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Using Mixed Methods to Assess Learning in a Blended Large Enrollment Undergraduate Design Course

Sydney Brown (University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA)
Session Information
July 8, 2014 - 8:30am
Blended Models and Course Design
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Research and Evaluation
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Interactive Workshop
Governor's Square 11
Session Duration: 
90 Minutes
Workshop Session 1

Learn how a small team designed a blended course for 180 students and developed a research plan to assess student learning.

Extended Abstract

In this session, attendees will learn how a small cross-disciplinary team designed a blended course for 180 students and developed a research plan to assess the effectiveness of their course design. Focus will be placed on the logistics of carrying out such a project. Methods, processes, software, checklists, and recommended practices will be available for download and in hard copy format to provide attendees with a detailed roadmap for replicating such a project in their own environments. Short discussion sessions will take place after each topic is presented and attendees will be encouraged to work with others seated at their tables to note how they might address each step in their respective courses or environments. Administrators, faculty, and instructional designers will benefit from the presentation in terms of understanding what resources, roles, and skillsets must be in place for such a project to succeed.

The presentation will discuss the following topics:

  • • The Team: administration, faculty, teaching assistants, course designer
  • • Course Design: constructivist theory to blended practice
  • • Research Design: using mixed methods to enhance validity
  • • Data Collection: planning ahead to facilitate analysis
  • • Data Organization: the logistics of managing large amounts of data
  • • Data Analysis: how we used software to carry out our quantitative, qualitative, and mixed analyses.
  • • Lessons Learned: changes for Fall 2014


In March 2013, three faculty members and a course designer were given a challenging mission: We were to create a brand new interdisciplinary freshmen level course that would accommodate 180 students pulled from three different colleges. Students would be learning about the design thinking process in a hands-on way and the course must be accompanied with a research plan for assessing the effectiveness of the course design and instructional strategies.
Key challenges included the aggressive development schedule, the number of students, a geographically dispersed development team, lack of physical space for 180 students, the necessity of a parallel research project, and the hands-on nature of the content.

After meeting twice in person to brainstorm ideas and figure out the way in which we were going to work, the team moved to the collaborative environment of Google Docs, Hangouts, and G+. This made it easier for us to meet each week as an entire team, but more importantly, for brief "drop-in" meetings throughout the week and each day as needed. Additionally, the collaborative nature of Google Docs and its commenting and mentions features helped facilitate the creation of the many documents we needed for the course, from the syllabus, to content, to preparing materials for various presentations given to the administrative stakeholder team leading up to the Fall term.

The premise of the design thinking course was that everyone is creative and can become more so by using the design thinking process (Brown, 2008; Kelley, 2012). This way of thinking contrasts rather sharply with the widely held idea that creativity is an unalterable talent or ability that some people have and others do not. Changing this mindset was the most critical learning goal. The second most important learning objective was that students should come to value group work and recognize how their ideas could be made stronger through diverse perspectives.

Social constructivism formed the theoretical foundation of the course. From an epistemological perspective this meant that we took the position that students constructed their own understandings but that they did so in social contexts and the interactions with others in those contexts were integral to learning. In general, constructivist learning environments have the following characteristics (Schunk, 2011): a focus on big concepts, use of primary sources, authentic assessment, problems of emerging relevance to students, students' points of views are sought and valued, and collaborative learning is employed.

The course was allocated a large open learning space suitable for up to ~100 students and given a twice a week meeting schedule for 2.5 hours each meeting. The blended design split the students into two groups of 90, each of which would use one of the two days for their face-to-face meeting. The alternate day was used to meet with their teaching assistants in small group sessions using Google Hangouts for synchronous online discussion. The groups of 90 were subdivided into five groups of 18, which were further subdivided into learning teams of six students.

The course consisted of five modules, each focusing on a particular aspect of the design thinking process and centered around the completion of a project. The projects were scaffolded and increased in difficulty with each module.
Outside of class times, students individually read, watched, or listened to source materials about design and took a quiz to ensure they were familiar with concepts and terms that would be addressed in the synchronous sessions. Students also met with their learning groups to work on module projects. During the single face-to-face session each week, lead instructors, of which there were two, would address key concepts, answer questions, and observe group dynamics as students did learning activities or worked on their projects. There were two central research questions:

  1. Was the blended format an effective course structure for teaching design thinking?
  2. Did the self-developed design thinking survey measure design thinking constructs?

A convergent mixed methods design was used (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011). Quantitative data collection was done via the survey, weekly quizzes, and the end of term student evaluation of the course. Qualitative data collection included five guided self reflections, four team and self evaluations, and four project packages consisting of a video taped presentation along with project images and descriptive information. Procedures will include statistical and thematic analyses. Data has been collected, but analyses are scheduled for March. Anecdotally, several students said they loved the high-energy environment, felt they learned to work effectively in teams, and had become more creative. Lead instructors and the teaching assistants also felt students had met objectives.

Lead Presenter
Syndey Brown

Sydney Brown (University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA)

Sydney Brown, Ph.D, is chair of the Blended Learning Advisory Committee and spent six years as an Instructional Design Technology Specialist before being asked to lead the initiative to support blended courses in her coordinator role in the Office of Online & Distance Education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.