Is blended learning the only game in town?

Summer has been characterized by chaos over last minute changes to campus re-openings. Does blended learning offer a solution? Read our article to learn more.

Clock 3 min read Calendar Published: 11 Sep 2020
Author Luke Garbutt
Is blended learning the only game in town?

The summer has been characterized by chaos over last minute changes to campus re-openings. Does blended learning offer a way out?

Summer is usually a frantic time for institutions. But this summer will likely stand as the most frantic on record.

In May, we hosted a live chat on our community platform. When the question about Fall plans arose, we got as many different plans as we got responses to the question. And just as many people had no idea about what was to come in Fall.

A summer of chaos

The state of flux these plans were thrown into as the Covid crisis lurched on through the summer have dominated the headlines recently. Full reopenings that had been confidently planned in as early as the Spring were scaled back.

Some colleges, such as the University of North Carolina and Oklahoma State, experienced Covid clusters that led to ‘de-densification’ of campus residential spaces, reducing occupancy by as much as 45%.

Confusion is undermining trust

Clearly, botched plans for reopening have caused huge headaches for institutions - not least the reputational damage many have suffered among returning students. A national survey from Simpson Scarborough reveals just how important clear communication is for students. The survey found that 69% of returning students ‘wanted more information from their school about reopening plans’. Ultimately, 64% of students returning to a college rated Fair/Poor for communication had a worse opinion of their institution.

And with 40% of incoming freshmen stating they’d be likely or highly likely to change their mind about the school they’ve picked, any serious errors could cause higher levels of attrition.

But understanding why institutions have been so desperate to at least partially reopen campus is as simple as looking at student satisfaction data for Spring. This report published on Inside Higher Ed shows only 19% of students responding that they were highly satisfied with their learning experience in Spring, versus 51% pre-Covid.

For returning students, access to campus is of huge importance. However, there’s little evidence to suggest that a full reopening is what’s being demanded

Blended learning provides a way out

Despite early signs of dissatisfaction with online learning, the SimpsonScarborough survey referenced above found that 41% of returning students would prefer a hybrid/blended model of learning this Fall, and 39% of incoming freshmen would prefer an online-only semester, the most popular picks for both groups.

What’s interesting here is that freshmen, already taking a step into the unknown, want online classes more than they want the full campus experience. And while returning students want to see a partial reopening of campus, they too are angling for a degree of online teaching.

After a summer of instability and confusion, a hybrid model provides the flexibility that should at least give both freshmen and returning students a stable framework to depend on. But there are still things you can do within your department to help improve communication and ease jitters.

What can my department do about it?

If you work in disability services, communication has probably been an issue throughout the Covid transition. As you gear up for a blended semester and continued online calls with students, think about how you can

  • Easily publicize your department’s activities for increased visibility throughout the semester
  • Engage with parents of freshmen, who will likely be taking a more active role in their child’s transition
  • Keep communication, through email, on calls or through documentation, as simple and clear as possible. Be prepared to communicate more regularly with students, too.
  • Liaise with faculty to understand teaching models and what support will be needed for students.
  • Prepared to be flexible with accommodations offered.
  • Improve student independence, particularly in study skills and organization.

We’ve covered this in more detail in a separate post, but it’s worth emphasizing the importance your office will have in smoothing the transition for students feeling the instability more than most.

No doubt you’ll have spent a good amount of time planning how to orient students during a blended learning semester. But if you’d like to see how other colleges are set up to do it, this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education contains some useful case studies.

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We’re currently offering free trials of Glean™ to run at a time that suits you. It could be the perfect addition to your support toolbox this semester.

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