Integrating blended-learning in physics courses

Dealing with diversity in classrooms

The Applied Physics departments is interested in looking for means to still enhance the quality of instruction and looking at possibilities to organize small-group teaching in which attention for differentiation among students, individual support and formative feedback are key elements of the educational forms.In this project, we wanted to explore the possibilities that blended learning offers to optimize, for instance, student’s self-study time as students will practice exercises at test level and will get immediate feedback from a digital learning environment. This, to enhance teacher-student contact time. We also wanted to address diversity with IT methods by providing opportunities for personalized learning by:

  • Enhancing online feedback;
  • Intensifying self-study time;
  • Improving contact-time;
  • Supporting conceptual understanding;
  • Addressing differences in learning styles;
  • Dealing with large-size classrooms;

Furthermore, an ultimate purpose of this project is to initiate a culture of change towards inspiring and motivating other teaching staff to use other type of IT method.

The overall goal of the project was to optimize education at the Applied Physics (AP) department through the integration of IT tools. The project had therefore the following specific objectives:

  • To integrate a digital platform (Oncourse) to test students’ knowledge and provide feedback to EM students in learning and practicing concepts;
  • To develop an educational strategy suitable to integrate blended learning in education with the support of IT tools that enhance faculty staff to teach large groups by paying attention to individual needs;
  • To operationalize blended-learning in three to four AP courses with the necessary financial support.
  • Further professionalization of the teachers: most of the teaching staff at the AP department hold already a BKO certificate and/or in the process of getting a certificate.

We have learned number of lessons (based on the pilots conducted at this time):

  1. Diversity in learning can be addressed by IT tools. In order to integrate a tailored made approach to deal with students’ differences in learning is important to conduct an analysis on the conditions of the course: learning outcomes/topics; number of students; heterogeneous vs. homogeneous, etc.
  2. IT tools are useful means to give feedback to students and to enhance self-study. An in-depth analysis of the educational conditions of each specific course is crucial to design the best didactical strategy.
  3. The use of IT tools doesn’t automatically guarantee an increase in pass rates. Other educational approaches may also be applied to guarantee a success.
  4. Blended-learning does not stand alone. A proper didactical support in the redesign or adjustments of the course, together with a proper technical platform are essential components in order to enhance learning content.
  5. In this project we also have explored several forms of feedback. Despite the good results, feedback still need to be more tailor-made at the service of the learning of students. Other forms of feedback such as tutorials in Oncourse need to be explored.
  6. To initiate a culture of change it is important to motivate the teaching staff by supporting them in developing further their ideas.
  7. Dissemination of good practices that work facilitates the process of motivating other teaching staff. Illustrating with examples that work how blended-learning is integrated paves smoothly the way for others to learn. This is a strategy to motivate the teaching staff to professionalize.
  • We held a meeting with each teachers’ team with the intention to analyze the specific educational context of each course. In doing so, we followed, implicitly, a general approach (see picture) to redesign courses. The result of this analysis did not always mean a complete redesign of the course but just some adjustments to optimize contact hours and make self-study time more effective.
  • We also followed implicitly the TPACK model as a theoretical framework during the training discussions. PCK represents the blending of content and pedagogy into an understanding of how particular aspects of subject matter are organized, adapted, and represented for instruction.
  • Teachers were properly trained in the concept of blended learning and received a media training