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September 21, 2022

Blended learning: spotlight on SFU’s newest course designation

Evan Tiffany, associate professor and chair in philosophy (pictured above), is among the first to design and deliver a blended course at SFU.

Blended (B) might be a relatively new course scheduling option for the university, but it’s already making a big impact on learning and teaching at SFU.

“Blended learning is likely to play an increasing role in shaping the future of higher education. The pandemic created a certain expectation about what can be done online and that’s here to stay—especially at  SFU where so many of our students are juggling work responsibilities and need flexibility. Yes, it’s a change but it can be change for the better if we get out in front it,” says Evan Tiffany, associate professor and chair in philosophy.

In blended learning, the traditional lecture-tutorial format is reworked into some combination of in-person sessions and asynchronous online learning. Blended courses at SFU have at least one quarter and no more than three quarters of student learning integral to the course occurring in the online environment, replacing in-person instruction.

SFU introduced the Blended (B) course classification as a pilot in Spring 2022.

The benefits of blended learning

According to Amanda Watson, senior lecturer in sociology and anthropology who has who has run her blended course once in full, the modality increases accessibility in multiple ways.

“Blended learning offers students geographic accessibility, which I think is key for SFU as a three-campus university with a large commuter population, but it also increases accessibility for neurological diversity. Students can pause a video and replay it if they didn't understand the concept the first time. Also, the online space means that students who might not be willing to ask a question in lecture can do so comfortably through online channels.”

Anne-Kristina Arnold, senior lecturer in biomedical physiology and kinesiology found that designing her course, BPK 381: Psychology of Work, in a blended format has increased opportunities for students to deepen their learning.

“There is a great synergy that happens when you have both the online space and in-person components, it allows students more time to process and reflect on what they are learning. In my course, I have students work on a short activity, readings and online lectures before coming to class to orient them to the material. In class, we can delve more deeply into the material … and engage in discussion … Afterwards, students create an entry in an ePortfolio, which allows them to relate the material to their own working experience. I am hoping this model will extend the impacts of experiential learning.”

A different way of thinking about course design

Tiffany notes that redesigning PHIL 329 Law and Justice through the blended framework required him to make strategic choices about what he wanted his students to learn.

“With any course, whether blended or traditional, it is important to be intentional and think through what you want students to get out of the course. Blended design has the added challenge of thinking through what it is you want them to get out of the various online and in-person activities, and how to integrate the different environments to make for a cohesive course. This requires a lot of up-front planning and preparation; you basically need to have the whole course built before the semester starts.”

For Watson, blended learning meant reimagining her role as instructor. 

“It takes a degree of letting go, and really reframing your role as instructor in the classroom. If you aren't in the classroom with your students every week, it's easy to start worrying about whether everyone is on track. You have to trust in the process. I found I have started to think of myself as a facilitator of learning. When I design online components now, I'm not thinking ‘how can I replicate myself virtually through Zoom calls,’ I'm thinking ‘how I can create an overall learning flow of which my presence is just one part?’”

Arnold reminds SFU instructors interested in exploring or building a blended course that help is available.

“I didn’t even really know what blended learning was at first, but CEE’s blended learning course and the building support provided by the CEE team was really helpful. I could not have designed my blended course without them.”

Learn about key aspects of blended learning at CEE’s two-hour September 27 Blended Learning 1: Getting Started workshop or build a prototype of one module of your course in the ten-week Blended Learning Design cohort program. Applications for the cohort program close September 23.  

For questions about blended learning, please contact Brian Lorraine, online and blended learning instructional designer, at online_blended@sfu.ca. 

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