A teacher’s perspective on a first-time blended class

By Jeremy Cunningham
March 13th, 2017

For the first time ever, I am instructing a blended class.  My expectations were nothing short of idealized excitement.  Students would be laser-focused during our face-to-face time, and the freedom to complete work on their own time would encourage ownership and agency.  In addition, by removing some basic skills study from the classroom, we could focus on more dynamic learning activities.  This dynamism would feed the desire to be in class and, ultimately, produce better writing.

Unfortunately, the course has fallen short of my expectations.  Students have been discombobulated by the shared format.  The discombobulation has stunted our class and led to low engagement.  In addition, they have struggled to use the online interface.  Our class time has been plagued by failure to produce drafts and questions about missing assignments.  This frustration pervades the atmosphere of our face-to-face time.

As a teacher, and true believer in the blended format, this has been disheartening.  Without having a control group alongside these classes, it’s been hard to identify the specific causes of struggle.  It’s challenging to evaluate how different I am within these blended classes as well; the problems may ultimately revolve around me as much as them.

Perhaps these difficulties are a result in students still having feet in both worlds.  Many students have face-to-face classes alongside this blended class.  They may also have an online class.  When they look at their schedule, they just see courses.  Yet, there is a significant paradigm shift between these 3 models.  By neglecting to learn the rules of each format, students inevitably approach the courses with the same mindset.  This is problematic when I, the designer, approach it completely differently.  Both parties are left frustrated and confused.

Evaluating these struggles more objectively brings me to a question of integration of technology in education.  How do we as educators make sure our students know that with changes in format and delivery come changes in expectations?  It’s not just about doing less in class; it’s not just about getting out early; blended and online classes are about a fundamental change in the definition of work and class time.

Those who design the learning experience know how different things have become; those who participate in the learning experience don’t always know that.  This is not new.  Designers of the learning experience have always naturally known more about its moving parts.  But, with an ever-growing array of formats, LMS platforms, and options for education, having a grasp on the various assumptions these options rely on is critical to success.  As an industry, it’s important to educate our students on that fundamental idea.