With the increase in the diffusion of blended and online programming across higher educational institutions, stakeholders are looking for ways to ensure the quality of the student experience. Quality of blended programs can be ensured through faculty and instructional development and training, faculty and instructor evidence of competence and recognition for excellence, constructive evaluation and feedback on blended and online course design and delivery, and community-building opportunities among instructors and staff. Blended learning is becoming a prominent mode of programming and delivery in education. It is swiftly emerging and transforming higher education to better meet the needs of our students providing them with more effective learning experiences. This movement is leading to a renovation in the way courses are taught and programs support their students. Instructional and faculty development provides the core foundation to institutional programming in providing a framework for implementing blended and online learning pedagogy in the classroom. This student-centered, active learning pedagogy has the potential to alter the traditional classroom by enhancing course effectiveness through increased interactivity leading to superior student outcomes.
A recent study reported that "Respondents ... anticipated that the number of students taking online courses will grow by 22.8% and that those taking blended courses will grow even more over the next 2 years" (Picciano, Seamen, Shea, & Swan, 2012, p. 128). As the demand for blended learning opportunities increases, so does the need for development of instructors to teach and design blended courses and mechanisms to ensure the quality of courses and programs. The University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee (UWM) has been providing instructional development and blended learning opportunities to students for over a decade. Since 2001, UWM has developed 8 blended degree programs. In the fall of 2012, UWM offered approximately 100 blended courses and enrolled 7,655 students (26%) in at least one blended course. The average age of a blended undergraduate student is 24, 23% are students of color, and 64% are from the Milwaukee metro area. UWM (2012) defines blended courses as "â¦courses where 20% or more of the traditional face-to-face classroom time is replaced by online assignments and activities. Students spend less time in the classroom and more time working and interacting online, providing greater flexibility regarding when and where coursework can be completed" (para 1). UWM continues to see growth, as the nation does, and continues to provide opportunities for students to best meet their needs.
UWM's Learning Technology Center has several measures in place for ensuring quality in blended learning on campus, including:
1. UWM's Faculty Development Program for Blended Teaching
The Learning Technology Center at UWM offers a program for blended teaching providing instructional development earning an international reputation in the field. The program guides the pedagogical design to move more didactic activities online while keeping tasks that require a richer media due to equivocality and uncertainty in the face-to-face (f2f) environment. This increases the capacity for mastery of content and of deeper learning outcomes. The program is delivered in a blended format with multiple face-to-face meetings and integrated online activities. The blended format allows instructors to experience blended learning and provides the facilitators the opportunity to model good pedagogical practices in the blended learning environment. The program includes presentations by experienced blended instructors, online and face-to-face discussions and group work, creation of course materials, and peer and facilitator feedback. As part of the program, participants begin to develop their blended courses, leaving with the draft of a syllabus, a redesign plan, a learning module, and an assessment plan (Aycock, Mangrich, Joosten, Russell, & Bergtrom, 2008). The model is currently shared through the faculty development program and is being used by hundreds of faculty, teaching academic staff, and teaching assistants across many disciplines, course levels, and course sizes, illustrating its ability to scale on UWM's campus and on other college campuses.
2. Certificate Program for Online and Blended Teaching
The Certificate Program requires the delivery of an online or a blended credit course at UWM; provision of a brief (2-3 pages) letter of reflection on how the instructor's pedagogy has changed; and a course evaluation by the LTC staff or by a certified mentor/evaluator through a peer evaluation checklist. In addition to the Certificate Program, the Learning Technology Center offers ongoing evaluations of blended courses.
3. The Online and Blended Teaching Users Group
The Online and Blended Teaching Users Group meets monthly to discuss challenges, exchange ideas, and share best practices for teaching online, blended, and tech-enhanced courses. Each meeting typically features open discussions as well as brief presentations by experienced UWM instructors and opportunities for networking with other teachers on campus.
Format of the Workshop
This workshop will consist of a series of group activities (5-6 participants per group) that require individuals to brainstorm potential strategies and considerations for implementation requiring that they collectively use their expertise and experiences to develop 1) criteria, knowledge and skills, needed to teach online and blended 2) methods of facilitating and delivering a faculty and instructional development program that would build these knowledge and skills 3) an evaluation instrument that would include the criteria outline in #1 4) a scalable process to implement such an evaluation 5) methods to illustrate instructor competence to others and in their tenure review, and 6) mechanisms that will provide support and community to all those involved in blended and online programming. After each group completes their activity, they will report out their group products to the larger group in order to share and gather feedback. After each activity, the UWM team will share their own considerations and examples in ensuring quality in these areas. These group activities will be documented (text, images, video) through collaborative web spaces and social media to be shared with those beyond the conference session as an open education resource on ensuring quality in blended and online courses.