This fall, five Penn State faculty making up the first cohort of the Blended Learning Transformation (BlendLT) program offered by Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) will be teaching their newly designed blended courses. Born out of Penn State’s mission to transform education, BlendLT not only offers full support for faculty who wish to redesign their existing residential instruction course to an innovative blended (face-to-face and online) format, but also sees the process through the actual teaching of the course and measurement of learning outcomes once the course has ended.
BlendLT provides support in three key areas: faculty development, resources to assist in course development, and evaluation of the course once it is taught. Such a three-pronged approach—distinct among similar programs at peer institutions—is designed to facilitate the entire cycle of planning, designing, delivering, and examining the effectiveness of a redesigned course to improve teaching and student learning outcomes.
“The unique aspect of BlendLT is that we did not just learn information, but that we had to apply the knowledge to our courses right then and there,” said participant Jaqueline Schwab, associate professor at Penn State Mont Alto. “Actually writing out the course blueprints, wrangling with course and lesson objectives, matching outcomes to objectives, designing rubrics and modules, and learning to balance online with face-to-face course content made me feel like I was learning to teach from scratch.” She added, “BlendLT is not just a teaching workshop; it is course redesign boot camp with an amazing amount of support.”
Courses delivered in a blended format will ideally increase student engagement by moving more lecture material online to be reviewed outside class, freeing in-class, face-to-face time for activities such as discussion, problem-solving, teamwork, and project-based learning. Blended courses can also increase access to students living at a distance and non-traditional students who are working while taking classes. Delivering courses in a blended format can also decrease costs.
“The BlendLT experience has been invaluable,” commented Tammy Divens, instructor at Penn State Shenango and program participant. “I have been searching for support for over a year to learn how to incorporate technology into my courses. Being a part of this cohort has given me the opportunity to learn and implement many new tools. I really feel this course redesign will enhance student learning and encourage critical thinking.”
Ongoing support is provided to the faculty throughout the semester as they build student assessment into their course design through meet-ups with the BlendLT development team that monitor how the courses are proceeding and allow for any necessary adjustments to be made.
“We’re helping the faculty create assessments that align with their course objectives and naturally align with program objectives,” said Crystal Ramsay, research project manager within TLT’s faculty programs group. “Some of them will continue to use good assessments they’ve always been using; others, because they’re redesigning, need to create new assessments. The instructional design support we’re providing will help them with that.”
The development team will additionally conduct a BlendLT program evaluation. “The program evaluation is what I’m really supporting the team on,” said Ramsay. “We’ve done some informal checks along the way, and the instructional designers are getting anecdotal feedback about how it’s going and they’re able to make adjustments at any point.”
At the end of the semester, the team will check back with the faculty once more. “We’re interested in knowing longer term about how the course goes for them and for the students,” said Ramsay.
The team will be looking at how student engagement has changed and how the way in which assessment of student learning has changed. They will evaluate whether the new blended approach allows students to have a better experience, and whether it will allow faculty to address some of their challenges, such as adequate in-class time for more meaningful activities.
According to Matt Meyer, manager of instructional design and development in TLT, the feedback from the faculty in the first cohort has been positive so far, and the program will have a deep impact on their approach to teaching and learning practices.
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