Imagine you are lecturing in front of a full aula with over 100 students. The topic is parliamentary democracy in national context. A topic which, of course, is your favorite. The students are mainly freshmen at the University. Since you reaaaaaaaaly want the lecture to go well, you have bunkered down for days: reading up on the latest findings, figured out why these are interesting, and come up with a way to present them in a new and exciting format. When the day comes, you (think) you deliver the lecture in a pedagogical, innovative, and engaging way.

At the end of the lecture you notice that in the end you lost the attention from at least 50 percent of the students—what happened?

I believe that many of us, myself included, too often have designed our lectures without considering how diverse the student group is. The failure to recognize this diversity has in extension led to a search for the “the perfect lecture”, a holy-grail that––much like the holy-grail itself––likely does not exist. Realizing that I myself had set out on this quest, I decided to turn back and start over. Instead I asked myself why my (imagined) perfect lecture had drastically failed to reach so many students.  

Instead of trying to find the perfect lecture I sat down and thought about the lecture from the students’ perspectives. Who, in fact, are the students sitting in my class? And how could thinking of students in plural help explain my failure to capture their attention? I decided to do a very rough sketch of who the students in my class are (note: that this will, of course, look very different for everyone). Without digging too deep in the pedagogical literature or interviewing the students in my class, I divided them into four categories: (1) the no-shows, (2) the hard-to-follow-shows, (3) the regular-shows, (4) the unwillingly-bored-shows.

The no-shows are as the name suggest the once who do not, for a variety of reasons, come to class. The second group, the hard-to-follow-shows, are the students that, again for a verity of reasons, have difficulties following the lecture in its regular format. The third group, the regular-shows, are the students who I believe have the most to gain from a regular lecture. These are the students who are seeking guidance in the readings and want to understand the main arguments and concepts.  The fourth students, the unwillingly-bored students, are the students who find the traditional lecturing boring: they have already grasped the main part and the important concepts—the want engaging discussions, not a monologue.

Thinking of students in this plurality now makes it clearer that the search for the “perfect lecture” is a deed-end mission: the perfect lecture does not exist, because the perfect lectures is different for everyone.  This, I believe, is why berended learning, particularly online, is so important.

The next time I did my class I had these four student groups in mind. Rather than trying to address them all in a single lecture I tried to meet them on their own turfs. To do this I has both online videos and I held in-class meetings. Using the just-in-time-teaching pedagogy (fSee the Vanderbilt center for teaching for an overview) I had the students submit two types of questions based on the video lectures: clarifying questions (about basic concepts) and discussing questions (for in-depth learning). I took these questions in and designed the in-class sessions based on these, were: the first hour was spent on the clarifying questions and the second hour for discussion-questions.

The basic idea behind the structure was that each group would benefit from a particular part: the no-shows from the videos, the hard-to-follow from the clarifying part, the regular-shows from the general mix, and the unwillingly-bored from the discussion part. After the course I surveyed the students about their experience. The results were generally great: 90 percent of the students liked the format; 85 percent felt that they could ask more questions; and almost everyone felt that they could participate in the discussions.

What I take with me from this experience, and also what I want to contribute with to the discussion about blended learning, is that blended learning should always keep the plurality of the students in mind. The major advantage with blended learning in my mind is that it opens up the possibility to address students at multiple platforms and in with multiple pedagogical techniques. How to continue developing this approach in an online context is a topic for further discussion and reading: a discussion I have had with colleagues at the ONL, and a discussion that will continue long after the course has ended.

Just-in-time for Blended Learning