Blended Learning: An Effective way of Teaching and Learning Strategy

By Bill Balint, CIO, Indiana University, Pennsylvania

Bill Balint, CIO, Indiana University, Pennsylvania

When we talk about education, distance education is one of its key branches. Unfortunately, the concept of distance education has often been confined only to traditional distance education. In the past, there were many differences between traditional, i.e., face to face learning and distance education. Today, the focus of learning is no longer limited to only the formal learning medium; with the advent of new technology enhancements, the doors have been opened to different e-learning mediums, especially in distance education. I think people should consider the money, people, and time they want to spend on what might be the future of instruction and digital technologies when it comes to instruction.

On the E-learning front

We have seen an uptick in synchronous video streaming for the classroom experience. In case of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education wherein the Indiana University of Pennsylvania is a member, we have an enterprise-wide license for Zoom technology, and we are seeing usage both from a formal and a grassroots perspective. This technology is gaining traction and is being used within our institution for students who are looking for traditional classroom experience but are physically dislocated from the location where the instruction is occurring.

"The focus of learning is no longer limited to only the formal learning medium; with the advent of new technology enhancements, the doors have been opened to different e-learning mediums"

Secondly, we're completely modernizing our smart classroom space and trying to look for what we're calling smart classroom of the 2020s.Here we are looking at considering things such as the Internet of Things as being part of the way to consider a smart classroom, considering all devices that come together to make a classroom being more accessible. For instance, if network edge devices are connected to work together, this will create a more integrated classroom experience.  However, getting there will be a huge undertaking at our institution in the years ahead.

Key Challenges in E-learning space

From ane-learning perspective, one of the biggest concerns is that we must keep current with the expectations of incoming students while at the same time providing stability and sustainability to our institution and the faculty and staff. Every year now there is a technology revolution happening, and some are unaware of the expectations of students coming in from K -12 environments.

But if we deploy a bunch of resources to support the next revolution, it could create bea circumstance where there is no sustainability both from a fiscal perspective and in terms of our faculty capability. From our faculty perspective, it’s better if there is no huge change upheaval so they can continue working in an environment that's like what they've been working in. This makes them comfortable to work with the toolsets that they've been used to and so that they can be as most productive as possible.

Trends Transforming Education

Students’ approach to online education emphasizes their growing expectations. Trying to meet the expectations of students has become an important trend. Their expectations for service quality are very high, they look forward to communicating online and want instant service at anytime from anywhere.  Students increasingly expect that if they cannot physically be present in the classroom, there'll be a way to still have a similar learning experience.

Ensuring all the aspects of the student lifecycle, such as getting help with financial aid, bills, housing, and grades will also need to be are available to them at anytime from anywhere.  Tools that make these services easily available is something that is going to be worth monitoring. On the contrary, if an institution makes a mistake and purchases the wrong technology,purchases it at the wrong time or implements it in the wrong way, the cost in student dissatisfaction could be high.

Strategies for Evaluating Solution Providers

Public institutions like ourselves can have more restrictive procurement constraints than do private institutions.  This very thing can be a limiting factor.

In our case as a public university where choices might be more limited, we typically require prospective vendors show us a school of our size and complexity that is fully implemented and is successfully running the solution that they're attempting to sell to us.We're not the type of school that it can be on the bleeding edge where we're limited by staffing and by finances.  We need to lower risk any always look for modern, yet mainstream solutions.

The Future of E-learning

Higher education is increasingly becoming like other industries from a business perspective and has bene moving in that direction for a long time. In some ways, it's unfortunate.  But it can create great opportunity to re-consider processes and procedures.  More tools and technology once targeted strictly towards the corporate world are now usable by higher education and we can leverage what's been developed for other industries much better than what we could a decade ago.

For instance, the term customer relationship management (CRM) was barely used 10 years ago in my interactions.  I often had to explain to my users what it meant.  But CRM seems to be at the forefront of many current discussions now.  Also, social media types of tools, mobile devices, and video conferencing technologies now can be leveraged across the instructional and administrative areas of higher education in part because they are more readily available even when the tools were developed for other industries.

Piece of Advice

I believe measuring the institution’s comfort level with risk is a crucial consideration when making IT-related decisions.  You work that out first, it can then help drive your decision path.

Unfortunately, if feels this might be getting ignored as enrollment and fiscal pressures grow at many institutions.  In our case, we must take each component of our new smart classroom and consider the risk of using that product at a large scale.  A solution that is not sustainable is an unacceptable choice no matter how advanced it might be.

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