Some challenges in creating a blended learning course

I’m currently taking a blended learning course (face-to-face and online) on teaching in a blended learning environment. As it all takes place on a closed university website, I’m posting some of my posts on that course here on my blog, so I have access to them later.

One thing we were asked to do recently is to consider some possible challenges to teaching in a blended learning environment. Here are three I wrote about…


There are numerous challenges I can think of in designing a course or section of a course to be “blended.” I’ll just mention three of those here, the ones I’m most concerned about.

1. Connecting the online and F2F activities

On the planning checklist for designing a blended learning course [this document is posted in the closed course, and I haven’t (yet) asked for permission if I can post it here], two of the questions are:


  • Have you developed strong links between the activities face-to-face and online so that the compliment each other?
  • Will your students be able to clearly see how your face-to-face and online activities connect to each other?


I think because I am so new to all this I am imagining that this might be difficult. So far we haven’t been asked to say which module, exactly, we might be redesigning, but I’ll imagine that it’s one focused on Epicureanism. The active learning activity I talked about in Activity 2 asks students to re-read a section of text, try to outline the argument individually, then work in groups to outline the argument, then look at the outlines of other groups and decide which they think works well (maybe more than one). So that would be part of the F2F activities for that module.

If some of the online activities are reading the text and watching some short videos of lectures on that text, then the online and F2F activities could be connected because the arguments they’re outlining in class are from the text they have just read and heard a bit about.

I will also be doing some demonstrations of outlining arguments F2F, and students will also be practicing in groups online, so the argument outlining will be done both ways (F2G and online) and thus connected.

But this is just one F2F activity for a module on Epicureanism; I need to think of more.

Now that I’m writing my way through this, I think perhaps what is most challenging for me is not so much connecting online and F2F activities as the following:


2. Coming up with F2F activities that are not too repetitive, so we’re not doing the same things over and over F2F throughout the term.

What we usually do F2F class, besides me lecturing, is talk in a large group or small groups about their own views of the philosophers’ arguments. For example, what Epicurus says about happiness is something that most students disagree with (the greatest pleasure is the tranquility of absence of pain and desire, we shouldn’t fear death, and it’s better to live with simple pleasures rather than extravagant luxuries), so there are often some good discussions. I would like to think of something for them to do besides just engage in small group discussion on whether they agree/disagree and why. This is good, but it can get old after awhile.

I also often ask each student to sign up for a day during the term in which they are responsible for asking questions for their small group to discuss–about the readings, the lectures, anything related to class content. This is a similar activity, but the questions are raised by the students rather than me.

The argument outline activity is one idea I had for something different, but I need more. Here are some quick ideas:

  • Debate of some sort: small groups come up with arguments for their “side,” then one group on a side gives an argument, and any group on the other side counters. Then if there are no counters to that, one group on the second side gives their argument, and someone from the first side counters. Etc. I haven’t thought too much about how to do debates in class, so I expect there are better ways!
  • Live like an Epicurean (or a Stoic) for a day and write about what it’s like–write a reflective piece on what you’ve learned by doing so, and whether your view about the philosophy has changed as a result. Okay, this is not a F2F activity, but we could share our experiences F2F.
  • For a module on Socrates and his trial, I could ask them to cast votes on Socrates’ guilt and then Socrates’ punishment, and then compare this to the number of jurors in his trial who actually voted for/against him and who voted for death or not. Also, come up with other things Socrates could have said in his defense if he had wanted to live.
  • Given what we’ve learned about what philosophy is/what philosophers do, come up with a list of people who might be said to be philosophers, or who engage in philosophical activities, and say why (then remind them later that they should include themselves!). Write these on a shared document that is posted in class, such as a Google doc or the UBC wiki. Or they could use Pulse Press to give the names and a quick explanation, and I could ask for more explanation orally.

Any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated!


3. Not having too much to do; not just adding more things for students with the online component and overloading them

I’m quite worried about this. Right now all my lectures are given in class, so if I move some of the lecture content to videos (for example), then ask them to do online quizzes about lectures and/or readings, then have the same amount of in-class time as before, this just adds more time to the course for the students. Now they’re doing more work outside of class, taking more time, and still having the same amount of in-class time. Before blending this course, I just ask them to do readings outside of class. Doing readings, plus quizzes, plus videos adds a fair bit.

I’m not sure what to do about this besides cut down on the F2F time. That seems the most straightforward solution to the problem–take extra time out of class, then take that time off the F2F time. But I don’t know how easy it is to deal with that bureaucratically.

I could cut down on the content in the course, which i need to do anyway (I always have too much and can’t delve as deeply into things as I’d like…so cutting is necessary regardless), but the problem of time still remains: I’m asking them to take up more time outside of class while still having the same amount of time in class. I’m really not sure how to deal with this problem. I suppose if I only ask them for a little reading and a little video watching before class, then it’s not too much more outside of class than before. So I suppose drastically cutting content might work. But there’s only so much I think I can cut while still keeping the course how I’d like.