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22st Annual OLC International Conference
November 16-18, 2016 | Orlando, Florida | Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin Resort

OLC Innovate 2016 - Innovations in Blended and Online Learning
April 20-22, 2016 | New Orleans, LA | Sheraton New Orleans Hotel

Blended Courses to Blended Cultures: Overcoming Institutional Bifurcation

Cathy Leaker (SUNY Empire State College, US)
Rebecca Bonanno (SUNY Empire State College, US)
Thalia MacMillan (SUNY Empire State College, US)
Additional Authors
Sarah Hertz (SUNY Empire State College, US)
Session Information
April 23, 2012 - 3:00pm
Teaching and Learning
Areas of Special Interest: 
Institutional Initiatives
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Theory/Conceptual Framework
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Lakeshore C
Session Duration: 
50 Minutes
Virtual Session

Faculty members at Empire State College are developing blended courses with the goal of merging previously distinct instructional models and educational cultures within the college.

Extended Abstract

Much of the rhetoric in support of blended learning touts its capacity to combine "the best of both worlds." The initiative we will describe is designed to bring two worlds together by blending hitherto exclusively online and face-to-face students in blended social networks. SUNY Empire State College (ESC), a nontraditional college focusing on individualized education and degree planning, has evolved over its forty-year history into a complex institution with two co-existing but distinct instructional models. These two models are (1) face-to-face instruction provided individually or in small groups at ESC's regional centers throughout New York State and, (2) online instruction delivered by the Center for Distance Learning (CDL). After many years of operating as silos of learning and developing into distinct cultures within one college, an effort is underway to bridge the cultural and pedagogical divide. Faculty of the regional centers and CDL are developing blended courses to be offered at ESC's Metropolitan Center in New York City. Not only do we expect this project to provide more innovative and flexible learning opportunities for students, we pledge to challenge and expand how both students and faculty view teaching and learning at ESC. This information session will explore how pedagogical and cultural challenges intersect in the decision making processes of three new faculty members as they develop new blended undergraduate courses in the areas of Community and Human Services and Business, Management, and Economics. Such challenges include: ΓÇó Identifying which courses to blend, in what specific ways, and with what type of instructional and technology support; ΓÇó Accounting for varying levels of skill and access to technology among students and across modalities; ΓÇó Acknowledging expectations of students who have become accustomed to either highly supportive, individualized instruction at a regional center or more structured, asynchronous instruction through CDL; ΓÇó Negotiating uneven levels of support from regional or CDL colleagues immersed in particular approaches to teaching and learning; ΓÇó Managing the pressure to simultaneously deliver new models, bridge ideological divides and establish professional identity within the center and college We will emphasize how our every decision in the development phase is shaped not just by course objectives but also by our larger goal of creating a blended culture of teaching and learning at ESC. In addition to fostering a more flexible and fluid learning environment where students are empowered to move comfortably and competently across learning modes according to their circumstances and learning goals, a blended culture will allow us to draw upon our differences to enable more sharing and more collaboration among established populations of faculty and students with both particular strengths and clear limitations. In support of this goal, our course development strategies are predicated upon careful analyses of the distinctive features of online and face to face cultures even as they draw explicitly upon such cross-cultural factors as a shared commitment to self directed learning, an administrative priority on improved learning design, and a substantial cross-institution investment in ePortfolios. For us then, blended learning describes more than a modality and is a response to more than the material exigencies of resources of time and place; it is a mechanism for honoring and carrying forward the rich tradition of an "adult-friendly" college that has historically positioned itself to help students overcome the barriers of place, time, and curriculum. A blended culture does more than "deliver" learning, it becomes an incubator for organizational learning and institutional growth. The challenges we describe in instituting this vision will be of interest to educators in institutions catering to nontraditional students and the range of complex learning needs they bring; to faculty and administrators faced with tacit or explicit resistance to blended initiatives; to student support service personnel charged with the task of ensuring students succeed in blended environments; and for scholars interested in understanding the relationship between learning cultures, learning modalities and student success.