BIS Blended Learning Project

This BIS Blended Learning Project Introduction will introduce the basic e-learning elements and outline a framework that may be helpful in thinking about blending them into your own courses.

Why Blend?

What 's a Blended Course?

Blended Course Components and Attributes


What's Next?

Why Blend?

As instructors we tend to rely on the tools with which we’re most comfortable. Handouts, overheads, black or whiteboards and simple conversation (in the Socratic style or otherwise) are the oxygen we breathe. When we think teaching, we think classrooms, lectures, and group discussions. These discussions may be focused on texts, video clips or student papers, but they occur between students and faculty in a particular room at a specific time. They last for a predetermined period after which everyone adjourns and returns to his or her real life. The thread of the course, if not the conversation, is picked up again, if we’re lucky, at the same time next week.

Irrefutably, this model works. We teach; students learn. But this isn’t the end of the story. Over the past twenty years a new set of pedagogical tools has been developed and perfected. These tools allow us to breach the constraints imposed by the familiar standard model. By removing geographical constraints, these tools – we’ll call them e-learning tools – allow students and faculty to learn from each other even when we’re not in the same place. By removing the temporal constraint of a three-hour class (with, e.g., a forty-five minute discussion slot), these tools allow us to deliberately and thoughtfully reflect on our colleagues’ observations before responding. In removing these constraints, they can push the learning experience beyond the classroom into our lives. A course can become an ongoing conversation rather than a series of discrete episodes.

This BIS Blended Learning Project Introduction will introduce the basic e-learning elements and outline a framework that may be helpful in thinking about blending them into your own courses.

Blended learning – combining traditional face-to-face strategies with e-learning technology – allows for synchronous, contiguous class meetings as well as both synchronous and non-synchronous, dispersed meetings. By combining them blended learning creates a more engaging, productive and powerful learning environment. Specific advantages include class discussions that continue without the constraints of a fixed class period, face-to-face discussions that build on prior online interaction, opportunities for students to review, reflect on and deepen ideas raised in online and class discussion, expanded opportunities for project collaboration and group meetings that are no longer geographically constrained and can be held online without the restrictions imposed by time, traffic and distance. There are many more.

The goal of the BIS Blended Learning Project is three-fold. Its first goal is to help BIS faculty members understand the potential of blended learning. The second goal is to support faculty members as they integrate e-learning elements into BIS courses. The final goal is to enhance the overall learning experience for both students and faculty.

Flexible and accessible learning opportunities are essential for our non-traditional UVA BIS students. As our program grows and the student body becomes even more geographically dispersed, it will become increasingly challenging to provide this flexibility and accessibility while maintaining the high academic standards that are a hallmark of the current BIS program. Blended learning will enable BIS to meet this challenge and advance to new levels the quality and reach of our program.

What’s a Blended Course?

A blended course (sometimes referred to as a “hybrid course”) couples familiar aspects of classroom meetings (lectures, full class discussion, group presentations, etc.) with e-learning elements such as asynchronous online discussions, synchronous net-meetings and virtual chats. The level of technology integration can vary from an occasional supplementary online discussion to fully integrated use of e-learning technology that replaces one or more face-to-face sessions.

Our experience suggests that, with proper support, training and course design, blended courses can offer an enhanced learning experience for both instructors and students in the BIS program. Online discussion permits a more considered approach to issues. It puts a premium on careful reading and evaluation rather than rapid response. Not only do online conversations tend to be deeper, they may also engage students who find face-to-face conversations in large groups intimidating. This diversity results in richer, as well as deeper, discussions. Second, e-learning technologies can be used to facilitate and encourage group work, group discussion and group projects. Finally, by eliminating one or more face-to-face encounters, a fully blended course reduces travel time for both students and instructors. For remote BIS centers this reduction can be significant over the course of semester allowing more time for content development and meaningful student interaction.

This Introduction outlines and discusses components and attributes of a blended course. The companion Model Elements document provides a catalog of field-tested blended learning examples.

Blended Course Components & Attributes

1. Groups

Group activities include group discussion (online or in person), group facilitation of face-to-face, Live Classroom or online discussion, group projects and group presentations. Geographically disbursed and face-to-face group encounters can be blended in a number of different ways. Among other achievements, online group discussion can

  • lay the groundwork for face-to-face group meetings or face-to-face class discussion
  • continue, develop and deepen face-to-face discussion that began in the classroom
  • prepare for group facilitation or group presentation

2. Class discussion

Traditional class discussions are necessarily synchronous. Online discussion can be either synchronous (as with Live Classroom or chat rooms) or asynchronous (as in typical online threaded discussion). Online discussions, although requiring some new pedagogical skills of the faculty member, offer a number of advantages over typical and traditional face-to-face discussions. First, they permit considered reflection. This often results in deeper and more interesting contributions to the discussion. Second, for this reason, they can more effectively engage students who require more time to process ideas. We know that introverted students often find it difficult to fully participate in face-to-face discussion and make only cursory contributions. Asynchronous online discussions are thus able to invite more students into the learning conversation. Third, the instructor is able to review and, if appropriate, direct the conversation at any time. Fourth, the instructor is able to privately communicate with individual students at any time and help the student focus on specific issues of particular importance. Fifth, unlike class meetings, there is a complete archive of online discussions. (Note point five and, to some degree, point four apply also to synchronous online discussion such as Blackboard chats and Live Classroom sessions.) Finally, online discussion can promote continuity between face-to-face meetings. Rather than leaving the conversation behind when they walk out the door, students can build on the ideas generated in class during the week and return with deeper insights into the material.

Online discussion can deepen and enrich face-to-face class meetings in many different ways.

  • First, open online discussion can function as preparation for face-to-face class meeting. A discussion prompt may be posed that helps students understand the context, background and terminology that will be required for a face to face discussion.
  • Second, online group discussions can be used to prepare for group-lead classroom encounters. In a situation in which traffic, time or distance pose problems for group preparation – as is the case with most adult learners – this is a significant advantage for a blended environment.
  • Third, open online discussion can be used to follow up class discussion. Class discussions always end with unresolved issues and points that require clarification. This is traditionally addressed with the instructor writing and circulating follow up thoughts or continuing discussion in the next class. A blended classroom allows students to continue what they’ve started in class while allowing (or forcing) time for reflection. As mentioned above, an online continuation also provides an environment in which less verbal or less extraverted students may feel more comfortable. As a consequence new perspectives and ideas may be injected into the discussion. By combining points two and three, it’s possible to extend discussions on difficult and significant topics over weeks or months without significant breaks.
  • Fourth, open or group online discussions can help students prepare for a writing assignment to be discussed in subsequent class meeting.

In general, an open or group online discussion provides a collaborative workshop environment that can be blended with face-to-face meeting in a variety of ways limited only by the imagination of the instructor.

3. Content

One of the many advantages of a blended course approach is the ability to infuse content delivery with a variety of media which are available anytime, anywhere. Video clips can be viewed before a class discussion; animated presentations (for example, a PowerPoint slide presentation coupled with voice narration) can be available as an overview “lecturette” of new content; web content can be directly integrated into a discussion; audio content – e.g., an NPR report or a lecture – can be the basis for an online discussion; students can maintain an online journal with appropriate links and graphics. In addition, in-class lecture notes can be posted for student review, along with other materials and articles which would typically have to be copied and handed out during class.

Workshops — focused collaborative skills-oriented sessions — can be run productively as asynchronous threaded discussions or synchronous face-to-face or Live Classroom sessions. Online workshops allow students to adequate time to focus on other students’ work and provide detailed feedback. We’ve experimented with a variety of workshop format examples some of which are presented in the companion document.

We continue to experiment with electronic journaling. One advantage of electronic journals is they permit selective disclosure of entries to other members of the class. For example, in a group intensive class, students may wish to share their journals only with group members. Electronic journaling also allows the instructor to monitor journal progress on an ongoing basis throughout the semester.


There follows a brief summary of some of the key e-learning technologies described above:

  • Blackboard is an online learning management system that delivers a course completely online or in a blended format or to simply support a face-to-face course.
  • Live Classroom is a synchronous two-way Internet based audio conferencing system designed for teaching and learning . An instructor can show a PowerPoint presentation, website, use drawing tools, conduct polls, as well as archive a session for later review. A Live Classroom can be added to any Blackboard course.
  • Camtasia allows an instructor to created narrated PowerPoint slide presentations and narrated screen shots.
  • Email
  • Video teleconferencing
  • Streaming video and audio technologies allow instructors to make audio and video clips over the web
  • Podcasting

What’s Next?

If you’re interested in blending e-learning technologies into one of your courses please contact either Glenn Kessler ( or Stephanie Scheer ( Training, instructional design and technical support will be available to any BIS faculty member interested in enhancing a course with any of these technologies. For more information please contact

Glenn Kessler,
Stephanie Scheer,