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January 18, 2013

‘Blended’ courses changing the way Blinn instructors teach

Report reveals that College’s online course offerings are more popular than ever

Since Plato’s Academy, teaching technology hasn’t changed all that much.

Slate turned into chalk boards, which turned into white boards or projectors, but for more than 2,000 years the primary instruction methods have largely consisted of lecture and discussion, much like those used in Athens during the days of Plato and Aristotle.

But that era may be coming to a close. Dr. Mark Workman, dean of distance education, has presented a report to the Blinn College Board of Trustees that illustrates just how important online classes will be to the school’s future.

Enrollment in online classes soared in Fall 2012 marking the highest participation in online courses in Blinn’s history.  The College filled 8,521 “seats” in 211 online class sessions, surpassing the school’s first humble offerings of four online classes in 2003.

“A lot of people are saying we’re going through an evolution in higher education,” said Workman. “Others say this isn’t an evolution, it’s a revolution.”

Instructors at Blinn have recently been energized by the opportunities so-called “blended” classes offer. Students in blended courses spend between 50 and 85 percent of their class time online, with the remainder spent in the traditional classroom. This format allows students to learn online at their own pace, so that when the class meets everyone in the room has reached roughly the same level of understanding.

“With blended courses, you tell the student to cover the material and learn it, and if it takes the student five minutes, it takes them five minutes,” Workman said. “If it takes five hours, then it takes five hours, but when they come back to the face-to-face class they will all be closer to the same level than for most lecture-only courses.”

Dr. Laurie Metcalf, a public speaking instructor on Blinn’s Bryan campus, taught three blended classes last Fall. It was her first experience teaching in the hybrid format.

“I like it a lot,” she said. “It takes some of the advantages from a traditional course and an online course and puts them together.”

With blended courses, instructors can record their lectures online, allowing students to view them at their convenience. As students listen to the lecture, they have the opportunity to slow the lecture, pause, rewind or fast forward. They can also email questions to the instructor or post questions or comments for classmates.

Back in classroom, the instructors can divide the class into groups and tailor their work according to how far they advanced in the online sessions.

In Metcalf’s class, most of her instruction took place online, and students used their face-to-face class time for their live presentations. She said self-motivated students with strong time management skills were most successful in blended classes.

“There’s definitely a learning curve because you really have to have a lot of discipline,” Metcalf said. “Students can build a community with one another online, but it also requires them to do a lot more independent thinking. I think the level of dedication and the amount of effort they put into the class really pays off.”

Metcalf said teaching blended classes allowed her to re-examine her teaching methods and grow as an instructor. She is now taking some of the techniques she applied in her blended classes and utilizing them in the traditional classroom.

“Things really start changing when students get the hang of it and realize they have to take charge of their learning,” Workman said. “Nationally, we’re seeing equal or better test scores with blended courses.”

For more information on Blinn’s distance education offerings, visit: