TESOL Thoughts

Reflections on Teaching and Learning

Online or Face-to-Face? Questions in Course Design

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @AnaMariaMenezes, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/"

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @AnaMariaMenezes, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/”


This was the last week of Blended Learning course I started 6 weeks ago. The facilitators of this course did a fantastic job at creating different ways for participants to stay engaged throughout the course, reminding us that we could choose to join in as little or as much as we wanted. I listened to their weekly webinars, read the corresponding chapters, and even though I could not meet my weekly blogging goal, I’d like to share some thoughts that resonated with me.

These past three weeks, BlendKit14 addressed issues related to assessment in a blended learning environment, content and assignments, and quality assurance. It was interesting for me to note that most of the considerations in curriculum design for a blended course dealt with aspects we also take into account in a F2F (face to face) environment. And I suppose that makes sense. Regardless of whether we are planning a course to take place in a super high tech classroom, one with minimal resources and no classroom, or fully online, designing a course requires us to think about student needs, objectives, content, assignments, and the way it can all come together. However, what stands out to me as a difference between planning to teach a blended course and preparing for a F2F course is that designing a blended course has a built in need to make decisions about which type of activities students will benefit the most from. Perhaps one could argue that F2F classes are no different in this regard, but when I was thinking of how I would teach my current composition class if it were a blended course, I often wondered “which lessons would work better if we have a F2F class?” or “could students learn how to do X or Y by working online with other students?”. In short, because a blended course gives the option of asynchronous work and the use of many more resources online, there’s also the need for us to go deeper into the reasons why we choose any particular type of activity e.g., conducting a group discussion in the classroom vs on an online forum, reading at home vs. engaging in a reading activity in class. Even though I will not teach a blended course next fall, I will continue to have access to a LMS (Moodle) and since I do tend to integrate technology quite often in the classroom, I’ll be revising my course objectives to see if any of them could be better met by working on them asynchronously.

When thinking about blended content and assignments (week 4) #BlendKit14 started with a section titled “questions to ponder”, and again, I find all of these questions relevant and valuable to my F2F teaching context.

  • In what experiences (direct or vicarious) will you have students participate during your blended learning course? In what ways do you see these experiences as part of the assessment process? Which experiences will result in student work that you score?

  • How will you present content to students in the blended learning course you are designing? Will students encounter content only in one modality (e.g., face-to-face only), or will you devise an approach in which content is introduced in one modality and elaborated upon in the other? What will this look like?

  • Will there be a consistent pattern to the presentation of content, introduction of learning activities, student submission of assignments, and instructor feedback (formal and informal) in your blended learning course? How can you ensure that students experience your course as one consistent whole rather than as two loosely connected learning environments?

  • How can specific technologies help you present content, provide meaningful experiences, and pitch integration to students in your blended course? With your planned technology use, are you stretching yourself, biting off more than you can chew, or just maintaining the status quo?

Learning about how to design a blended or hybrid course has taught me that there are lots of important questions we need to ask ourselves when thinking about the mode in which our courses take place. Sounds a bit obvious to state, but I think questioning even those teaching decisions which we think are so clear could make a big difference when it comes to student participation and learning. Each week during the BlendKit14 course I got to hear about the experiences of two faculty members teaching different courses and if something stood out from  what they shared, it was that teaching the same content using new tools will involve lots of reflecting about what we are doing, how the students respond to it, and which changes need to take place. I know many teachers who strive to do this in their F2F classes already, but as more and more schools move towards integrating blended courses, we will need to start taking a deeper look into why and how we integrate web 2.0 tools into our courses.

So, in the spirit of questioning our current practices and use of technology in teaching, I’d like to ask the following question:

Which learning objectives in your current class could be met by conducting asynchronous online activities? which ones require a F2F class, and why?

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