A blended education

By Jeff Kubik

With a budget that leaves no more breathing room than packed university classrooms, the University of Calgary is considering an educational alternative: blended education. What does this mean for students? The Internet isn’t just for pornography any more.

On Wed., Dec. 4, Dr. Steven Sorg addressed university faculty and students in a presentation designed to illustrate the implementation of a blended learning system. As

Assistant Vice-President and Director of Distributed Learning–a program designed to create viable Internet-based courses–at the University of Central Florida, Dr. Sorg is uniquely qualified to explain the logistics of an educational system that integrates elements of information technology.

During the mid 1990s, UCF was faced with 40 per cent classroom shortages and an ever-increasing number of undergraduates. By moving at least a portion of the class work from the classroom to the Internet, the university was able to alleviate congestion and increase interactivity of the course.

“The first question is always: did [students] do any better than in a face-to-face class?”

The answer, according to Dr. Sorg, is yes.

When rating their instructors, students in both web-based and mixed programs demonstrated higher levels of satisfaction when compared with traditional, lecture environments. Furthermore, academic performance and rates of withdrawal for web-based courses remained within the range of conventional lectures.

Blended education also allows both instructors and students more freedom than a traditional setting.

“The people that are actively involved beyond school are attracted to this kind of course,” said Dr. Sorg. “They can fit them into schedules where there might have been a conflict otherwise.”

The system offers flexibility for professors as well. Under the Department of Distributed Learning, Dr. Sorg works with professors, designing appropriate curricula and familiarizing them with the technical aspects of blended programs.

“They feel that they respond to student needs more than ever before,” explained Dr. Sorg. “Their courses are constantly changing.”

But Dr. Sorg cautioned that information tools left unsupported by professors generate significantly more negative responses from students. The courses using interactive televisions often left students locked out of classrooms and unassisted when technical issues arose. For courses delivered via interactive television, instructor satisfaction ratings were the lowest of any modality.

“If things go as I expect them to, you’d better have support for everyone who needs it,” offered Dr. Sorg.

For a demonstration of the University of Central Florida’s on-line course creation, visit http://reach.ucf.edu/~coursdev