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«Exploring the Advantages of Blended Instruction at Community Colleges and Technical Schools Laura Lloyd-Smith Bellefonte, PA 16823 USA ...»

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MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching Vol. 6, No. 2, June 2010

Exploring the Advantages of Blended Instruction at Community Colleges

and Technical Schools

Laura Lloyd-Smith

Bellefonte, PA 16823 USA



Given recent economic instability, attendance at community colleges and technical

schools is expected to increase. While many community colleges and some technical

institutes have embraced online education, others might benefit greatly from the continued development and expansion of blended instruction which seeks to infuse Web-based technologies into the teaching and learning process. Blended delivery offers advantages for the institution and student body, maximizing classroom space and school resources while at the same time offering greater flexibility for adult students who often have multiple responsibilities outside of the school environment.

Keywords: blended instruction, distance education, hybrid courses, community colleges, technical schools Introduction Advances in technology have changed the way that many professional educators regard course delivery.

This pedagogical shift is experienced throughout higher education by both administrators and faculty from doctoral-granting institutions to community colleges and technical schools. The inclusion of blended or hybrid classes provides an avenue for post-secondary institutions to both maximize their resources and meet the educational needs of their students (Gould, 2003). A recent meta-analysis released by the Department of Education provides academic support for the expansion of blended delivery courses.

The study found that students who took all or part of their instruction online performed better, on average, than did those taking the same course through face-to-face instruction. Further, those who took “blended” courses—those that combine elements of online learning and face-to-face instruction—appeared to do best of all. (Jaschik, 2009, n.p.) During economic downturns institutions that offer programs tailored to serve working adults, such as community colleges and technical schools, typically experience enrollment growth which is related to rising unemployment (Allen and Seaman, 2008). While many of these schools already offer online coursework, adding blended or hybrid courses has the potential to meet the diverse learning needs of students and maximize available campus resources.

Literature Review The term blended learning is often used interchangeably with the term hybrid learning. Even though most higher education institutions utilize some form of course or learning management system whereby class notes, presentations, online articles, etc. can be accessed, such web enhancements to a face-to-face course do not exemplify a blended course. Webster’s Online Dictionary defines “blend” as “harmonizing”, “mixing together two elements” and the “act of combining into one”. In order for true blending to occur, the structure of the course must be carefully evaluated to determine which instructional objectives can best be met in an online environment and which are better suited to a traditional classroom environment.

While the term blended learning has been defined in many ways, a blended course is most commonly described as one in which both face-to-face learning and distance learning methods are collaboratively used in an effort to provide students with the benefits of both delivery styles (Hijazi, Crowley, Smith and Shaffer, 2006). According to Garnham and Kaleta (2002) hybrid courses are simply those in which a significant portion of the learning activities have been moved online, and time traditionally spent in the classroom is reduced but not eliminated. Nearly a decade ago, Bleed (2001) proposed a model referred to as “bricks and clicks”, in which 50% of learning would take place virtually and the other half in a more traditional classroom environment. He maintained that this model would provide “new designs for the MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching Vol. 6, No. 2, June 2010 new economy for new kinds of students” (p. 18) as well as being very cost-effective. The Sloan Consortium provides more flexibility for the ratio which is delivered online and proposes that blended courses are those in which 30 to 79 percent of the content is delivered in an online format, while the remaining course content delivered in the more traditional classroom setting (Allen, Seaman and Garrett, 2007).

The blended learning experience combines learning which occurs in the traditional classroom setting with learning which entails using the Internet. It is pedagogically rooted in the idea that learning is not a onetime or MWF event but rather a continuous process (Singh, 2003). Blended learning seeks to reframe the learning process as discrete lessons move to a more connected, continuous learning process. “Blended learning should be viewed as a pedagogical approach that combines the effectiveness and socialization opportunities of the classroom with the technologically enhanced active learning possibilities of the online environment, rather than a ratio of delivery modalities” (Dziuban, Hartman and Moskal, 2004, p. 3).

Administrators at many institutions of higher education, particularly those which offer coursework utilizing a variety of delivery methods, believe recent economic changes including higher unemployment and rising fuel costs, will have a positive effect on student enrollments. Such widespread beliefs are supported by the 2008 report entitled Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States.

Institutions such as community colleges and technical schools that cater to non-traditional students will see the highest increases in enrollment. Associate degree-granting institutions presently serve about 37% of the higher education student body and over 50% of all online students are currently enrolled by such institutions. Arabasz and Baker (2003) found that smaller institutions (less than 5000 students) often lag in offering both online and hybrid/blended courses. Since many smaller institutions play critical roles in educational and workforce training opportunities in rural areas, using an integrative approach such as blended course delivery is worthy of consideration.

Advantages for Students and Schools Anecdotal evidence indicates that blended course instruction both offers more choices for content delivery and may be more effective than courses that are either fully online or fully classroom-based (Singh, 2003). Because not all students learn in the same way, Young (2002) suggests that presenting materials in a variety of formats helps maximize student engagement. “The community college instructor should try to offer learning activities that will appeal to the widest variety of learning styles possible”, reflects Stewart (2008, p. 371).

Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Garnham & Kaleta, 2002) also suggested that students learn more in blended courses than they do in comparable traditional class sections. Teachers responsible for the blended sections reported that students wrote better papers, performed better on exams, produced higher quality projects, and were capable of more meaningful discussions on course material.

Chris Dede of the Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education noted that many people are able to find their voice in distance media in a way that they cannot in a typical classroom. A shy student who might not participate in a classroom environment may speak up in an online forum where students have more time to think before they are required to comment (Young, 2002). Faculty teaching in a blended delivery model report an increased level of interaction, both among fellow classmates and with their instructor, which suggests that the blended environment offers a less-intimidating forum for student participation, specifically accommodating students who tend to be less verbal (Gould, 2003). Moreover, the increased interaction results in a more inclusive environment, leading all students to experience a richer and more diverse learning experience. DeLacey and Leonard (2002) noted that students are not only more interactive but also more likely to avoid bias in an online discussion environment.

While some instructors may still argue that a traditional classroom is the “richest” teaching medium, blended instruction allows ample opportunities for building social relationships between the teacher and students. “Blended courses offer the convenience and flexibility of wholly online courses without the loss of faculty or student interaction” (Sitter, Carter, C., Mahan, Massello, and Carter, T., 2009, p. 42).

Combining the successful elements of a well-designed online course with the face-to-face discussions and personal interactions a blended course offers maximizes student participation because the preferred learning styles of more students are being met (Kibby, 2007), including those that favor the flexibility of asynchronous learning and those that prefer a “live”, interactive discussion. Courses offered in a blended or hybrid format “address a variety of learning styles” because they offer instructional materials in a wide MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching Vol. 6, No. 2, June 2010 range of formats (Gould, 2003). “…online ‘meetings’ sometimes force students to be more prepared and to participate more actively in the learning process than they might while sitting in the classroom. They may therefore be less likely to become detached and passive” (Chen and Jones, 2007, p.12) A frequently noted advantage of blended instruction is flexibility (Stewart, 2008; Hijazi et al., 2006; Gould, 2003; Garnham and Kaleta, 2002).

A number of potential advantages to blended learning are emerging. Some of these revolve around accessibility, pedagogical effectiveness, and course interaction. Many of today’s college students are non-traditional, attempting to balance family, jobs and university life. Coming to campus is often difficult for many of them and reducing the number of required face-to-face hours can help students manage (Dziuban, Moskal and Hartman, 2005, p. 5).

Community college instructors should be cognizant of the issues, such as dependent families and work schedules, that non-traditional students often bring to the classroom (Stewart, 2008). He notes that upon returning to school students often faced “formidable challenges”. One advantage to a course utilizing blended instruction is the ability for the adult learner with multiple responsibilities to more easily accommodate not only their school responsibilities but also family and work life.

Miller and Lu (2003) maintain that the ‘anytime, anywhere’ mentality of online course delivery “makes sense to working adults who need flexibility” either completing degrees or upgrading skills for job advancement. They also note that the availability of e-courses provide the needed flexibility to maintain part-time jobs, especially students from lower socio-economic classes. Blended course delivery offers the flexibility of having part of the coursework available in an e-learning format resulting in greater flexibility for those students who are juggling multiple responsibilities outside of school. Students have also responded favorably to the ability to minimize both the commuting time and travel costs associated with fully face-to-face course delivery (Hijazi, et al., 2006; Garnham and Kaleta, 2002; Bleed, 2001). Blended learning methodologies accommodate the student’s active life schedule while still providing the social connections that are necessary for clear communication to exist, ultimately supporting retention and success (Hijazi et al., 2006).

Benefits for Schools Blended instruction may enable schools to maximize classroom space and/or reduce the number of overcrowded classrooms. From a physical standpoint, blended instruction allows multiple classes to utilize one physical space, which is particularly important when computer labs are involved (Gould, 2003).

Improvements in classroom utilization have the potential to reduce direct instructional costs by 25-50 percent (Dziuban, Hartman and Moskal, 2004). The availability of hybrid courses “allow institutions to offer more classes at peak demand times of the day, thus maximizing the scant resources by increasing flexibility in scheduling” (Gould, 2003, p. 55). Schools can also reap institutional savings. “On a pure cost basis, hybrids reduce paper and photocopying costs. In hybrid courses, all course documents, including syllabi, lecture notes, assignment sheets and other hard copy handouts, are easily accessible to the students on the course web site” (Gould, 2003, p. 55).

Bowen (2006, n.p.) suggests that technology can be a tool to “free” instructors from using class time to “cover” content in the classroom. Instead, he suggests that this valuable class time be used to “demonstrate the continued value of direct student to faculty interaction and discussion (n.p.)” This philosophy is consistent with teaching blended delivery courses; the physical classroom should be utilized fully, in engaging and meaningful activities that benefit from face-to-face interaction between classmates and the instructor. For example, a detailed ethical case study is made available online for students to read and research. Students are expected to come to the face-to-face class session prepared to present theoretical arguments for both sides of the issue. Classroom time is used for small group discussions or a larger, whole class debate over the most contested ethical aspects of the dilemma.

Post-secondary administrators have also noted the expansion of blended course delivery has alleviated significant parking problems on their campus. (Hijazi et al., 2006; Dziuban, Hartman and Moskal, 2004;

Garnham and Kaleta, 2002). Because students are not on campus everyday as they are if on a traditional collegiate schedule, there is less demand for parking during peak hours. Some two-year schools, such as Western Dakota Technical Institute in South Dakota saw a 20% increase in enrollment from Fall 2008 to Fall 2009 (“WDT enrolls record number of students”). Such a significant enrollment growth places additional demands on existing parking, classroom space and available technology.

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