Tips for Explicitly Showing Students How Their Blended Course’s Face-to-Face and Online Time is Connected

Though I was a part of TLi’s Blended Learning Cohort 4 in 2013, I am now teaching my first blended classes. Three sections of my First-Year Composition Course in the English Program are blended. We meet face-to-face once a week for an hour and 15 minutes and the rest of the class is online. I was ready, excited, and am thoroughly enjoying this “new” format and am amazed at how the blended modality is opening opportunities up for my students to conference one-on-one with me and do more group work and learning activities during our face-to-face time.

However, one thing that is always on my radar is making sure that the connections between our time together face-to-face and our online activities and discussion are explicit and transparent. In a conversation with another instructor teaching blended courses, we wondered aloud about the various ways we can more easily and effectively make a seamless connection between our face-to-face and online time.

Through that conversation, a bit more research, and some trial (and error!), I have compiled the following opportunities for connecting online and face-to-face time in blended classes:

Add a section at the beginning of each module that preps the students for the face-to-face course.  This is what I have been personally doing this semester. Since we meet face-to-face at the “end” of our week, I make sure to include (at least) one activity or discussion where I explicitly state how we’ll be using it in class that week.

Add a section at the end of each module that asks students to reflect on the face-to-face course time. This would be useful if you meet face-to-face at the beginning of the week and then the students work through their online modules. Having a reflection – a discussion board, a written assignment, a google doc, a VoiceThread, a mini presentation on google slides — that asks students to make connections between the face-to-face course and what they did online will round out that week.

Make the face-to-face portion explicit in your Modules by including them on the Module Overview. One small thing that I do is include a “Thursday In Class:” note at the end of my Module Overview “To Do List” where I put a quick note about what we will be doing/covering in class.

Include a question about blended learning on your Learner Info Survey (or other “getting to know you” activities you do before face-to-face class starts). This semester, I included a question about blended learning on my Learner Info Survey. I asked students, “In one word, how do you feel about being in a blended course?” The results let me know more about my students as well as their concerns or areas of confidence. I got a wide array of results, from “nervous” to “excited” to “jumpy” to “optimistic” and many students wrote more than one word.

Talk about your online discussions in the face-to-face class. This can be something as simple as highlighting a relevant phrase or sentence from the discussion to set the context for your class activities, to a lower-stakes writing assignment that asks them to reflect/expand on the online discussion that already took place, to a more involved activity that asks students to synthesize responses from the online discussion to then present in class and create their own questions to ask that will further understanding. (The article “Strengthening the Conversation in Blended and Face-to Face Courses: Connecting Online and In-Person Learning with Crossover Protocols” by Margaret Perrow (College Teaching 2017) discusses multiple activities for bringing online discussions into face-to-face classes).

Use face-to-face discussion or activities as a springboard for the next online work. Just like above, creating activities that both support your learning outcomes and connect with something you’ve done in class will help to make the connections more explicit.

These are just a few design ideas for making the connection between the online and face-to-face aspects of your blended course more explicit. My goal with my students this semester has been to make clear that our “online time” and “face-to-face” time aren’t two separate things, but that everything we do in one relates to the other. By teaching these blended courses, I’ve become even more conscientious of how I scaffold readings, assignments, and other learning activities. The clearer I am about why I am having my students do what I ask them to do and how those things achieve our learning outcomes, the easier it is for me to make those connections explicit (or ask the students to critically think about those connections). There are, of course, so many pedagogical opportunities and activities that will link face-to-face time with the online portion of class, but that may be a post for another day!

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