January 19, 2022

More flexibility for students and instructors: The new blended course scheduling format is here

SFU's new blended course scheduling format combines in-person and online components to create a more flexible course delivery option.

This term (Spring 2022), Simon Fraser University is piloting a new blended (B) course scheduling format that mixes in-person and online components. The new hybrid format is distinct from both fully in-person courses and fully online courses. Elizabeth Elle, Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President, Learning & Teaching, recently answered questions about how and why the new format is being introduced.

I’ve heard that SFU has a new blended course format. What is that?

Elizabeth Elle (EE): Blended (B) courses have a combination of in-person and online components, where the online components replace in-person class time. During a two-year pilot at SFU, courses can run with anywhere from one-quarter to three-quarters of in-person class time replaced by asynchronous online activities. While we pilot B courses, there will be a limited number of times when the in-person component can be scheduled, to ensure they fit with our other course scheduling options.

When was this new format introduced, and why?

EE: The pilot of the new format began this month with 32 courses. The aim is to achieve the “best of both worlds”—providing in-person connection and learning plus the flexibility of asynchronous online activities. It’s part of our Flexible Education Initiative, which “encompasses the ways in which the university community … designs … academic programs in response to changing student needs” (TFFE 2015). The Senate Committee on Undergraduate Studies (SCUS) passed a definition for blended courses in January 2020, but we delayed the pilot until January 2022 to minimize confusion to faculty and students while we were in the middle of so much emergency remote teaching.

I already incorporate online elements in my in-person course. Does that make it a blended course?

EE: No, it doesn’t. In B courses, the online components should thoughtfully replace what would typically be in-person class activities or learning opportunities, whereas the supporting online elements provided for in-person courses tend to be additive. Adding some online elements is great pedagogically, but adding a significant amount—as is done with true B courses—without removing some in-person activities, leads to what is sometimes called “course and a half syndrome.”

Who decides whether a course should be delivered in a blended format?

EE: Blended is really just a different course scheduling opportunity, like D for daytime, E for evening, or OL for online. A new course needs approval through department, Faculty, and eventually university committees (e.g., SCUS), but offering an existing course via a new scheduling option would normally be a decision for a department or school only. The unit, working with the faculty member who teaches the course, is best positioned to decide whether a course lends itself well to a blended format.

What's the process for creating and offering a blended course?

EE: It’s similar to the process for any other course. The Centre for Educational Excellence (CEE) is providing workshops to help faculty members learn how to thoughtfully redesign existing courses or create new ones in the B format.

Do we have any information on whether students like blended courses?

EE: We will! We are planning to assess the pilot courses offered this term to understand both instructor and student experiences with the B format. We know from studies at other institutions that students like the combination of modes—the in-person component to build connection and to help them stay on track, and the online component for the flexibility of being able to complete some of the work at their own pace and on their own schedule. That’s why we decided that the online components of B courses must be asynchronous at SFU—to provide that flexibility, especially because the in-person component is synchronous by definition. Research at York University found that replacing 33–50 per cent of the in-person component with thoughtful, well-integrated online activities increased student achievement compared to fully online or fully face-to-face courses. We’ll see what we learn about SFU students during our pilot.

Where can I get more information about blended courses?

EE: CEE is working to support instructors in developing blended courses, and there are descriptions available to help clarify the definition of B courses.