December 10th, 2009

Blending Instructional Formats


An article in a recent issue of Change magazine reports on the transformation of general education courses at the University of North Texas. Faculty fellows, competitively selected and awarded with grant funds, redesign a general education course in ways that promote higher-level learning. Carefully constructed assessment plans are also developed for the course. I was especially interested in the blend of instructional approaches recommended for these course redesigns.

Large-group lectures (recommended for between 0 and 35% of the course) are best used

  • to “create interest and motivation and provide assurance that students can be successful” (p. 23)
  • not for the delivery of content, but for its clarification and expansion
  • to model how content is acquired in the field; showing how a chemist, political scientist or philosopher approaches a research question
  • for the presentation of concrete material that student can use to scaffold learning of the more difficult content

The media-rich interactive online environment (recommended for between 30 and 60% of the course) is best used

  • for acquiring the basics, so that class-time can be used for experiential learning
  • for provision of low-stakes assessments like quizzes and other forms of confidence-building practice
  • to chunk content so that short-term memory is less frequently overloaded
  • to provide concrete learning experiences with guidance

Small-group experiential learning (recommended for between 30 and 50% of the course) is best used to

  • get students interested in course content
  • provide the opportunity to analyze, evaluate and synthesize material
  • give students the chance to argue and defend new hypotheses
  • “introduce academic controversies”—the kind that encourage critical thinking and let students see issues from multiple perspectives

Reference: Turner, P. M. (2009). Next generation course. Change (November/December), 10-16.