When I was a graduate assistant at the University of Iowa, I was grateful for the opportunity to assist professors in the Education Leadership & Policy Studies department at the College of Education with their courses that involved a blended learning component. Blended learning in this context means that the professors taught a course in which students met synchronously in the classroom and online (via Adobe Connect).
My first experience with blended learning was in the summer of 2010. From that summer through the spring semester of 2012, I developed confidence and skills to assist and lead courses using Adobe Connect, which is a web conferencing program that enables multiple users from multiple locations to join a session or classroom.
I also gained the experience of using Adobe Connect in various classrooms ranging from high-tech with multiple wall-mounted cameras to low-tech where a laptop computer was the only access point to Adobe Connect. In my current job as instructional designer, I have used and helped faculty learn how to use Adobe Connect and how to best integrate the technology into their curriculum.
Lastly, I used Adobe Connect to interview one of my research participants in South Korea. It has proven to be a useful data collection tool as it records both audio and video.
My current employer, Kirkwood Community College, is working on securing a college-wide license for Zoom that will enable all faculty to use the web conferencing software for their classes. Since the winter of 2013/14, I have been developing my skills with Zoom on desktop, laptop, and mobile devices. My department, KCELT, is developing technology integration training sessions for all Kirkwood faculty.
Skype & Google Hangouts
Skype and Google Hangouts are the more popular and more easily accessible Internet-video conference (IVC) programs. I have been using both for personal and professional purposes for years. Although not ideal for continuous classroom usage, I have found Skype and Google Hangouts to be more helpful for professional development purposes, connecting with other teachers and researchers from around the world.
For my pilot study, I used Skype to interview a sojourning ELT in Germany. When I was in Russia serving as a Senior English Language Fellow, I used Skype to connect two elementary school classrooms from different cities.
I have discovered that many sojourning ELTs have used Google Hangouts to share and exchange their ideas and experiences and I wish to join these communities soon. The advantage of Google Hangouts is that it can be immediately broadcast and later published on YouTube.
Blending Learning without Video Conferencing
I have found success with developing blended learning professional development opportunities for Kirkwood Community College faculty. Our department (KCELT) has found that, during the academic year, it is difficult to get a group of faculty together in the same place at the same time. To remedy this, I developed a blended learning model that begins with an online component mainly for the purpose of forming and maintaining a discussion forum. Throughout a semester, I collaborate with the faculty to determine a time and place for three face-to-face meetings. This has shown to be more convenient for the faculty, and it provides me the opportunity to learn more about the Kirkwood Community College campuses and regional centers in the seven counties in Eastern Iowa that it serves.
The best working blended learning model starts with an online discussion forum for introductions, discussing our expectations for the course, and setting up a time and place for our first face-to-face meeting. The next four weeks have two or three online discussion forums with two face-to-face meetings occurring within the same time frame. The last week is reserved for a final face-to-face meeting for final reflection, which includes formal and informal evaluations of the course and the experience as a whole. This model has shown to have a higher success rate with retaining interested faculty throughout the duration of the course.