Blended Mode of Instruction for Building Strong Conceptual Understandings

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Andrew Feenberg, School of Communication

Project team: Veronika Tzankova, research assistant

Timeframe: August 2015 to December 2016  

Funding: $5,000

Course addressed: CMNS 857 – Selected Topics in Communication Studies

Final report: View Andrew Feenberg's final report (PDF)

Description: I teach a graduate seminar course in the field of philosophy of technology. To ensure that students understand the concepts and ideas presented in these courses, I facilitate discussions concerning the weekly readings. Each student is supposed to send me a one-page document with comments and questions on these readings, by email, before class. The resultant in-class discussions seem to be quite effective in getting the students to comprehend and use concepts and ideas from the readings.

For this Teaching & Learning Development Grant, I propose to use the one-page student contributions described above as the basis for a web forum, where the discussion can proceed online as well as in the classroom. Online discussion can bring in students who might remain silent in the classroom and, since it allows time for reflection, enable deeper insight than a faster moving face-to-face discussion.

The hope is that (1) a web-forum-format will encourage students to participate more; and (2) they will be able to elaborate their ideas more thoroughly in writing. It will also be possible to assign students to summarize discussions, a pedagogically useful practice, but too daunting in the classroom situation. I will participate in the web forums, posing and answering questions, and either assign the task of summarizing discussions to students, or perform the task myself.

I am interested in finding out how I can combine the advantages of face-to-face and online discussion. Working out the best combination of the two media will require experimentation and testing, and methods will have to be developed for evaluating the results. Successful implementation of the blended approach can be shared with other faculty and may encourage them to try a similar approach in their seminars.  

Questions addressed:

  • In what ways and to what extent do online forums facilitate a more thorough understanding of the seminars' key concepts and ideas?
  • How do class discussions augmented by online forums compare with the traditional type of in-class only discussion in terms of students' depth of understanding and engagement?
  • How do the learning outcomes (in terms of students' depth of understanding and engagement) of such a blended teaching mode compare with these of previous versions of the seminars (traditional face-to-face classroom methods)?
  • In what ways can the answers to the above questions contribute to a more effective delivery of blended or online courses like mine?

Knowledge sharing: The research results will be documented in an article that will be submitted to journals relevant to the field of online education and teaching with technology. Copies of the final research report will be provided to interested individuals (faculty members, students, participants in the study). The final report will be also shared with faculty members and graduate students of the School of Communication. The instruments and procedures used in the study will be shared with the broader SFU community at SFU's Symposium on Teaching & Learning. Another possibility for disseminating the results is through the network (workshops, newsletters) of BC's Educational Technology Users Group (ETUG).

Keywords: conceptual learning; student discussion; web forum; on-line discussions; in-class discussion