Blended learning courses prove to be a hit among students

Blended learning courses, a new kind of class being offered at the College that uses a hybrid approach of both online and in-class learning, will be reintroduced after students reacted well to the classes offered last year.

The courses typically run through a six-week period from May 21 to June 28 and are taught by faculty who have constructed specialized syllabi to use a more technological approach of presenting the materials and facilitating student involvement, said Deborah Knox, associate professor of computer science.

According to Knox, about 80 students enrolled in the blended learning pilot that was offered last year. These students responded positively to a survey, prompting the reintroduction of more courses for summer 2012.

“When we asked these students, a majority said they would take another one,” Knox said.

The courses are worth the same amount of credits as classes offered in the regular fall and spring sessions, and are a great way for students to catch up on degree requirements while enjoying the convenience of smaller classes, she said.

“It presents students to have an amount of freedom to do reflection on what they are learning,” Knox said. “It provides the best of both worlds.”

Associate professor of English Juda Bennett will be teaching one of the 18 courses being offered.

Titled “Genre Studies:  Global Graphic Memoir,” the course focuses on studying graphic novels composed as memoirs.

“One of the nice things about the blended learning is that it creates a community of inquiry,” Bennett said.

Bennett mentioned that he had been trying to start a class on graphic novels for some time and jumped at the opportunity to teach the material in the blended learning format.

“The College has set these things up as a pilot,” Bennett said. “The challenge to me will be to break out of the conventional notion of what a class is.”

Bennett said he is interested in starting a student-run wiki, a community-based webpage, that will correspond with the course materials, one of them being “Persepolis,” a graphic memoir by Marjane Satrapi that depicts her early life growing up in Iran during and after the Islamist Revolution. Bennett also mentioned a manga novel about the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan during World War II that will be part of the course study as well.

“Blended learning really forces you even more to show students how to create knowledge,” Bennett said, noting how the technology used in the classes encourages extended class discussion and deep analysis.

The different classes being offered in the 2012 pilot are varied between many different academic fields.

Gary Fienberg, the chair of the College’s music department, will be teaching “History of Jazz” in the blended learning format, an approach he is excited to try with a class he has already taught a number of times.

“Jazz history isn’t a sequential history,” Fienberg said. “It’s different from music theory or a music history course. I’ve always looked for ways to make the course more integrating. I think the blended learning format is perfect for students.”

Fienberg noted how the technology will allow students to listen to the music examples more thoroughly, initiating deeper discussion for when the class meets in person.

“Students can do a lot of the stuff on their own time,” Fienberg said. “It gives them more flexibility.”

The course, which focuses on learning about the key innovators of jazz music in its history, will be taught using a textbook designed for online coursework.

Students will be able to use online tools such as reading commentary notes while listening to music examples and even posting their own comments in real time, Fienberg said.

“This enables me to give the students much more specific assignments for listening to and analyzing the music,” he said. “In this way, students are expected to come to class well prepared so the discussion can be more in depth.”