A virtual analysis

A virtual analysis

By Michael Patrick Rutter, Harvard Correspondent

Pilot study put blended-format courses to the test

A new analysis of four blended-format courses taught last fall offers practical guidance for faculty members interested in fresh pedagogical approaches.

The pilot study led by the Bok Center for Teaching and Learning and released today after months of checks and balances showed that students responded most to lesson structure and execution, placed a premium on person-to-person interaction, and found redundancies between in-class and online instruction.

A related report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (GSE) that focused on a single undergraduate history course also covered in the Bok study had similar findings.

The Bok study analyzed student responses to four undergraduate General Education courses taught in the fall of 2013 that integrated online components into the classroom: “The Einstein Revolution,” “Concepts of the Hero in Classical Greek Civilization,” “China,” and “Science and Cooking.” Each course had run previously in a residential format and some had been offered fully online via edX, and the courses differed in size, classroom type, and pedagogical practice.

The blended versions of the classes used a variety of online learning experiences at different stages of development. The online content was developed through HarvardX to assess how each class integrated the online elements, evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, and gauge student reactions to the format.

“Conducting extensive research on the use of digital tools to improve teaching and learning on campus, in fact, was one of the chief goals for creating HarvardX,” said Rob Lue, faculty director of HarvardX and director of the Bok Center.

“What we really ended up doing was coming up with some strategic pointers on how to thoughtfully implement blended courses,” said lead investigator Jenny Bergeron, director of educational research and assessment at the Bok Center. “The beauty of new digital teaching tools is that they provide us with the type of rich data that we haven’t been able to readily study before. This first iteration was a learning-by-doing adventure.”


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