A little reflection...class is over, grades are done, and I’m thinking so much more positively about this class than I did after the first time I attempted a blended class, in Spring semester 2008. There are many reasons for this, including that it was graduate, students knew in advance about the delivery method, I designed assignments that were more realistic for a blended class, and it was a summer class. But the positive impact of Collaborate cannot be ignored.
Students seem to really like the class design, and this includes many who were skeptics. Some students shared reflections on Collaborate, online and blended learning in their journals:
• The webinars were a great opportunity to come together with my peers in an open and non-intimidating forum. I love technology and always enjoy learning new ways to use it myself and in my classroom.
• Had this course been purely campus-based, there would’ve been several “classes” I would’ve been unable to attend. On more than one occasion I was traveling for work or had a meeting directly before our 4-6 pm class, and was still able to “attend” via the webinar.
• I think that there is a big difference between online and blended learning. While this blended learning had online components, the face-to-face, video lectures, and webinars really made a difference in the quality of interactions that took place. I would really like to take more blended learning courses myself.
• Traveling makes a big difference. It is much more convenient to take an distance education course, even if there are synchronous meeting times required. I found that having the set time scheduled every week for the course, whether we met in person, online, or not at all helped to structure the course work.
• I had never utilized Blackboard Collaborate which was a really interesting medium to hold virtual classes. After this experience, I would definitely consider enrolling in another online class. It was a great term and worked very well with the summer season. It proved to be an enriching experience.
• The webinars were easy to use and was a nice way to work in groups without having to coordinate everyone’s schedules to meet in person. This type of schedule works perfectly, especially for the summer when people tend to travel more.
For me, the biggest disappointment had nothing to do with Collaborate, or even the blended delivery method. Unfortunately, the quality of the papers was disillusioning, to say the least. Of course there are a few papers that were excellent, and many that were at least a very good effort, but there were too many that were mediocre "gift" B/low B/even C+ range. One was so off the mark that I had asked him to revise it (with offer of incomplete).
Except in that student's case, their use of research was OK (if missing something obvious occasionally). But the writing, with the exception of the As -- was cringe worthy. Some even bordered on illiterate, and I don't mean only the nondegrees (in fact, two of them submitted a quality papers). I had to read sentences several times, out loud if I still couldn't comprehend the point. It took hours to review a (10 page) paper. I had hoped to read fascinating, insightful, thought-provoking things and write "deep" comments in response -- instead much time was spent deciphering mangled logic and making corrections to grammar, spelling, sentence structure, word choice.
Luckily, I used 30% peer assessment, which offset the bad papers enough so that I didn't have to give any final grades that will result in student appeals! I only got pushback from one student about the paper evaluations. If I teach the class again I will assign a two page paper early in the semesters to catch the bad writers and will distribute a checklist of common mistakes as well.
I’m working on getting ready for my Fall classes now, and to say I need some inspiration for my on campus foundations classes would be an understatement. I created a new reader, so that’s one change that will help. Today I was thinking about how to use Collaborate. Would it be a mistake? Will students be pissed, because I’d be repeating the folly of Spring 2008? (The classes aren’t graduate, aren’t summer classes, and students don’t know in advance?)