“I have seen many hours of video with you, [teacher], before I met you in the classroom. – And when I first saw you in class, it felt like meeting a celebrity.” – This was an experience shared by one of the students in the final session of a blended learning course in Strategic IT Management at the Copenhagen Business School (CBS). In this elective course, Associate Professors Till Winkler and Mathias Trier from the Department of Digitalization, used both online lecture videos and workshop-based classroom teaching. We conducted follow-up interviews with their students at the time the course was completed, to find out what students think about blended learning.
Background of this case study
A year ago, we published a case study on the early experience of professor Winkler in using video as part of his teaching, where he concluded: “it’s worth trying!” At that time, he had started to experiment with video for recording lectures and providing some parts of his course fully online, which allowed the students to learn – and him to fulfill his teaching obligations – irrespective of time and place. Inspired by his early experiences with teaching online, professor Winkler decided for the next edition of this course to apply a truly blended approach. He planned to flip the classroom by providing all required lecture content as videos prior to the class and using classroom time exclusively for case-based workshops that would target at maximizing student interaction.
For this blended course, he could reuse the videos from the previous year. The videos were hosted on the university’s video platform, Panopto, and could be easily copied to the new course folder. Each week, the students got access to the relevant videos via the university’s learning management system (LMS). Students were encouraged to watch the videos and complete small online activities such as polls, quizzes, and open-ended questions before each workshop class. While the lecture videos mostly covered conceptual content such as theoretical frameworks and definitions, in the case-based exercises students worked in groups to apply these concepts on a concrete problem of a case company, followed by a presentation to the class. Most of the classes took place in a studio-based learning environment at CBS that facilitates this type of workshop format.
What do students think about Blended Learning?
Our independent interviews with the students revealed that the additional efforts of the two lecturers were highly appreciated. The blended learning format of the course, with the videos provided online prior to class, was something they really liked because it gave them a mental structure of the field:
“The overview of what was to be learned over the week was very clear. The video material was divided into clear subcategories and topics. …it provided a lot of structure and a good overview. The videos served like an online library, where we could easily go back and select a topic and then watch the videos again, e.g. for the exam.”
The students also appreciated the clear-cut explanations of theories in the videos, each of which was no longer than 4-7 minutes. They could see the time the teacher had invested into preparing these videos. In their view, bringing things to the point really paid off in better quality of the content:
“In video lectures, the teacher is forced to be very specific. Explanations are clear-cut. There is not so much noise in the transaction of knowledge from the sender to the receiver.”
However, for some students the quick pace of the videos could also be somewhat overwhelming: “Sometimes it’s difficult to take notes. Many great points were presented, which I wanted to write down, but it was overwhelming at times.”
This is why it was good to have the in-class sessions to discuss any open questions. We also found out that students developed different ways to work with the videos. Some made extensive use of the pause button, or others slowed down the playback speed in the Panopto player to be able to take their own notes:
“When I try to learn about theory, I often feel that I need more frequent breaks. So in class, I often feel forced to keep on learning even though my brain is not ready for this. But, with the videos I could just pause, have 5 minutes break and then press play again. So, in that sense I can reflect on what was said in the video, take notes and see if I got everything right, and only then continue.”
In this sense, one key takeaway from our interviews is that teachers need to educate video learners about the possibilities to regulate the speed of the videos and to take individual notes. Notes can be taken directly in the Panopto user interface on the same page as the video player. Students can share individual notes by making them ‘public’, or they can keep them ‘private’. Notes can be edited or deleted and their visibility can be changed at any time.
As to the combination with the face-to-face workshops in the classroom, most students felt that the blended format was a very good mix. This is for both didactical and social reasons. In terms of didactics, most students emphasized that in-depth discussions, exercises, working on case studies, etc., simply works better in class. “I would like the theory lectures to be 100 percent on video, and the case studies should be in the classroom. Because in practice it becomes alive.”
In terms of social interaction, at a campus university like CBS, the students still like to meet their professors and their classmates in the real world: “If you would go for a purely online course, then I think, I would miss the physical aspect and interaction with the other classmates. So, the combination of having both – online and offline – that is what made it strong for me.”
Looking ahead: Implications for Teachers
The general view reflected by the students of this course was that blended learning with video and classroom-based workshops was more effective than either of the other two options – only traditional classroom teaching or only video – alone:
“The combination of having the theory more or less online with video and the practical cases offline – that is a good combination”.
Consequently, it is not surprising that many of the students expressed their hope that more courses at their university would adopt a blended format:
“If I should improve anything, I would make all lectures at CBS like this!” Another student concurs: “I liked these videos a lot and I wish all lectures at the university were videos.”
For teachers, this means they may need to rethink their ways of facilitating learning at university and find a good split between what can be best provided online and what can be done better in the classroom. As the experiences by CBS professors Winkler and Trier show, one way of making this split is by moving conceptual knowledge into short and concise online videos, while increasing the time for applying this knowledge in the classroom in the form of case-based workshops. However, teachers may need to find their own approach to the blended format depending on their specific subject of expertise as some content may lend itself better to the online medium than other.
What seems to be evident, though, is that students see advantages in blended learning and that this teaching method can facilitate improved learning outcomes. This view was, in fact, shared by the teachers. When asking professors Winkler and Trier for the performance of their students at the final exams, they responded: “We saw lots of good results. Compared to last year the overall performance was at least equal, if not better.”