Tools & Tips

Throughout the semester, we will be introducing a series of tools and tips to help enrich your online educational experience. The first two tips are designed to define “blended learning” and to articulate best practices for videoconferencing.

What is Blended Learning?

Coursera currently offers a free online course on the subject of blended learning. The course was designed by the leaders of the New Teacher Center in partnership with the Silicon Schools and the Clayton Christensen Institute (CCI). They use CCI’s definition of blended learning:

blended learning“Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns: (1) at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace; (2) at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home; (3) and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.”

There are various models for blended learning programs. The Religious Freedom Center will be using the Enriched Virtual Model defined as “a course in which students participate in required face-to-face learning sessions with their teacher of record and then are free to complete their remaining coursework remotely from the face-to-face teacher. Online learning is the backbone of student learning when the students are located remotely. The same person generally serves as both the online and face-to-face teacher. In Enriched Virtual Models, students seldom meet face to face with their teachers every weekday. This model differs from a fully online course because face-to-face learning sessions are more than optional office hours or social events; they are required.”

The instructors in this Coursera class have identified four characteristics of high-quality blended learning:

  1. Personalized: The course caters to each student’s needs
  2. Mastery-based: Students proceed only after they have mastered a core concept.
  3. High expectations: Students must have clearly defined and rigorous standards.
  4. Student ownership: Students are empowered with the skills, information and tools they need to manage their own learning.

Special thanks to our colleagues at the New Teacher Center in partnership with the Silicon Schools and the Clayton Christensen Institute for their exceptional leadership in this dynamic field.


Given the diversity of those enrolled in the blended learning course, the primary objective of the videoconference seminars is for participants to learn about one another and one another’s viewpoints. Instructors are encouraged to help students treat one another’s direct experience as a primary source text.

Up to 20 students may be enrolled in a single course. In order to facilitate the conversations over Zoom, instructors may use the Socratic seminar or fishbowl method to mediate these videoconferences. This means that the instructor may invite a small group of four to five students into a conversation for a set period while the larger group observes the encounter, then switch groups until everyone has been given adequate time to participate.

In terms of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, the verbal-linguistic, logical, and interpersonal intelligences are the primary skills instructors are seeking to cultivate during the videoconferences.

In terms of David Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory (LSI), the videoconferences are designed to help students engage in concrete experiences (CE), active experimentation (AC) and reflective observation. These experiences will primarily help students cultivate the following leadership attributes: accommodating (initiating and taking risks, being adaptable), converging (defining and solving problems, making decisions) and diverging (understanding people, brainstorming, being open-minded).

Students are encouraged to use the step-up-step-back method, in which those who have not spoken proactively introduce their perspective and those who have spoken more than twice can leave room for their colleagues to speak.

Students are also encouraged to turning off email and silence phones while videoconferencing. It is also important to silence all background noise by using the mute button when not speaking. For additional tips, see Northwestern University’s Videoconferencing Tips for Success and LifeSize’s list of Best Practices and its list of “11 Dos and Don’ts.”