Blending for Effectiveness and Flexibility

The McKay School pilots a learning initiative to make courses more flexible and accessible

As society becomes more adept at exchanging information through technology, schools and universities do as well. The McKay School of Education is following suit by instituting a blended learning program, which combines online instruction with face-to-face instruction, giving students and professors the advantages of both.

The McKay School is one of the first colleges on BYU campus to pilot a blended learning program like this. Charles Graham, an associate dean who is also a professor in the Department of Instructional Psychology and Technology, hopes the initiative will better prepare teachers for the future of classroom learning. “Giving them experiences where they are students online [as well as in the classroom] will give them a leg up as things continue to change over the next few years,” he said.

Graham calls blended learning an “umbrella term” for different types of learning experiences. The McKay School initiative allows professors to choose the type of blended learning model that will best suit their classes and curriculum. The graphic below illustrates the relationship of those models:

 

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The purpose of the initiative is to change the nature of teacher-student interactions, not to replace or reduce them.

The McKay School’s Blended Learning Initiative has three main purposes:

  1. Improved learning outcomes
  2. Increased access and flexibility
  3. Improved cost effectiveness

Faculty and graduate student instructors are participating in the initiative through a McKay School grant opportunity. Successful applicants are taking part in a six-week professional development program that teaches faculty how to convert a traditional course to a blended learning format. For the following three semesters, participants will then implement and modify their blended learning model to achieve desired student outcomes.

Graham hopes the initiative will address some of the challenges teachers face in a traditional classroom, one of which is pacing. “Students who are more advanced will be bored, students who are underprepared or who come with fewer skills are going to be swamped in the course,” he said.

Students will use technology in new ways to communicate with instructors and peers. Graham mentioned using digital tools that allow student-to-instructor interaction without constraints on time and place. Students will be able to do things like record reflections or parts of discussions on video and to send to an instructor, and the instructor can reply in the same way.

Graham said an online learning format allows everyone to contribute. Students have more time to prepare for a response because they can complete it whenever they want. Teachers are able to keep a record of how their students are improving throughout the course.

Graham notes that, like any other learning model, blended learning is not a perfect solution to every challenge a teacher may face. However, he hopes the initiative will help MSE faculty find an ideal balance for their courses and their students. He also hopes that teacher candidates develop competencies for creating their own blended learning instruction in the future. Graham said, “We want to use human contact for what humans do best like communicating passion, developing personal relationships, telling stories, and solving problems; and let’s use technology for what technology does best.”

July 24, 2012