How to Integrate Technology Tools into a Blended Learning Classroom for Enhanced Student Learning

Updated: Aug 12, 2019

Kathryn W. Smith

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill



Blended learning or hybrid learning used to be an innovative way of teaching; however, it has become more of the standard, and preferred by students, method of instruction delivery (Pomerantz & Brooks, 2017). The term blended came from online assignments and in-class, face-to-face instruction.

Blended learning has shifted to synchronous and asynchronous instruction with integration of digital solutions to accomplish learning outcomes.

According to the Pomerantz and Brooks 2017 ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 95 percent of undergraduate students own a laptop or a smartphone and 30 percent own a laptop, a smartphone, and a tablet. With the rise of students having access to a mobile technology it has become expected that instruction is more blended but faculty members often are not given the tools or training to help bridge this gap.


The 2017 Faculty and Information Technology study by Pomerantz and Brooks found that almost half of faculty disagreed or strongly disagreed that online learning helps students learn more effectively. Many faculty members have this belief despite the study from Barbara Means in 2014 that showed blended learning has stronger learning outcomes than face-to-face or online instruction alone (Means, Bakia & Murphy, 2014). So, how is one to start the journey to create an effective blended learning class?


A solution presented by the Instructional Designers at the Center for Digital Learning and Innovation at Seattle University may help solve the problem. Since it isn’t effective to just haphazardly insert technology into a class and call it blended, there needs to be a purpose for each assignment and the modality in which it is presented and interacted with by students. The team at Seattle University provided a guide for their faculty to create meaningful units that incorporate instructional technology tools appropriately to facilitate a successful blended learning environment. The designers created an interactive Blended Flow Toolkit workflow and the Blended Flow Planner to assist faculty in designing a learner-centered backwards design (Anthoney, Jacobson & Snare, 2018). Luckily, these tools are available for all to use and help faculty design a thoughtful blended learning unit.


The Blended Flow Planner steps the faculty members through each part of a unit and gives suggestions as to what readings, videos or interactive data can be used for each part of the unit.


When you click on each “+” it opens the suggested learning activity and then provides suggestions for what activity for students to complete, either online or in the classroom.



Each of the headings are linked to suggestions of how to accomplish each part of the unit with pros and cons about using that specific modality for the section.


Each section provides different online and classroom activities that would be helpful to accomplish the learning objectives for each of the sections, for example under “Set The Stage” in “Preparatory Exploration” there are many different types of activities that are suggested for this section to accomplish the learning objectives. Under each of the online topics, the detailed information about the activity provides suggested technology tools to accomplish the learning objective, such as using the Learning Management System (LMS) discussion tool, LMS Assignment tool, Padlet, or Wiki Pages.


Choosing the most effective tool is always a critical part of making an effective lesson or unit. One of the easiest ways to integrate technology that can be meaningful for students is to use the discussion tool embedded within your institution’s Learning Management System (LMS). Students can easily access the tool since it is associated with the class you are teaching and each student already has a log in to the system. Many times, the discussion board has a grading feature that allows for seamless interaction between the assignment and the gradebook feature. If you’re looking for something to meet learners where they are in a social media driven world and a bit more personal than a traditional discussion board, try a video discussion board such as Flipgrid or Voicethread.


Flipgrid is a video discussion board that is facilitated by the instructor and students can respond to the topics or questions. Other students in the group are able to respond as well but all done through videos. One great benefit of Flipgrid is that it is a free tool. The faculty member must create a login to start a discussion board, but for students to respond, they just need the code to be linked to your grid. Students can download the app (Android or iOS) or can reply from any internet connected device with a camera. Flipgrid even has it own lingo, broken down here:



A great use for this tool would be to have students introduce themselves to the class at the beginning of the semester. Another option would be to gauge students' understanding of a topic from their responses. There are multiple ways that you can set up your grid for students to respond. A step-by-step guide can be found from Sean Fahey and Karly Moura on how to get started with Flipgrid. There is also read from Flipgrid how it can help to build a community in the Higher Ed Classroom.



Another option for video discussion is VoiceThread. VoiceThread allows for students to interact asynchronously and leave comments on multimedia the instructor has posted. VoiceThread allows students to leave comments in multiple ways: voice (through mic or via telephone), text, audio file, or video and through the use of the app. VoiceThread does have a cost associated, a single instructor license with 50 associated student accounts is $99 a year. Additional student accounts are $2 each. The single instructor account allows for the instructor to edit access to all student work in a secure and accountable environment and create groups to organize and simplify sharing. The other option is to have a site license for the institution and over 4,000 universities worldwide already have a site license:




Good news is that many universities, as noted above plus more, already have VoiceThread as an option and it can be integrated into the Learning Management System. With a site license, all instructors and students have access to VoiceThread with IT integration learning management systems. It features reporting and analytics, with advanced security controls and allows faculty to create groups and showcase student work.


VoiceThread is great for many uses within the classroom, for example it could be used to do a syllabus overview and have students comment or add questions. Or use it to have students introduce themselves as an icebreaker at the beginning of the semester. Students could also create their own VoiceThreads about a topic in class and have other students watch and respond.

This is just scratching the surface of how to successfully integrate technology tools into the blended learning classroom to enhance student learning.


Discussion Questions:


a) In what ways can the implementation of technology make your classroom more inclusive? What tools or platforms advance inclusivity?


b) Online assignments have been shown to demand more time than traditional class assignments. How do you balance the workload for students to cover content and complete assignments?


c) When using online platforms, how do you weight synchronous/asynchronous discussions compared to in-class participation? Should there be a difference? Should there be a difference in weighting when assessing the contributions and classroom culture?


References


Anthoney, M., Jacobson, J., and Snare, J. (2018). Innovating with Purpose: The Blended Toolkit for Designing Blended/Hybrid Learning, EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research.


Means, B., Bakia, M., and Murphy,R. (2014). Learning Online: What Research Tells Us about Whether, When and How (New York: Routledge, 2014); Barbara Means, Yukie Toyama, Robert Murphy, Marianne Bakia, and Karla Jones, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online-Learning Studies (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education).


Pomerantz, J. and Brooks, D.C. (2017). ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research, 2017.


Pomerantz, J. and Brooks, D.C. (2017). ECAR Study of Faculty and Information Technology, 2017, research report (Louisville, CO: ECAR, October 2017).

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