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Sharing Best Practices in the New World of Blended Learning

The 2020 calendar year has brought many novel experiences in teaching for most faculty. Our campuses have been closed for months and we have been forced to move our classes online. Teaching online has brought into stark reality the complexities of delivering high quality learning experiences remotely. Not only did we have to adjust to a new technology, we had to cope with the realities of teaching and learning in home environments. My wife (who is also an academic) and I had to create separate spaces for our own teaching and online meetings. Luckily we had enough spare rooms in our home and no young children or pets at home to be able to do so easily. I know that many other faculty colleagues struggled to balance their personal situations with the demands of online teaching. A similar situation was also true for students. Most students had to balance their personal and learning contexts. I had many situations when my EMBA students brought their young babies along with them to class. I welcomed them and also at times involved their children into the class proceedings as appropriate. We experimented, we adjusted and we innovated to be able to do our best in a difficult situation.

Over the fall semester (2020), many universities including my own (Cornell University) switched to blended teaching. We have garnered a few important lessons about the spread of Covid on campus. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher education outlined the five important lessons in this regard[1]:

  • With precautions in place, classrooms and other formal on-campus spaces aren’t important vectors of viral spread
  • Off-campus social gatherings are the top drivers of coronavirus at colleges
  • The spread isn’t entirely off campus, residence halls are also sources of infections
  • Entry and surveillance testing for students and faculty are critical
  • College-student outbreaks can lead to infections and deaths among more vulnerable people in the community

With Covid vaccines on the horizon and with no major outbreaks of Covid caused by blended teaching, academic leaders are now looking to the horizon where academic life returns to a “new normal”. There is general consensus that the widespread use of remote learning and its relative (and for some observers, surprising) success has made it clear that teaching will evolve to a more blended format even as the fear of Covid infections recedes to a small and manageable threat. If blended learning is indeed the future of academic institutions, then faculty will need to invest in new skills and curriculum to become excellent in the new normal. This is where GBSN hopes to play an important role in helping upgrade faculty skills and spread good practices amongst faculty of how to excel in blended teaching and learning.

The need and desire for learning and development has been around for as long as humanity exists. Thousands of years have nurtured methodologies and practices across the world and has given rise to the profession of teachers and professors, facilitators and coaches. With the Covid crisis, many of the profession’s assumptions have been challenged, and now pedagogy has to be re-thought and new practices have to be developed. GBSN will be launching in mid-January 2021 a series of ten webinars is to help interested faculty to join the journey of developing new and exciting ways to teach and develop the futures of students.

GBSN, in collaboration with some partners will be conducting a series of workshop-style webinars illustrating practices at leading institutions across the world and beyond. Each seminar will present a variety of practices on particular aspects of online learning and development – such as managing student engagement and stimulating case discussions. Together we will take the time to explore the nature and dynamics of each of these practices, learn how to develop them, inquire on technology and processes and build a portfolio of progressive practices that will allow faculty to succeed in a blended education environment. The option to obtain a GBSN certificate by those faculty who have participated in all ten workshop webinars will also be available.

This is a unique opportunity for faculty from GBSN member schools to participate in an active and stimulating discussion on how to maintain, adapt and even improve pedagogy leveraging the emerging technology landscape. We will not be looking at the latest high-tech examples, but at practical methods and approaches that are easily accessible across regions globally.  

Please look out for details in the coming days and do feel free to reach out to me or to Dan LeClair, CEO of GBSN if you would like to contribute and participate in the workshops. This is yet another way in which we can come together as a community and help build better futures for our institutions and our students.

Soumitra Dutta is a Professor of Management at Cornell University and the Chair of the Board of Directors for GBSN. Previously he was the Founding Dean of the SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell and Chair of AACSB Intl. He is also the President and Co-Founder of the Portulans Institute.

Email: sd599@cornell.edu; Twitter: @soumitradutta; LinkedIn: soumitra-dutta

[1] https://www.chronicle.com/article/the-5-biggest-lessons-weve-learned-about-how-coronavirus-spreads-on-campus