Blended unit design

Using a blended approach allows you to reimagine your course. Blended learning encourages the use of active, student-focused approaches that increase depth of learning and engagement.

New units vs reconceptualising an existing unit

When you design a unit from scratch you have a blank canvas to start from, without any presuppositions of how a unit should be structured.

When you are re-designing a course, it is best to try and adopt the same mindset of ‘beginner’s mind’.  Try to consciously loosen the closeness you have with the previous unit, dropping your preconceptions of how the unit has run and start from the course objectives afresh.

Common pitfalls to be aware of when re-designing a unit:

  • It is important not just “add on online components” to an existing course, as this can lead to too much content and unreasonable workload for students and instructors.
  • It may be tempting to translate aspects from the original course directly into new course, but direct translation might not be the best strategy. You will need to consider timing, the skills of instructor and whether learners are being adequately prepared.
  • If there are existing activities, assessment and curriculum these will likely influence you, be aware of this.
  • Selecting technologies should be driven by educational imperatives, not the other way around.

Key points are inspired by Blended Course Design: A synthesis of best practices (McGee and Reis, 2012).


Reconceptualising your role

A challenging aspect of blended learning, is not solely looking at your unit with fresh eyes, but looking at your role as an instructor in the same way. You may have become very attached to certain styles of teaching and it will be worth reconsidering what teaching strategies will create the best blended learning outcomes for your students.

ACU academics speak


The biggest change.....was changing my own mindset about what the opportunities could be for students if we move away from face-to-face for everything. I had to get over that. It’s great to stand in front of a bunch of students and have them hanging on every word you’re going to say,  I think that’s good for your ego. It’s different when you’re doing a recording. That [lecturing] might not be part of my every day teaching any more, so that was something I had to get used to. I find that there’s other ways to interact with students that are just as meaningful and just as effective.

Mr Anthony Shearer - Lecturer, Early Childhood Education. To watch Anthony's full case study follow the link.


When I first started designing units for blended mode, I think the challenges I faced primarily were overcoming my own fear of this new way of communicating and changing my attitude because my previous experience had almost been universally in face-to-face contexts.

Professor Clare Johnson - Centre for Liturgy & Prof of Liturgical Studies & Sacramental Theology. To watch Clare's full case study follow the link.



Constructive alignment

constructive alignment diagram, with assessment, activities, content, communication

Diagram created by ACU using Pikochart (2016).

No matter whether your unit is new or a course re-design, alignment between learning outcomes, assessment, activities, communication strategies and content is essential.

Resources for unit planning and alignment

There are many ways for you to create a constructively aligned unit. You can choose which approach suits your preferences.

The ACU Teaching Support Program (TSP) provides several useful mapping tools for unit planning and constructive alignment, which you may find helpful:

Mapping tool

Further reading

Choosing the right blend

One of the most challenging aspects of designing a blended unit is choosing the right ‘blend’. Which elements work best face-to-face and which online? This will be guided by the nature of your course objectives. It is important that there is clear purposeful integration between the face-to-face and online elements.

The following areas are important to consider when choosing the right balance for your unit:

Student characteristics

  • What is the profile of your students?
  • What are their specific needs?
  • Where are they located?
  • Are there any cultural/language needs?
  • What level are my students?
  • What is the size of the cohort?

Discipline or campus specific needs

  • Are there any specific needs of your discipline or context?
  • Are there components of your unit that are best taught face-to-face?
  • Will the unit be run on multiple campuses?
  • Are there specific needs of sessional staff to accommodate?

Active learning and interactivity

  • What student-focused, active learning approaches would be appropriate?
  • How will students interact: in the following areas “student to student, student to instructor, student to content”?
  • What strategies will build a sense of community?
  • How will feedback be provided to students?

Technology

  • Which technologies will help support student achievement of the learning outcomes?
  • Do the instructors need to build their skills in using a specific technology?
  • What infrastructure will be required to support teaching and learning?
  • What level of skill do the students have?
  • What support is required for students to use selected technologies?

Supporting technology use

'Digital natives' need support too

There is the common myth that Gen Y/Millennial students are 'digital natives', that they will have an instinctual ability to use technology. This is not necessarily the case, as their familiarity with technologies may be only in specific areas such as social networking, web browsing or gaming.

When you integrate technologies into your unit and assessments, be sure to adequately support students. This can be as simple as providing links to the LEO guides for students, or to external 'how to' guides and videos for other tools.

Professional development for instructors

ACU has several technology-focused professional development offerings that will improve your understanding. In particular, there are the eLearning 101 and LEO workshops, see the professional development page.

Case studies and blended learning models

Toolkits and guides

This is a list of some useful toolkits and guides.

Guidelines

  • Guidelines to enhance the use of LEO (ACU).
  • Scholarly readings

    • This report, Good practice report: Blended learning (Partridge et al 2011) provides a summative evaluation of the good practices and key outcomes for teaching and learning from completed ALTC projects and fellowships relating to blended learning. It includes a literature review of the good practices and key outcomes for teaching and learning from national and international research and identifies areas in which further work or development are appropriate.
    • This project, What works and why? Understanding successful technology-enabled learning within institutional contexts was led by Monash University in partnership with Griffith University. It was a Strategic Priority Project funded by the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching.

    Facilitated professional development

    ACU has several professional development offerings that will improve your understanding of blended unit design and teaching in blended units. In particular the Teaching Support Program and the Graduate Certificate of Higher Education, see the professional development page.

    Self-paced professional development

    Teaching Online Course (TOC)

    Work through the ‘Creating your course’ module of the Teaching Online Course (self-paced). “Module 3 Unit 3: Creating your course”. Although the content is pitched at planning online units, the steps are transferable to planning for blended learning.

    MOOCs

    There are also several free MOOCs on blended learning available.

    References

    Biggs, J. (2014). Constructive alignment in university teaching, HERDSA Review of Higher Education Vol. 1.

    Brame, C. 2016. Flipping the Classroom, Vanderbilt University, viewed 12 July 2016 <https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/flipping-the-classroom/>.

    McGee, P., & Reis, A. (2012). Blended Course Design: A Synthesis of Best Practices. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, v16 n4 p7-22. Retrieved from <http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ982678.pdf>.

    EDUCAUSE, 2012, 7 things you should know about the flipped classroom, viewed 23 June 2016 <https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eli7081.pdf>.

    MADDrawProductions 2012. The Flipped Classroom Model [video]. 27 May, viewed 12 July 2016 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojiebVw8O0g&rel=0>.

    Partidge, H, Ponting, D, McCay, M 2011, Good practice report: Blended learning, Australian learning and teaching council, viewed 12 July 2016, <http://eprints.qut.edu.au/47566/1/47566.pdf>.

    Woman daydreaming [image]. Public Domain. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/en/bubble-caucasian-thought-daydream-19329/>.