Using Blended Learning to Address Instructional Challenges in a Freshman Engineering Course
This study analyzed the role of the evidence-based instructional practice of blended course design and instruction for a freshman engineering course. The instructor had been teaching this construction management class combining traditional lecturing and in-class discussions. The instructor sought to increase students’ engagement with the material, each other, and himself as well as dedicate class time to active learning activities, higher order thinking skills, and application of concepts. The present research was conducted to explore blended course design in addressing the aforementioned instructional challenges.
Contemporary definitions of blended learning consider the rapid development of technology tools and the opportunities these tools provide for converging online and in-class instruction and learning activities. The thoughtful integration of face-to-face and online learning experiences in blended courses and its positive effects on students’ performance, collaboration, and satisfaction with the instruction is well documented in literature. Instructors of engineering courses have documented and explored their experiences with blended learning and have reported positive outcomes. However, as blended learning gains momentum in STEM fields, it is essential to understand the freshman experiences and perspectives on blended delivery of content as well as the role of blended learning in resolving instructional challenges commonly present in first year engineering classrooms.
To gather student perceptions, an anonymous survey was administered twice each year the course was taught: first during the fourth week of the semester and once again at the end of the course. Surveys gathered quantitative information from the students on time spent on in-class and online activities, how pertinent course modules were, technical difficulties or lack thereof, preferences for entirely online or traditional lecturing in comparison to the blended approach, and their overall opinions towards blended learning. In addition, students were prompted to provide overall comments throughout the survey that were later qualitatively analyzed and coded to uncover themes. The second assessment instrument was a comparison of students’ success rate from 2010 until present for the same content taught.
In the present paper we provide a detailed overview of the course design, development, and implementation of the blended approach to instruction by communicating the technologies used, pedagogy employed to integrate online and in-class activities, and the collaboration between the instructional design support and instructor. Based on the results, we provide recommendations for engineering faculty teaching freshman courses that want to explore the blended approach to teaching, examples for online learning activities and how to integrate them with in class active learning activities to increase student engagement and success rates.
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