Issue #2, February 2007


"The Blender" is designed to keep you current on blended and distance learning initiatives in BIS. Comments and submissions are welcome. See our website for additional information at

Stay tuned for information about our first BIS Blended Learning Workshop to be held in March.


Dispatch From the Trenches - Matthew White Reports

Distance Learning Update

The How & Why of "Blending"

Additional Resources

Upcoming Issues

Live Classroom screenshot from ISLS 302


Dispatch from the Trenches - Matthew White Reports

I just wanted to report that things seem to be going very well with my class, and I am incredibly grateful for the help and training that you all have given me over the past months.  I’ll take a moment to share a few comments here having just passed the gateway of the new semester.

 With your help and inspiration, and with the inspiration provided by the dedication of Charlotte and Mary to the fuller integration of technology into our classroom experiences, I have decided to make Blackboard the central focus of week-to-week writing assignments in my class, which will be concentrated in an ongoing course journal kept by each student (our other major writing assignment will be an end-of-term project in a more traditional mode). Each week, students will have a required writing assignment in their personal journals to comment first on our last week’s class discussion, and second on their upcoming reading for the next class. 

The students seemed very interested in this format last night during our first class meeting, and I’m becoming increasingly convinced that this will provide the valuable “bridge” that is so needed in a “one-night-a-week” format that we use in our courses for BIS.  The problem, as I was suggesting to my students last night, is that in a class like this, they inevitably end up being way out “ahead” of the classroom discussions in terms of their reading – for example, they are reading Durkheim this week, but we won’t be addressing the text together until our next class.  In other words, there is a gap that is created by the once-a-week format that can be a problem, especially when you are choosing texts that are difficult and challenging, as they are especially so in the class I am currently undertaking. 

I think the journal will prove to be a fantastic bridging mechanism by helping them see connections from one week to the next.  My hope also is that it will foster in-class discussion, by allowing students to struggle with and crystallize their thoughts on each week’s reading before they ever enter the classroom.  It also will provide what I would like to call a centrifugal writing environment.  As opposed to having a relatively small number of discrete reaction papers on particular readings, students will get many more chances to write, with an opportunity to put their thoughts into words every week of the course.  I will be evaluating their writing just like I would any other assignment, except this will be, in essence, an ongoing writing project to which they continue to add, as opposed to a few discrete papers as I would have planned otherwise.  I’ve made it clear that I still expect strong writing in these assignments, but it is nonetheless a different feeling and environment from hard-copy formal papers too, and I certainly hope it will be a little less threatening and more conducive to students sharing challenging ideas, questioning established boundaries, and presenting their real reactions to what they read and learn, which is always a challenge to provoke. 

We’ll also be using Blackboard for more typical purposes, most notably posting assignments and links to readings for each week of class, and important also for discussion boards. 

Let me close, if I may, by sharing one last part of the course that I hope may be unique, and which illustrates what I hope we can achieve in pursuit of dynamic dialogue between seriousness and fun, and between online and in-person components of the course – our course “spirit ball.”  The course "spirit ball" is a miniature UVA Cavaliers basketball that will be present in our classroom during each of our course meetings this semester. We'll call it the "spirit" ball because it is going to serve as a visual and symbolic representation of the spirit of our university -- the spirit of free inquiry and exchange of ideas that would fulfill the noblest ambitions of the long line of scholars and thinkers that have preceded us at the institution.

Getting to keep the spirit ball personally during any given class meeting will be a symbolic sign of a student’s dedication to learning and to establishing an active and dynamic course environment. There will be two ways that they can get "possession" of the spirit ball. The first will be through winning a weekly current events trivia contest, posted on Blackboard. The individual who wins the trivia contest for any given week will get the spirit ball at the beginning of the next class. During the rest of class, the spirit ball can be given as a special reward to anyone who makes a particularly good contribution to our class discussion by making an insightful comment, drawing attention to an important issue, or even just asking a really good question. The only people who can give possession of the spirit ball to a new holder will be the instructor and the current holder of the spirit ball. People who have held the spirit ball will then have their accomplishment added to the spirit ball honor list maintained on our Blackboard website.  An added incentive to our current events/news trivia contest will be a weekly award of a bag of candy to the winner, and a possible grand prize of a Best Buy gift card at the end of the semester!

Anyway, I hope you all can see that I am having a lot of fun in the midst of struggling to try to put together a good semester for my students in the class, and I really want to thank you and everyone involved in providing the technological support that allows us to work as diligently and as effectively as we can to build up the resources we offer to our BIS students.


Distance Learning Update

Charlotte Matthews and Glenn Kessler are hosting BIS's second distance learning experiment this semester, the liberal studies seminar "Why Do We Believe the Things We Do?" with nine students from Tidewater and three from Charlottesville.

Blackboard is the "electronic glue" that unites members of this dispersed collaborative learning community. Participants also join in a synchronous web-based discussion through Live Classroom at the end of each week to reflect on the readings and posts to the week's discussion forums.

According to Charlotte, a first time distance learning instructor, "like Wednesday's snow, which made the world glisten unexpectedly, teaching through the interface of Blackboard allows an unexpected luminosity." Says Glenn, "I continue to be amazed by the depth and authenticity of the Blackboard discussions. They seem to bring out the best in many of our students."

For more information contact Charlotte Mattews ( or Glenn Kessler (


The How & Why of "Blending"

A short BIS Blended Learning Project Introduction explaining the what, why and how of “blended” or “hybrid” learning is now available at the BIS office. The booklet, along with other information about our voyage into blended learning, is also available on the Blended Learning Project Website at


Additional Resources

Stay tuned ...

In the next issue another blended learning pioneer will report on his or her journey into the blended learning world.

Please direct questions and comments to Glenn Kessler ( or Stephanie Scheer Conley (