Finding Opportunities for Blended Learning

As regular readers of my blog posts probably know, I’m currently taking an online course in Technology Enhanced Learning through the Open University. In this block we have been exploring ways in which to provide online or blended learning opportunities in which students are able to make choices about what activities they want to engage in as part of their studies. Blended Learning involves using a mix of elements for a course, such as including both live, face-to-face lectures and/or tutorials and online elements.

I’m excited to be planning two courses for the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Open Studies, one for their fall semester on slavery in the Americas and one in the winter on the history of abolition. This is a great opportunity for me to apply some of the knowledge I’ve gained in my studies at the OU so far and encourage my students to engage with my course in a variety of ways beyond the traditional lecture format and supplementary readings from textbooks and academic journal articles.

There are many different ways that we as course designers, lecturers and tutors can incorporate online learning into a course that is delivered live. Here are a few examples of ways in which we can create blended learning opportunities for students:

Online Forums

Online forums allow for students and instructors to share in asynchronous discussions online throughout the duration of the course. These are typically found in a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) that is specifically created by the school for that course. Forum discussion can revolve around specific themes, questions, or weeks, be used to ask for help from fellow students and the tutor, create an opportunity to share resources, and debate and challenge on another, all while supervised by a tutor who is able to monitor or actively participate in the discussions. Forum participation can also allow for concrete justification of a participation mark for a course.

Facebook Groups

If students are on Facebook, they might appreciate the setting up of a private group that only course participants can join. Using a familiar format such as Facebook gives students a familiar environment in which to post and share information, answer one another’s questions, and perhaps develop friendships and connections that will last beyond the course. These can be set up by the tutor or by the students.


Blogging can allow students to express themselves and share their thoughts on the course in writing in a format that can be read and revisited by themselves, their classmates, and the world. Blogging encourages students to write, reflect on their experiences, share helpful tips and resources, and reach out to others to build a sense of community. Both individual student blogs and course blogs may be included as part of the VLE. Without a VLE, students can start up their own free blog on a host server such as WordPress (like Isles Abroad) or the tutor can create a course blog then add their students as editors, share posts that are emailed to them, and include links to students’ individual blogs.


A Wiki is a webpage where all who have access to it can contribute to it, edit it, add to and delete things from it, and create links to new pages on the Wiki. Wikipedia is probably the most famous example of a Wiki. A course Wiki can be included in a class VLE or set up by a tutor using a hosting service (similar to the blogs above) and used for a variety of purposes. For example, in the course that I’m taking, our Wiki includes resources and useful authors on our topics of study with links to their work, answers for communal discussion questions that have come up over the weeks, and a page to schedule student-led online meetings.

Other ways to encourage group work and engagement with the course outside of class time include sharing Twitter account information and developing a hashtag and even a course account, suggesting WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, and Skype for texting and video chat, starting a class group on Diigo to share links to relevant online resources and personalised tags and annotations about the resources, and the creation and use of shared Google Docs to which everyone can contribute. Find out what technology your students are already using and utilise their interests and preferences when it comes to Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) to further student engagement and the sense of community on your course.

Suggested readings:

Judd, T. and Kennedy, G., ‘Measurement and evidence of computer-based task switching and multitasking by “Net Generation” students’, Computers & Education, vol.56, no.3 (2011): pp.625–31.

Kennedy, G.E., Judd, T.S, Churchward, A. and Gray, K., ‘First-year students’ experiences with technology: are they really digital natives?’, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, vol.24, no.1, (2008): pp.108–22.

Kerawalla, L., Minocha, S., Kirkup, G. and Conole, G., ‘Characterising the different blogging behaviours of students on an online distance learning course’, Learning, Media and Technology, vol.33, no.1 (2008): pp.21–33.

Kirkwood, A. and Price, L.,‘Technology-enhanced learning and teaching in higher education: what is “enhanced” and how do we know? A critical literature review’, Learning, Media and Technology, vol.39, no.1, pp.6–36.

Liebenberg, H., Chetty, Y. and Prinsloo, P.,‘Student access to and skills in using technology in an open and distance learning context’, The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (IRRODL), vol.13, no.4 (2012).