Curriculum Innovation: Innovating Course Delivery


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Introduction to Blended Learning

Online learning has continued to increase in popularity, with many universities now offering online education programs in diverse fields. The Department of Political Science has taken learning a step further with the redesign of its first year course, POLS*1150 Understanding Politics, in a way that blends both online and face-to-face learning – a teaching method known as blended learning.

Redesigning POLS*1150

To better accommodate a growing and diverse student population with varying needs, the Department of Political Science decided that blended learning would greatly benefit students – offering them increased flexibility in how they engage with course content. But how exactly would the course be structured and what approach to blended learning would be most beneficial to students?

With assistance from Dennis York and Natalie Green from OpenEd, faculty members Byron Sheldrick, Carol Dauda and Nanita Mohan were involved in developing this unique course and finding the right balance between online and in-person activity.

The Course Structure

The redesigned course delivery of POLS*1150 is comprised of four main components. A typical week in the course begins with a lecture that outlines the main ideas of the content for that week. This will be the only in-person lecture for the week, with online learning making up for the reduced lecture time. Students will spend the rest of the week engaging with the Diving Deeper segment – where a portion of the lecture is more thoroughly analyzed by watching a video or online lecture, or listening to a voiceover. This is followed by online activities including online posts, drag and drop activities, and discussion questions for review. The Diving Deeper segment and online activities help students prepare for the in-person seminar discussion at the end of the week.

Results and Challenges

Students are better prepared for assignments in later years

One of the most successful aspects of the blended learning approach was dividing the major research assignment into smaller segments so that students would gain a better understanding of how to write a research paper. By introducing smaller seminar sections of about 20-25 students, TAs were able to teach their students how to write the paper in four different steps.

Student grades were higher than normal

After the course was complete, student grades were found to be higher than normal, owing to their enthusiasm and involvement with the course material. Higher averages were also attributed to smaller assessments spread throughout the entire semester.

The course had high seminar and lecture attendance

It was found that with the reduction of in-person class time, the course had high seminar and lecture attendance. Students felt they gained real value from attending the lectures and seminars as this was the only time they had face-to-face engagement with their professor and peers. According to Professor Nanita Mohan, her Monday night lectures had an attendance of approximately 80-85% of the total students enrolled in the class.

Consistent learning experiences with every seminar proved to be the greatest challenge

Along with the successes of the blended learning method, the approach brought with it certain challenges. Providing a consistent learning experience with every seminar proved to be the greatest challenge as TAs differed in the way they conducted their seminars. The department strives to ensure that all TAs are enthusiastic and able to effectively interpret information for their students.

Applying the Model

While blended learning was applied to POLS*1150 in a particular way, there are many different methods to incorporate blended learning into course delivery. The advantage of this form of course delivery is that it exposes students to different ways of learning and provides them with the opportunity to interact with content in multiple ways. Could the blended-learning model work for you?

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