A year after significantly expanding the types of courses offered in a blended modality, teaching in this format has become the top preference for many Faculty at the Romeoville/Joliet campus of Rasmussen College. We have been able to isolate some reasons why - and this has helped us create a better blended course experience for students through more effective Faculty preparation. Faculty who had tentatively (even skeptically) piloted the effort now ask to have their classes offered in a blended format.
Our campus has a significant population of non-traditional students. Most (slightly less than 80%) seek an Associate's degree, while our Bachelor's-seeking population mainly prefers purely online coursework. Based on our programmatic enrollments and Faculty interest levels, we selected the following courses to expand our blended offerings: Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Medical Law and Ethics, Developmental Math, and Financial Accounting. The class sizes were relatively small, 10-20 students. Faculty interested in teaching in a blended format for the first time expressed two primary hesitations: whether they would need to spend too much time in class explaining the technical (online) elements of the course and whether their course content could be understood effectively in the online portion of the course.
The concept seemed to make sense on paper - students were looking to graduate sooner, and they preferred to have a connection to the campus each quarter. But most had limited day availability (they were working or responsible for child care). Offering more blended courses would allow students to take more than one residential class each night they came to campus - many, we thought, would take four blended classes two nights a week. But the blended modality delivery did not initially work well. Faculty with track records of success struggled to teach the same content as effectively in a blended format as they did in a residential format (as evidenced by course grades and end of course student surveys). Realizing the course was not running smoothly, they compounded the problem by reverting to what they knew best, and a smaller portion of the class place online each week. As a result, both Faculty and students felt the course seemed rushed when they met in person.
At the same time, we had one pilot course run smoothly from the start. The Faculty member had the same training, so what was working? By exploring the experience of this singular pilot class success, we were able to re-evaluate our training to prepare Faculty to teach in a blended modality and achieve notably higher success rates.
Previously, our training for Faculty interested in teaching in a blended modality was fairly dichotomous - they completed online Faculty training, so we knew they had the capacity to integrate online components. We also had a shorter blended training that focused primarily on the basic modality of the course (ie. what does it mean to teach a "blended" class). But what differentiated our successful (new) blended course was that it clearly synthesized the residential and online components of the course. What was covered in class built off what was covered online, and when class on campus finished, students took the next logical step online. So how could we (through training) encourage more Faculty to embrace a truly blended approach?
One solution we found was to train Faculty on how to meet the challenge of students struggling in a particular modality of the course - a student who struggled to engage online, or one who participated far less residentially, for example. By demonstrating effective integration of learning resources - tutors who can help a student new to the online portion of a blended course - and growing Faculty's familiarity with these resources, we were able to grow Faculty confidence in their students' ability to complete more substantial coursework online. We also trained Faculty on how to offer themselves as a resource in multiple modalities. Though the class was blended, we found that struggling blended Faculty were offering solely residential support (namely on-campus "office hours"). This was contradictory to our initial purpose - a working student rarely had time to come to campus outside of the multiple blended courses in which s/he was enrolled. Increasing online office hours (a technique our online Faculty use) increased students' abilities to connect with Faculty outside of the time class met on campus. We also highlighted a best practice - a Faculty member video recording skill-based tutorials applicable to the week's online coursework during office hours (when students did not attend).
To support these training efforts, we also trained Faculty on how to track online student engagement (so they can identify students hesitate to engage online and assertively refer them to resources). Lastly, while it was not a formal process, informally, our blended Faculty began communicating more frequently with each other regarding their experiences. As we expanded our training, we did not expand our piloted blended offerings - in other words, we wanted to ensure we were offering the best possible student experience before we increased the number of classes we offered in this format further.
The results spoke for themselves the following quarter. One Faculty member had her end of quarter student survey average increase from a 4.25 to a 4.81 (on a 5.0 scale), another instructor's class survey average rose to 4.73, another to 4.87, and another to a 4.92 (additional details about the specific student survey areas that increased will be shared in this presentation, and data from our current quarter will be added). Student success rates increased as well, both in comparison to the previous quarter and in comparison to a singular modality offering of the same course. Lastly, surveys of Faculty teaching in the blended modality expressed increased levels of confidence in teaching the blended modality. What began as a small group of tentative Faculty members had turned into the modality's biggest supporters - all now routinely request to teach all classes in this modality.