Case Studies on Digital Collaboration and Blended/Hybrid Learning

When the Associated Colleges of the South and the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education issued our joint call for case studies in blended learning in the liberal arts, it was with the conviction that we needed examples. In a time when many liberal arts institutions are grappling with the exciting possibilities—and the many challenges and uncertainties—of online learning, one of the best resources we can offer one another is our stories: detailed accounts of the many ways in which liberal arts faculty and staff are creatively envisioning, implementing, and learning from the myriad possibilities now open to higher education through flipped classrooms, course sharing, collaboration software, massive open online courses, digital databases, and digital publication platforms. While each example speaks to its own particular context, together they can help the community assess the value of blended learning for liberal arts education and articulate what a uniquely liberal arts approach to online learning would look like.

In issuing our joint call, we also sought to gather a set of case studies that, together, might reveal patterns and practices “that could advance the liberal education community’s understanding of how to collaborate successfully.” Our authors have produced a diverse and thought-provoking range of case studies, offering detailed accounts of a variety of projects and programs. Informed by pedagogical theory, they offer concrete examples of how blended and hybrid learning works in the field and also shed light on the challenges and opportunities that are part and parcel of collaboration.

As we reviewed these case studies, we saw several patterns emerge, each converging around a key question about the impact and sustainability of blended learning in the liberal arts.

  • What is the impact of “blending” a course? Why blend?
  • What kinds of partnerships create meaningful blended learning experiences?
  • When does inter-institutional collaboration make sense, and how can it be made to work?
  • What ingredients are needed to build successful, sustainable blended learning projects and programs?

Beginning now and continuing through late summer, we will publish our authors’ case studies in sets organized around these questions. We will then offer our own analysis of the patterns of practice that emerge across the four sets, with an eye toward generating a productive discussion about what it takes to establish strong, enduring collaborations in the digital liberal arts.

Why Blend?

Our first set of case studies focuses on classroom experimentation. These four case studies address an essential question: why blend? Our authors discuss how they used digital communications technologies to create new opportunities for student learning outside the traditional space of the classroom through flipped, blended, and parallel course designs. Central to each case study is the question of why liberal arts faculty, already charged with considerable teaching responsibilities, should invest the additional time and resources needed to “blend” their courses. Each case study addresses this question in a different way (pointing to different benefits and challenges), but all share a common proposition: that blending can create a deeply engaging learning experience that is consistent with, and can even exemplify, the interactive and interpersonal pedagogy that distinguishes liberal arts institutions.[1] This first set comprises the following:

Where Do I Find Partners?

Our second grouping of case studies explores the formation and function of the partnerships that support digital collaborations. As Diana Oblinger has noted, creating meaningful digital learning experiences requires the coordination of many kinds of expertise, and is often most successfully achieved through a team-based approach.[3] In this installment, our authors explore what happens when faculty members, technology professionals, and library experts work together across organizational boundaries to build courses and programs. Their case studies explore questions such as how best to introduce technology training (for students as well as faculty) into course projects; what practices and procedures can enable fruitful exchange and collaboration between faculty and staff; and how digital literacy—which one of our authors defines as the capacity for “ finding, analyzing, creating, and sharing information using computational tools”—should be integrated into the college-wide curriculum. The case studies included in this edition are:

When Can Institutions Accomplish More Together?

As our second set of case studies makes clear,  partnerships that combine diverse areas of expertise with shared goals and the opportunity for exchange form a strong foundation for successful collaborative work. But when does it make sense to extend those partnerships to collaboration with another institution, and what are the barriers—and the benefits—that should be weighed in doing so? Our third set of case studies poses these questions in the context of two inter-institutional initiatives, both of which bring together students and faculty in widely varying educational contexts to create an enriched and exciting learning community. Our authors weigh the difficulties of inter-institutional collaboration—working across different academic calendars, technological infrastructures, institutional missions, and even linguistic and cultural differences—against the demonstrated benefits to student learning and curricular development. Moreover, because each case study derives from an ongoing academic program, each case study helps us begin to identify the key ingredients that sustain continued collaborative work. The case studies featured here include:

How Do We Shape Sustainable Collaborations?

Our previous case studies have addressed the important questions about the impact of digital collaborations, the balance of pedagogical and technical expertise, and the benefits of extending partnerships to other institutions. One remaining question—one that is critical in a time of limited resources and increasing calls for innovation—is how to ensure the sustainability of such collaborations. Our final set of case studies turns to collaborative projects that, through multiple generations and iterations, have begun to emerge as collaborative programs. A key theme running throughout this set of case studies is how to sustain the energy, excitement, and impact of a new project, as our authors explore the complex negotiation of technological tools, interdepartmental partnerships, curricular needs, and institutional strategies and resources. Our final set of case studies includes:

We thank these authors for the time and effort they put into producing their case studies and for their willingness to share their experiences with the readers of Transformations. We also thank the peer reviewers who provided extensive, insightful feedback to them in an open, collegial process. Peer reviewers for our first set of case studies include: Diane Boyd (Furman University); Emy Nelson Decker (Atlanta University Center / Robert J. Woodruff Library); Robert Jordan (Colorado State University); and Mike Winiski (Furman University). Peer reviewers for our second set of case studies include: Matt Jabaily (Rhodes College); Anna Lohaus (Rollins College); Laura Pasquini (University of North Texas); Carmel E. Price (University of Michigan-Dearborn); Jim Proctor (Lewis and Clark College); Carrie Schulz (Rollins College); Janet Simons (Hamilton College); Paul Sotherland (Kalamazoo College); and David Wessner (Davidson College). Peer reviewers for our third set of case studies include: Bryan Bibb (Furman University), Lisa Gates (Middlebury College), Aline Germain-Rutherford (Middlebury College), and Stacy Pennington (Rhodes College). Peer reviewers for our fourth set of case studies include: Bridget A. Draxler (Monmouth College); Joe Murphy (Kenyon College); Hannah Schell (Monmouth College); Tom Scheinfeldt (University of Connecticut); and Kathryn Tomasek (Wheaton College).

The members of the Transformations editorial board provided invaluable guidance in shaping our full collection of case studies, and we also want to acknowledge their contributions to the development of Transformations and the Academic Commons more generally. Many thanks to Bob Johnson (Rhodes College); Andrea Nixon (Carleton College); John Ottenhoff (College of Idaho); and Michael Roy (Middlebury College). Finally, we would like to thank the Teagle Foundation, whose generous support helped to bring this project to fruition.

We hope you find these case studies instructive and inspiring, and we encourage you to offer our authors your feedback and ask them questions. We also encourage you to stay tuned for our next two sets of case studies, which will be published in August.

Sincerely,

Amanda Hagood
Guest Editor, Transformations
Director of Blended Learning Programs
Associated Colleges of the South

Grace Pang
Editor, Transformations
National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education


Notes

[1] This finding is consistent with that of the meta-analysis of studies about online learning conducted by the U.S. Department of Education in 2010. The analysis found that, in terms of achieving stated learning outcomes, hybrid/blended courses outperformed either traditional or fully-online courses, in large measure due to the increased amount of time students spent with course materials. See “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning” (http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf).

[2] Rebecca Frost Davis, “Blended Learning at Small Liberal Arts Colleges.” http://www.academiccommons.org/2014/01/blended-learning-at-small-liberal-arts-colleges/

[3] Diana Oblinger, “The Myth About Online Course Development.” Educause Review Online. January 1, 2006. http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/myth-about-online-course-development