• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

A Blended Learning Community

What if we applied the blended format to learning communities?

September 20, 2018
 
 

I’m guessing someone out there has tried this, but I haven’t actually seen it. Any wise and worldly readers with knowledge of it are invited to share. What if we applied the blended format to learning communities?

“Blended” courses are the new version of “hybrid.”  They replace some, but not all, of the seat time of a traditional class with online activity.  For example, a hybrid chemistry class might do the “lecture” part online, while doing labs in labs.  Hybrids tend to have the most success with learning outcomes of any format, since they can draw on the best of both worlds, but they can be a tough sell to students.

Learning communities take many forms, but the simplest -- and most common in my experience - involves two courses in different disciplines sort of teaming up.  For example, a writing class might pair up with a criminal justice class, so the writing would have a theme. The same students would be in both sections. Ideally, the professors would coordinate in advance so the assignments would play off of each other.  (One of my favorites, at Holyoke, was a combination of environmental science and literature focused on “cli-fi,” or science fiction about climate change.) Learning communities are commonly cited in the literature on “high-impact practices” for increasing student engagement in their education. 

What if we combined the two? In other words, what if we did a learning community that combined a classroom class with an online class?  The “whole” would be blended, even if each individual part wasn’t.

It seems too obvious for someone not to have tried it, but I haven’t seen it done.

In theory, it could solve a couple of problems.  The most obvious is logistical. A learning community only works if all of the students can take the same two sections of the same two classes.  For student bodies as diverse and heavily employed as community college students, that can be a tall order. I’ve seen many learning communities struggle for enrollment, just because too few students can conform to the schedule.  But if one of the two classes is online, then the logistical challenge has been largely eliminated.

It could also help with the “bonding” aspect that is sometimes missing from online classes.  If the students see each other on a regular basis in the onsite class, then the rapport there and the interaction online can reinforce each other. Discussions could carry over, and assignments could be allocated based on the format in which they make the most sense.

Finally, it could address the “green eggs and ham” problem that blended classes often face.  Students generally enroll in blended classes last, or reluctantly, or not at all. But the few who do, tend to have good experiences.  If a learning community becomes a gateway blended class, it could help dissipate student fear of the format and allow other blended classes to thrive.  Getting them to take that first taste of green eggs and ham takes some doing, but once they discover that it’s good, you’re home free.

Has anyone out there tried this, or seen it done?  Did it work? Or is there a hitch in the idea that isn’t obvious from here, but painfully clear when tried? 
 

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