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We have been wrestling with how to best define the line between a traditional face-to-face course with web assistance and the online modality of blended learning.  A number of faculty in traditional classes are leaning heavily on the LMS to handle exams, discussions, etc… beyond the scope of what we would consider a face-to-face course.


We would appreciate any feedback on how your institution: defines the difference in modality; delineates what activity is appropriate to a web-assisted modality as well as what is not appropriate; and how you let students know what to expect from a given course when signing up for a ‘traditional’ course that may have online components.







Doug Kahn

Assistant Dean for Instructional Technology

Suffolk County Community College

533 College Road

Selden, NY 11784





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When we defined “blended” for the Montana University System a few years ago, we specified that the online components REPLACE some face-to-face meeting time. Web-assisted/web-enhanced courses use web tools but continue with f2f meetings as usual. Also, in a blended course, some f2f interaction or meeting is required. (We could have used the term “hybrid” instead of “blended” but it didn’t seem worth much discussion/argument.) Blended, then, requires both forms of activity.


At the system level, there was some sentiment to not even define web-enhanced or web-assisted, because more and more faculty were using online tools in their on-ground classes. I argued to keep web-enhanced as an officially named category in order to have something to point to if a professor claimed to be teaching online but was really  just using online tools in the traditional classroom. One of the reasons for creating these definitions and implementing them in the SIS was to provide truth-in-advertising to students. BTW, codes delineating delivery format are already built into Banner; an institution just needs to define the terms, identify how to use or implement them, and then train staff on applying them.


I can provide copies of both our campus’s and the system’s official definitions, if you contact me off-list. They are neither large files nor confidential, but I expect not everyone wants them. Delineating what activities are “appropriate” (or not) for a web-assisted modality is a question of pedagogy best answered at the department or even individual instructor level, though there does need to be some way to inform student if use of online tools is required. HOW a course is taught starts raising questions of academic freedom, I think.


Peg Wherry

Director of Online and Distance Learning

Extended University Montana State University

128 EPS Building, P. O. Box 173860

Bozeman, MT 59717-3860

Tel (406) 994-6685

Fax (406) 994-7856




Let me take a devil's advocate position on this issue:  it's going to be hard to come up with a clear line in this gray area because it's a distinction without much of a difference.

Or to look at it another way: to whom does it matter?  Ideally, should not the choice of medium be driven by content or topic, by the instructor's preference for method of delivery of that content, by students' preference for acquiring that material, and last of all by IT's categorization concerns?  Admitting, of course, that most content permits more than one delivery method, that instructors' preferences, and those of students, are influenced by many extra-pedagogical issues (like unfamiliarity with alternatives, including newer technologies and how best to make use of them).

It's pretty clear to understand preferences for all-F2F courses, or all-online; but in the broad range between these two extremes, is there a meaningful difference between 40/60 and 60/40?

Does anyone have any evidence that is more than merely anecdotal?

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Point taken.  The percentage split will never be easy or possibly meaningful.


Our issue is level setting student expectations.  We have had students show up in traditional face to face classes with web-assistance/enabling (euphemize as you like) where the instructor is using the LMS to quiz, discuss, drop box, etc… almost all the graded elements.  For one blind student who enrolled and has challenged us, that is truly not a traditional face to face class – and we were lucky that our ADA folks were able to work with the student effectively to solve the problem – albeit with extra time in labs on campus.


The issue we are wrestling with is making certain that the college catalogue and course schedule are accurately describing the ‘real’ modality of courses so that students do not fall into courses they lack technical skills, equipment, access, etc… to complete.  We also need to be sure with the growing use of technology that we are truly 508/ADA compliant.  We know that both of these are small percentages of folks, however, ignoring them is irresponsible on our parts as educated instructors and administrators.


The second aspect we are trying to get a handle on is:  at what point does the new online faculty member need training, both technical and pedagogical?  If they are simply hanging content out for student reference for a face to face course, that does not seem particularly relevant.  However, if they are going to have quizzes, discussions, etc… it seems they should understand the differences between online and face to face best practices.  How do we measure the tipping point:  percentage of content, percentage of graded elements, use of specific tools, etc…?


We believe we are on the cusp of a major paradigm shift in online education.  One that will force us to re-examine the modalities, faculty development, student supports, etc…  As institutions sail from the undercurrent of ‘traditional’ online programs into the undercurrent of the new online world, how do we avoid stalling – and losing relevance and momentum?  Today’s students are likely to jump more readily from one program to another to meet their immediate needs.






Ideally, and from a pedagogical perspective, I agree with Glenn. Delivery format shouldn’t matter as long as it fits the content. And it doesn’t really matter very much whether a blended course is defined as 60/40 or 40/60 . . . or 80/20 or 75/25.


But Doug makes a very good point: students need to know what to expect. If a student expects a class to meet solely online, any required in-person meeting is going to be a surprise, and maybe—depending on circumstances—a real challenge. Conversely, as in Doug’s example, a student expecting a face-to-face class may find the use of technology a similarly unwelcome challenge. I also agree with Doug’s point that faculty training and support must be appropriately provided.


And then there are the dreary administrative reasons for such labels. Our state’s Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education wants to know how many online courses we are teaching, how many students are enrolled in them, etc. In my first months here at Montana State, a dean wanted to know how many online courses were being offered from her college. Before we implemented a definition of “online” (and to a lesser extent “blended”), there was no way to answer that question. The College Board, Peterson’s Guides, ACT, U. S. News and other organizations also want to know how many online courses and programs we offer (and, unfortunately, they do not all use the same percentages). The number of blended course offerings has real implications for campus space utilization, and the use of online teaching and learning tools matters to those who manage campus networks and bandwidth. On our campus, the concept of web-enhanced or web-supported face-to-face classes has become almost meaningless as more faculty use some element of the LMS each semester. Almost—but not quite. My personal reason for hanging onto that label is that I can imagine a scenario in which there are certain incentives for teaching online and a professor claims access to those incentives just for using a few LMS tools in a traditional on-ground class.


A special word about blended: there is real administrative interest in adopting that mode here, but I argue that blended delivery must be implemented strategically. If it’s adopted strictly by preference or convenience, then eventually there will be very few classes taught in buildings on Fridays, which certainly doesn’t address any space utilization issues.


I deliberately used the word “dreary” to describe administrative reasons for defining and using labels for delivery modes, because they ARE dreary. And tedious. Maybe once online teaching and learning become universally adopted, we won’t need to report enrollments as sorted by delivery mode. Until then, however, it does matter how we sort things out.


Peg Wherry

Online and Distance Learning

Extended University Montana State University

128 EPS Building, P. O. Box 173860

Bozeman, MT 59717-3860

Tel (406) 994-6685

Fax (406) 994-7856




I would hope that we are at a point in instructional technologies, teaching and learning where it should be assumed that all courses would use some sort of online technology, whether it  involves: e-communication or e-content or e-assessment etc.


For any delivery modality it’s important for students to really understand what they are signing up for so they can plan their schedules, life, and work requirements.


For online courses, I think it’s important to put a stake in the ground and say that they are entirely online without the requirement for any campus meetings.  Otherwise students that sign up for an online course because they cannot travel to campus will be forced to drop the class and that is a disservice.  If the only requirement is a physical proctored assessment, then there should be options for that student who cannot drive to a campus such as online proctoring tools or proctor locations that are local.  This could also include a revision to the pedagogical assessment strategies for the course.


For hybrid courses it seems that the definition of 50% in seat seems pretty common.   Also, I like the name hybrid much better than blended because based on ECAR reports and my own experience, “blended” refers to technology infused traditional classes, which should be the norm anyway.  Also based on the recent 2013 ECAR report nearly 75% of students indicated that this is a preferred learning method whereby the class is traditional but online resources, including communication exists in the learning management system or online with open ended comments in the survey including a “require the teachers” to use theme. 


For traditional classes,  I’m not sure it’s necessary to place a percentage as it should be assumed that online resources will play a role in all teaching/learning.  Or in other words I think we are at a point where all classes should be web-enhanced.  If a class session is cancelled or held online instead of meeting, then one question I have is:  How are class cancellations or meeting requirements handled right now?  Can a faculty member simply say we are not meeting on this date, this date, and this date, etc. without reporting it to the administration?  If so, it would seem to follow other or existing campus policies.


For comparison, it appears that:


EDUCAUSE = Most common definition for “hybrid” was 50% online based on an ELI report from 2010.

SLOAN = “Online” is 80% or more online and they typically have no face to face meeting requirements.  “Hybrid” is where a substantial portion of content is delivered online with 30-79% delivery online.

ITC = same as Sloan

MCCVLC = Hybrid is 50% or less of class offered online.



Eric your institution: defines the difference in modality;

We do not yet use percentages to define modality because we presently only offer online or face-to-face courses. We do not yet formally offer hybrid courses. However, an online shell is automatically created and populated in our LM for every courses we offer. Most face-to-face faculty take advantage of the LMS, but primarily as a way to disseminate course information (e.g., syllabi, instructions), content (video-taped lectures, especially in flipped classrooms), submitting assignments, facilitating assessments, and conducting office hours (especially for faculty who travel a lot or live far from campus).


Some of our face-to-face courses show just as much activity in the LMS as designated online courses. The flexibility that the LMS offers is no doubt one of the reasons. If a class day is cancelled in one of the face-to-face-courses, most faculty don’t try to make it up in person; they move that day’s lesson online.


I push face-to-face faculty to move most of their materials online for a couple reasons: a) as a way of scaffolding the transition from face-to-face teaching to online teaching for faculty; it’s a smoother segue from some faculty, specially those hesitant or nervous about moving online; and b) as part of a larger disaster plan; it would allow us to continue  offering courses, if campus was ever shut down due to a disaster, which we suffered five years when many of the classrooms and administrative offices burned down.


...delineates what activity is appropriate to a web-assisted modality as well as what is not appropriate;


Like Eric, I strongly believe if it’s an online course, there should be absolutely no face-to-face requirement. However, I’ve also pushed our faculty to allow our online students the opportunity to sit in on face-to-face courses, which to my surprise, many of our faculty were very, very supportive. Like most schools, a large part of our online population live close enough to come to campus (but can’t, primarily due to work), so we invite them.


The biggest hurdle was final exams. It took a minute to convince one faculty to let go of mandatory face-to-face proctored exams for some courses. The key was showing them assignment design strategies they can use to reduce the chance of plagiarism and how spread “the weight” around so that exams were not so high-stakes.


...and how you let students know what to expect from a given course when signing up for a ‘traditional’ course that may have online components.


At this point, our entire student population is now used to and expect that their face-to-face courses to have an online component; it’s rare to find a course (undergraduate or graduate) that doesn’t have an online component.


The biggest issue for me, and what I’m dedicating a lot of my time to these days, is making sure our online student support services (e.g., tutoring, academic advising, career counseling, psychological counseling, church ministry, etc.) is as robust as our face-to-face offerings.


One of the best perks about our school is that we allow “crossover” at every level (undergraduate and graduate) and with almost every course. This means that students in face-to-face programs can take any of our online courses to satisfy requirements and vice versa. That was a hard battle to win, but in the end, folks realized it provided students with a “hassle free” experience, which has been our mantra—“Hassle-Free U”—this school year.


Corey Davis

Director of Online Learning

Our Lady of the Lake University

411 SW 24th  St. – MAIN 416F

San Antonio, Texas 78207

(t) 210-431-3915

(c) 432-363-4145

(f) 210-431-3945