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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Face-to-Face Time is Key for Blended Classes

Online classes are popular at WCC because they offer the ability to study anytime, anywhere. But many students are being drawn to blended classes because they combine that flexibility with invaluable classroom time with instructors and fellow students.

In a blended class, students use the Blackboard online class management system to watch video lectures by their instructors and topical videos related to their class, submit assignments, take tests, and communicate with their instructors and each other. They also travel to campus—usually just once a week—to talk about the material they’ve studied online.

“In a blended class you get all the material online, which you can do on your own schedule,” said Amy Anderson, a nursing student who recently took Nursing of the Childbearing Family in a blended format. “Then you can come to class and say: ‘I really didn’t understand this and this. What did you get from it?’”

Josh June, who was a member of a study group with Anderson, said each class session usually included a quiz. “For the first hour we would go over the online assignments with our instructor and review what would be on the quiz,” he said. “This gave us time to ask questions about the materials before she gave us the quiz.”

Students Connected in the Classroom

All six members of the study group Anderson and June belonged to are nursing students working toward associate degrees, and all plan to graduate in May 2011. Their ages range from 21 to the early 40s, they all have families, and most have jobs outside of class. Anderson, who works full time at U-M Hospitals, said the classroom time let them get to know each other. “Most of us have each other’s phone numbers or email addresses,” she said, “so we can check things out if we have a question about an assignment.”

Classroom time also gives students and instructors a chance to get to know each other, said Bernadette Lewis, who’s taking the psychology class Lifespan Development. “The class time allows the instructor to look carefully at each student and develop a relationship that’s crucial,” she said.

Keith Scott, who was a member of the nursing study group with Anderson and June, said the weekly classroom time heightened learning. “Our instructors have professional experience,” he said. “In class they often share real-life stories that help us relate to what we are studying.”

Blended Classes Center on Students

David Wooten plans to launch his Biology 101 class in the blended format during Spring/Summer Semester. “With biology, there’s a lot of hands-on work as well as many complex concepts,” he said. “The blended format works perfectly because it allows us to offer the lectures and resource materials online, but the students still come in for labs.

“This is student-centered learning,” Wooten said, “because I’m not there directly interpreting the materials for them so they have to pace themselves through the online assignments. At the same time they get instructor guidance by working in the lab where they can say, ‘Hey, I was watching your genetics lecture the other day and I didn’t quite understand it.’ And I can say, ‘We’ve got three hours of lab time, then we can hold a brief study session to help you.’”

Blended classes are ideal for students who may be nervous about taking a class that’s entirely online. “Some students like learning in the classroom,” said Jim Egan, dean of Distance Learning. “They may not have the confidence to go through the online material without being able to check in with the instructor or their classmates, or ask questions while the lecture is being given.”

WCC offers about a dozen blended classes each semester, although fewer are available in Spring/Summer Semester. The selection includes both general education classes and classes related to specific programs like nursing.

Blended Classes Have Requirements

To be eligible to take blended classes, students must meet requirements tied to GPA and the number of credit hours taken. “The GPA and credit requirements were established to ensure student readiness for the blended format,” said Egan. “And our data shows that blended students tend to do better than those taking face-to-face classes.”

As he gets ready to launch his blended biology class, Wooten is excited about new technology that will more closely match the online materials with an actual classroom. “A new program lets us offer virtual labs,” he said, “where students can go in and conduct experiments, using their mouse to manipulate virtual objects like beakers, Bunsen burners—even insects.”

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