities students are required to complete are aligned with the outcomes of the module and that face-to-face and online components are designed to create an integrated learning experience.
  • Misfit modes – some face-to-face activities may not be suitable in an online environment. Effective redesign requires a rethinking of the entire instructional approach. When replacing face-to-face activities with online activities (medium-impact / high-impact blend), Set some time aside to think carefully about how the activity should be structured to ensure that it will work in an online environment.
  • Not preparing students for online activities – assume from the outset that students may not be familiar with the technology that you plan to use in your module. A part of your planning should include how you will ensure that your students know how to use the technology tools in the module. Consider uploading relevant resources and/or how-to documents/ videos to your LMS course for easy reference. Student support in the use of technology in learning and teaching is a crucial success factor.
  • Not considering students’ lack of access to data and/ or personal mobile devices – students’ engagement with the online activities and resources in your module is largely dependent on their access to data and devices. It is best to assume that the majority of your students do not have access to reliable internet off-campus. It is therefore advised that the online activities in your module are structured in such a way that they will allow students enough time to complete them when they are on campus. Additionally, every effort should be made to ensure that you minimise the size of the resources and content that you upload to LMS course (see the box below for some tips for reducing the size of electronic files).

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