Currently, I am planning an online 5-days intensive course for the summer school. This is not an emergency, ad hoc transmission to the online environment as many of my colleagues have experienced with their regular courses last year (tough, the summer school has always been organized in my institution as face-to-face teaching throughout four weeks, with one course per week).
Considering the fact that, in principle, I have more time for planning, I wanted to create a truly “online learning experience”. However, almost immediately came the first obstacle — students who signed up for the course are coming from the very different time zones, which makes it impossible to bring all of them together at the same time. Thus, we decided with my colleague (with whom I will be teaching this course) to have two, the same, synchronous classes for each of the “time-zone group”. All other activities will be taught asynchronously, and thus, they have to be designed to enhance students’ engagement in the learning process. At the moment, we think about one overall scenario for the course (like a game, in which you collect scores) and a number of group activities leading to a group project, all supported by learning material packages per specific topics.
Blended learning is not only about blending online and offline teaching, but it also means to blend various forms of teaching — and I prefer to understand it this way. In an online course, the teacher acts as a facilitator of learning, who helps students to navigate between synchronous and asynchronous activities, guiding the learning process. Until this summer school course, I have not realized that planning an online course (especially in its intense format) is much more demanding than planning a face-to-face teaching. I am thinking here, of course, about a meaningful learning experience, when students are truly engaged in the course material in various ways (games, group collaboration, scenarios, projects, etc.). In his lecture, Steven Mintz (2021) points out that students learn when they are mentally involved, when they are engaged in hands-on activities, when they are in the process of discovery, investigation, interpretation. In a similar vein, Marti Cleveland-Innes (2021) highlights that students who are given choices (in terms of the learning material, activities, forms of assessment), perceive that they are making contribution to their learning environment and this increases engagement.
The more I read about the design of online and blended learning, the more I get fascinated about possibilities it offers for students. However, will I be able to implement some of them in an intensive format of the summer school, considering the obstacles of time zones and limited time for students’ reflection on their learning process?
Cleveland-Innes, M. (2021). Blended and online teaching and learning: Identifying pedagogical change in higher education. ONL211 topic 4 Intro video (9:35 min). Video on YouTube
Mintz, S. (2021). How to Design a Course for Maximum Student Engagement: Seven Innovative Approaches. Webinar presentation (60 min) Recording