Blended Education: A Case Study at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO)

Award Winner: 
2013 Sloan-C Effective Practice Award
Author Information
Author(s): 
Len A. Bogner, Ed.D.
Author(s): 
Bucky J. Dodd, Ph.D.
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
University of Central Oklahoma
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

The Blended Education Collaborative was started in the fall semester of 2011 as a one-year project for the Academic Affairs Leadership Fellows (AALF) program at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO). The original scope of the Blended Education Collaborative was to look at the effectiveness of courses offered through the Flex-Ed program at UCO, which was a reinvention of Interactive Video Education courses and Correspondence courses. The collaborative has since developed and evolved into an innovative systems-based design process, cooperating with the Center for eLearning and Continuing Education (CeCE) at UCO. It looks into how online courses and Flex-Ed courses are purposely designed to bring humanness and flexibility in learning into the online and distance learning environment.

Blended Education (BE) is the intentional design process of planning instructional components and connections in ways that enhance flexibility and “humanness” in the learning process (Dodd & Bogner, 2013). Too often, online and distance education courses fail to support the human connections needed to support effective learning processes. In many conversations, technology is acknowledged as the reason for this challenge. BE uses systems-based design thinking to leverage technology in ways that enhance the human-centered nature of learning while increasing learners’ flexibility to personalize their learning environment to how they learn best.

During the 2012-13 school year at UCO, faculty and CeCE conducted research to examine student satisfaction with the intentional designs of BE. In the research project BE courses used multiple delivery formats such as online, interactive video, classroom, and self-paced online content to create an interconnected, multi-modal learning environment. A UCO approved online course with an interactive video component offered at a consistent time, in a university classroom, each week produced the BE format.

Results from the research data are used throughout this document as evidence of learning effectiveness, access, faculty satisfaction, and student satisfaction.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

Blended Education is a systems-based design process created at UCO as a way to combine multiple delivery formats and strategies in ways that enhance learners’ flexibility and “humanness” in the learning process. Humanness describes the authenticity that exists between people within distributed learning environments. BE is designed to promote this authenticity by providing the types of communication and interactions that are supportive of dialogue in learning processes.

At the core of BE is the Blended Education Framework (see http://www.uco.edu/cece/BlendedEducation/BlendedLearningFramework_4-10-0...). This framework identifies the components and connections that are frequently present in the higher education learning environments at UCO and outlines ways they may be connected together to add flexibility and personalization for learners and faculty.

The BE framework is used as a visual guide to plan and design principles to develop online and distance learning environments. It is also used to create consistency in programs and repeatability in planning and designing other courses.

At UCO, this model was used to develop a series for teacher education courses. The student population was adult students who needed flexibility to attend and access educational opportunity. Students enrolled in an interactive video course were given the choice to attend via video, attend in a physical classroom, or complete the course online. Students enrolled in the same course offered in a self-paced online format were also encouraged to connect using a live video feed or review session recordings. A Blended Education Resource Center was created in the courses to direct students to a variety of learning content and student support services. Finally, a learning “deed” (see http://www.uco.edu/cece/BlendedEducation/BlendedEducationDeed_example.pdf) was created and used to direct students on the “rules” for learning in a Blended Education environment.

The positive results from the BE research have lead to two interesting developments. First, the University and researchers have filed for a trademark on a Blended Education Logo (see http://www.uco.edu/cece/BlendedEducation/ED_gs_h-FW.png). Second was CeCE sponsoring the “Blended Education Innovation Institute” in the summer of 2013 which was designed as a way to disseminate information on BE and to create new ideas and perspectives on the implementation of Blended Education techniques.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Research on student satisfaction with the BE format was conducted over the 2012-13 academic year. The research invited students who were enrolled in BE courses (7 courses in total) to complete an online questionnaire at the end of their course. Note: the BE courses were conducted in an 8 week block format.

The questionnaire addressed demographic information and perceptions about the students’ experience with Blended Education. Students reported a high satisfaction and appreciation for the flexibility and dialogue produced through the Blended Education format.

Research Evidence of Effectiveness:

-95% of students either agreed or strongly agreed that BE made them feel connected to the professor in the courses.
-92% of students indicated that they were either hopeful or curious about BE.
-92% of student either agreed or strongly agreed that BE provided opportunities to solve problems related to the course topic.
-89% of student either agreed or strongly agreed that BE provided opportunities to relate the course topic to their past experiences.
-88% of student either agreed or strongly agreed that BE helped them understand why the course topics were important.
-87% of student either agreed or strongly agreed that BE motivated them to continue learning about the course topic.
-85% of students either agreed or strongly agreed that BE gave them the opportunity to apply what they had learned in the course.
-80% of student either agreed or strongly agreed that BE was similar learning experience to face-to-face courses.
-64% of students cited “Interactions with my professor” as the most helpful aspect of BE.

When asked, “What was the most effective aspect of the blended education course?” answers included:

-“Being able to ask questions and listen to teacher live while others asked questions.”
-“Being able to discuss the topics with the instructor and classmates every week.”
-“Being able to interact in real time with the rest of the students and the professor.”
-“Being able to interact with professor and other distance-learning students via Internet video feed.”
-“Being able to work at my own pace and the teacher was available when I needed him.”
-“Being able to work ahead or go to class and get instruction from the professor.”
-“Feedback from the other students and the instructor.”
-“Finding the feelings and experiences of other teachers in the class.”
-“Flexibility to access course materials at any time, view progress, interact with instructor and other students when necessary.”
-“Get to interact with the instructor and work at home at the same time.”
-“I believe it's very conducive to people that have to work and take classes. I like the different aspects of learning.”
-“I could, at approx. 90 miles away, interact with the instructor and the class as if I were there.”
-“I like that I can have access to work ahead and if I need to miss class I still have all the information!”
-“I like the fact that we can interact if we want but also if we need to miss that we are not missing important information because we can still access everything online!”
-“I loved the interaction with fellow instructors across the state. It was great to hear other thoughts and opinions from different classroom experiences.”
-“I think the most effective aspect of this blended education course was being able to go to the class and talk to the instructor even though the class was on the computer.”
-“I was able to correspond with other students about the topics of the course.”
-“It helped me to learn more about technology, and it also alleviated my preconceived ideas of how interactive and online instruction would work. I view them in a more positive manner now.”
-“Opportunity to learn in class and online.”
-“That the material pertains directly to the course!”
-“The discussions.”
-“The most effective aspect of this blended course was being able to interact via webcam.”
-“This blends different types of learning, which is actually what our class is about. Most people don’t learn the same way; I think that’s the beauty of this class. It should appeal to everyone’s learning styles at some point.”

When asked, “How did this [BE] course contribute to or hinder your learning experience?” student answers included:

-“Again, it has helped me to not be so afraid of new technological methods of experiencing a learning environment. Nothing really stands out as a hindrance.”
-“Contributed greatly! Help me better understand learning styles of different people.”
-“Contributed in every way to my learning, I can connect with professor and students. I feel this way has enabled me to spend more time in research and understanding the lessons and time to do assignments.”
-“Delivery of relevant information in a readily accessible way, presented in a manner that was easily understood.”
-“Did not hinder my learning process, helped manage my time efficiently.”
-“Gave me a great avenue to learn while working.”
-“I liked the time to reflect between meeting and hearing a lot of other people opinions I think the video distance made it a little easier to talk.”
-“I would not have been able to make the drive every week and spend the extra gas money or take the class at the time it was scheduled.”
-“It allowed me to earn a credit I needed without me having to take half a day of class and drive time from my hectic schedule.”
-“It was catered to my need of working online rather than attending class every week.”

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

From the five pillars perspectives, Blended Education aims to optimize access through increasing flexibility and personalization of learning. Faculty satisfaction is addressed by allowing learning experiences to reflect the context needed to promote authentic learning. Learning effectiveness is influenced by encouraging students to match their learning experience with how they like to learn best. Blended Education allows for scaling because more students can be served and efficiencies gained through the systems-based design thinking that is required to draw connections between various delivery formats. Student satisfaction is achieved by allowing students needed flexibility and freedom to become more self-regulated learners and better connect the learning experience with their unique and personalized context.

The research conducted shows qualitative evidence of the 5 pillars within the Sloan-C Quality Framework.

Learning Effectiveness: Even though the research did not examine performance, anecdotal evidence suggested that students who participated in BE course offerings did not did show a reduction in final grades compared to students completing the course as a face-to-face course or as an online only course. However, the research would indicate that there was a great sense of student satisfaction in completing a course in the BE format. (See “Evidence of Effectiveness”)

Scale (Cost Effectiveness and Commitment): The cost to implement BE at UCO was relatively low because of the existing technology infrastructure offered to the university by both the IT department and CeCE. The BE Collaborative had reviewed and analyzed the technological options for Flex-Ed at the university and developed a plan for instructional design to blend the technologies provided. The “Blended Education Innovation Institute” has a module which looks at existing school technology to determine implementation. (See “Estimate the probable costs associated with this Practice”)

Access: BE provides students with all of the course content online. If a student understands their learning style and feels comfortable they can successfully complete the BE course only utilizing the online content. Within the online content a student will have an instructor video with sets the stage for what is expected within a given learning module. The student also has access to the classroom recording where the topic or subject of the model was discussed in a group setting. Both of these techniques increase the humanness between the student and the instructor and the student to their peers.
When asked, “How did this [BE] course contribute to or hinder your learning experience?” student answers included:

-“Being able to work from home helped tremendously.”
-“Gave me a great avenue to learn while working.”
-“It allowed me to use my time wisely.”
-“It contributed with convenience.”
-“It has greatly contributed to my education. I probably would not have done this course if I had to travel to Edmond.”
-“The biggest contributor to my learning experience was that not having to travel gave me more time for reading, homework and reviewing the previous weeks video. And believe me, with work and family, I need every extra second I can get.”
-“Working at my own pace online throughout each week and also connecting through jabber helped me finish this course effectively.”

When asked, “Explain why you selected the delivery methods chosen…?” student answers included:
-“I live 45 mins away, and also have a brand new baby, so completing the course online and watching the class video was better for me. I am thankful that was an option.”
-“Class set up and convince.”
-“Convenience”
-“Convenience. Did not want to drive 4 hours round trip to UCO.”
-“Convenience, while still allowing for instructor led lecture and discussion.”
-“I can complete part of the course from the IEV room at my workplace, and complete other parts at home.”
-“I attend class and complete homework online.”
-“I chose this method of delivery because I live so far from the campus. It was very convenient for me with my busy work schedule and kids, I am very grateful to have had this option.”
-“I did my assignments online and we had class discussions once a week.”
-“I gain most useful information in the classroom listening from other teachers on the subject. I do the work online. Short videos explaining the module. It's self-paced for one week.”
-“I have a family to take care of and I am a stay at home mom so working from home at my own pace is easiest for me.”
-“I like it this way to go at my own pace.”
-“I spent some time reading and things online, but the majority of time spent was done through interactive video / distance learning.”
-“I used the interactive video mostly to alleviate the travel time. Used the online participation because of scheduling conflicts and couldn't be at campus or where the interactive video was available.”
-“Interactive is more convenient for me and my schedule”
-“The course was very flexible and worked with my schedule very well. I liked this method of teaching.”

Faculty Satisfaction: From a faculty perspective BE provided a great sense of satisfaction. Although I have taught online courses for 9 years at two different universities I have always felt a sense of unease within the learning environment. Through some self-reflection I realized that the difficulty was in creating the instructor to student relationships that was present in a face-to-face courses. BE allows me to have face-to-face conversations with students, either through the classroom, through IVE or Jabber, or even through the instructor and classroom recordings. I can have the “humanness” that BE offers from the faculty perspective. Using BE, my students are more then names and numbers, they are faces, voices, and personalities.

Student Satisfaction: From both the quantitative and qualitative data collected in the research it would indicate that there was student satisfaction in the BE format.

When asked to “Explain your current attitude [to BE]?” student answers included:

-“I enjoy being able to interact with the instructor during class time.”
-“I am very hopeful to what I have been learning and able to apply it to my career.”
-“I love teaching, and this kind of course leaves you wanting more.”
-“I love the material in the course, even though I am not a current teacher I enjoy hearing it from their perspective.”
-“I think it's great. I understand everything, and if I don't I can ask my professor in the interactive video section. He answers all of my questions just as if I were physically there. We also get to have an open discussion with others attending the class and also those who are beamed in via webcam. I think all classes should have this option. You would have more adults in the education system, and there would be some intergenerational dialog.”
-“I think this is a great way to learn, this opens up a type of learning that allows a lot more people to take classes that would otherwise not be able to.”
-“I was unsure of this type of classroom setup originally, however, I have experienced the accommodating factors it offers a student. I see this as a very workable type setup, because of the adaptability it provides.”
-“The format of the online course is easy to follow, allows students to work at their own pace, and provides live video of instructor and other students, as well as recorded lecture from instructor and previous classes to review at any time. I'm not sure how an online class could be presented better. I have taken online courses in the past, and none of them catered to the student like this one.”
-“This course and its delivery method was perfect for the purpose of taking the Basic 15 courses required by Career-Tech teachers.”
-“This course is presented well with adequate time to complete required components. I'm optimistic to complete the course successfully.”
-“This was my first college course and it was very informative. I got more from it than expected.”

When asked, “What advice would you give to a student taking a blended education course for the first time?” student answers included:

-“Do it.”
-“Do it!! And enjoy it.”
-“Do what works best for you.”
-“Don't get stressed out, and enjoy the flexibility it offers to fit your own personal schedule.”
-“Enjoy it.”
-“Enjoy it. It is interactive but only as interactive as you want to be.”
-“Enjoy!”
-“Have an opened mind.”
-“I would advise them to take it.”
-“I would encourage the student to take blended education courses, because I believe it was and is very useful.”
-“It works very well and everyone is there to help you”
-“Participate and have fun.”
-“Take it rather than a typical classroom setting.”
-“These courses give you time to complete your assignments at your own pace.”

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

The equipment necessary to implement Blended Education will vary from organization to organization; that is why it is suggested that an institution do an environmental scan of their technology to determine a plan for implementation. The BE Innovation Institute has created a module dedicated to looking specifically at the opportunities and needs that an institution would have to offer BE.

At UCO we were fortunate to have a good technological backbone in place. In fact, we had a classroom set up specifically to deliver courses through Interactive Video Courses (IVC). It was through this classroom that we were able to add and utilize other technology to deliver the course live to Oklahoma Technology Centers, High School, and now directly to the students computer or tablet devices. Since starting the BE collaborative, two other classrooms on campus have been converted to allow for interactive video courses.

BE was implemented at UCO within a short amount of time (a semester) by first scheduling the BE courses in the dedicated IVC classroom on campus, Thatcher Hall 310. The BE courses were then submitted to and approved by CeCE for online delivery. Finally the approved online courses were converted to the Self-Paced Online Course (SPOC) format.

The equipment currently used to implement BE at UCO includes the Learning Management Tool (LMS) Desire2Learn, the IVC network including Cisco H.323 conferencing system and Cisco Jabber, and internet based software is being added including Blackboard Collaborate.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

Blended Education leverages institution's existing distance education infrastructure; therefore, the costs associated with implementing a BE strategy are minimal above existing resource needs.

The equipment needed to offer BE will continue to change as the technology to deliver the content continues to advance. It is envisioned that an organization wanting to start offering BE courses can do so at a reasonable cost. Using low cost solutions like a web software like Google + or Blackboard Collaborate along with a school’s LMS may provide enough technology to start offering BE courses.

The cost may be a burden in finding resources to help with course design. To build an online course by oneself, is not a preferred method. It is better to work as a team and to have a person whom is familiar with principles of teaching and course development. Perhaps this expertise can come from a school’s Teaching and Learning center, if there is one already in place. Regardless it will take time to develop, coordinate, and pilot test the systems to offer a successful BE course.

References, supporting documents: 

Basics of Blended Education https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=f9ojUzBE2Hk

Blended Education Framework https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=IKBy_vD8h6s

Humanness https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gtJGl7qpKDU

Connection-Design Model https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=BRtBi4_Z0ro

Dodd, B. J. & Bogner, L. (2013). Blended education: An innovation in transformative learning. Conversation session presented at the 2013 International Conference on Transformative Learning. Edmond, Oklahoma.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Len A. Bogner, Ed.D.
Email this contact: 
lbogner@uco.edu
Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Bucky Dodd, Ph. D.
Email contact 2: 
bdodd1@uco.edu