Blended not better

Queen’s offered two blended learning classes this fall, combining lectures with online learning. The movement is a necessary change as class sizes continue to grow, but the blended format has some inherent pitfalls.

Psychology 100 and Geography 101 are the two courses currently offered in the new format with five more to be developed by next fall.

Enrolment at Queen’s continues to climb. The 2009/10 school year had an increase of 1,367 undergraduate students compared to the year before. With a shortage of staff and resources, alternative methods of teaching need to be considered. The University needs to adapt to enormous class sizes that are more common each year.

Excessively large classes disengage students from their learning and makes participation difficult. Students feel like part of a crowd, which makes it challenging to express ideas. Hundreds of students together stifles conversation and makes a fluid discussion almost impossible.

Using technology to improve the problem is a logical step, but online courses as they currently stand aren’t the solution.

Having a professor who is intelligent, educated and available is an important resource that can’t be replaced. The immediacy of a face-to-face interaction is preferable to email interface. With lecture time decreased in blended learning courses, time spent interacting with professors is sacrificed.

Online courses also require self-discipline and independent study skills — qualities that are cultivated through years of study.

It will be harder for first-year students to succeed in blended and online classes compared to an upper-year student who has experience with assignments and exams. In the digital world, technological integration is inevitable, but it needs to be studied and considered to find the best teaching methods. Less time in the classroom is problematic, but so is having an excess of students.

The expectation of coming to university is to attend lectures and be part of an informed conversation, and the new changes don’t meet this expectation.

Students don’t pay ever-increasing tuition for classes they don’t actually attend.

Blended learning may not be better than strictly lecture-based classes, but as long as classes continue expanding, it may be the best way to cope with the growth.

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