A new approach to summer school

The College offered a number of blended learning classes during the summer session, marking the first time in the College’s history that students could select courses designed to have fewer classroom sessions and increased online instruction. Early indications suggest the new approach was a success; however, there is no plan at this point to offer blended learning classes during the regular academic year.

Blended learning is a pedagogical approach that combines traditional classroom instruction with online teaching and learning activities. Students in TCNJ’s blended learning courses met as a class once a week, and completed online work independently on their own time.

Mark Kiselica, former vice provost and current interim dean of the School of Education, and Beverly Kalinowski, assistant dean of summer programs, proposed the blended learning initiative last fall as a way to increase enrollment in the College’s summer session. The courses offer greater convenience for students who can’t stay on campus during the summer because of work or family obligations, but want to continue their studies, Kiselica said. There is also a demand for these types of courses, he noted.

“Students who go to college today were raised in the age of the Internet [and are] accustomed to seeking information through online resources,” said Kiselica, adding that many high schools are incorporating blended learning courses into their curriculums.

Last fall, Kiselica and Kalinowski submitted a report to President Gitenstein’s advisory council indicating that 79 percent of U.S. public institutions offer at least one undergraduate blended learning course. The report also highlighted research that has shown blended learning courses can produce favorable results in terms of meaningful classroom discussions, student drop-failure-withdrawal rates, student grades, and performance on term papers, thanks to the combination of consistent teacher interaction with flexible, self-directed online learning.

The challenge of implementing a blended learning program at TCNJ while staying true to the College’s mission of offering a high-quality educational experience with close faculty-student interaction was made easier by the fact that “a portion of our faculty was already using distance-learning activities in their courses,” Kiselica said.

During last summer’s pilot program phase, blended learning classes were offered in Financial Accounting; Principles of Microeconomics; Principles of Macroeconomics; Multicultural Management; Culture and Communication; Women, Culture, and Society; Multicultural Children’s Literature; and Stress Management. Student feedback on their experiences in these classes needs to be further analyzed before there is any discussion of offering blended learning courses during the regular academic year, Kiselica said. But he added, “Preliminary feedback from professors indicates that the courses went well and that the learning objectives were achieved.”

Jody Eberly, an associate professor of elementary and early childhood education who taught Multicultural Children’s Literature said the blended format allowed for a greater level of student participation. “The online aspect of a course requires that all students participate in classdiscussions and blogs. It’s not possible for a student to opt to sit quietly and listen,” said Eberly.

“Students seem to like the flexibility that blended courses offer,” added Anne Farrell, assistant professor of health and exercise science, who taught Stress Management.

Farrell, who concurrently taught Stress Management using both a traditional and blended learning approach, said that while the lecture material was “easy to deliver for both learning environments…the traditional setting is preferred when performing the variety of stress management techniques.”

“The appropriateness of this delivery method is dictated by the discipline and subject matter,” noted Kalinowski. “But I think that what happened this summer will begin the discussion, and that’s good news. The intention was for this to only happen in the summer, but where it goes from here will really depend on what happens with these conversations with faculty. They’re the ones who are teaching and who have the expertise.”

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