Let’s talk: how to connect with your students in a blended learning environment

Teaching is about connection, and blended learning offers educators the chance to create a dialogue with students. Kyrin Liong and Victor Wang show how


26 Mar 2024
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The introduction of structured, blending learning to university education was met with both curiosity and caution. Educators were concerned about students’ ability to tackle complex concepts on their own. But students were quick to meet the challenges with creativity and resilience.

Since then, the blended learning method has transformed the educational experience. It’s fostered profound collaborative discussions between students and faculty, while allowing students autonomy in their studies.

In navigating this blended learning journey, we’ve both come to realise the approach hinged on three key strategies:

  1. developing engaging online content to spark student interest
  2. nurturing classroom connections to activate discussions
  3. creating a supportive environment for deep, insightful dialogue

This holistic approach extends beyond academics to encompass emotional resilience and coping strategies. Students are not only learning but thriving in this new blended learning environment.

Creating online content students want to learn from

Engaging and interactive content can ignite a genuine interest in learning. Unlike the traditional face-to-face model, which relies on passive consumption of lengthy lectures, the dynamic content of the blended learning model is designed to keep students actively involved. Checkpoints and quizzes help students focus while allowing them to gain insight into their learning progress. They can then concentrate on areas that need more attention.

This online groundwork is vital for enriching the in-person classroom experience. Students come prepared, primed to discuss and clarify their doubts with both instructor and classmates. These sessions serve as an extension of the knowledge gained online and allows basic concepts to be applied practically, helping students connect the dots between theoretical concepts and actual applications.

But crafting excellent content is just the beginning. The question of “How can we ensure they feel supported within this new learning approach?” remains. Beyond content, it’s about nurturing an environment where students feel safe to inquire, debate and collaborate. This begins with forging genuine connections – making sure students know that even within this new digital landscape, they’re not alone but part of a vibrant, interactive community.

Energising face-to-face sessions with personal connections 

Building on the foundation of engaging content, the next step is to establish personal connections. Something as small as remembering names or showing real interest in what’s going on in students’ lives can make all the difference. Every “How’s your day going?” followed by genuine listening paves the way for a relationship built on trust and mutual respect.

We set a classroom agreement to foster respect and support from the start. We emphasise understanding over argument, asking “What’s going on? Are you OK?” to defuse tension and foster empathy. Regularly engaging in recall-recap-reclarify exercises gives students opportunities to express their thoughts, and to admit what they’re grappling with. These practices not only kick-start individual connections but also weave a network of support among the students themselves, enhancing collaboration and encouraging them to take charge of their learning journey.

Nurturing this culture of openness and continuous dialogue fosters a space for growth, where learning is intertwined with emotional support and the development of strategic academic skills.

Cultivating a safe space to nurture emotional intelligence 

As any student knows, the journey of learning is an emotional one. Starting class discussions with a simple, “How did you find this topic?” encourages students to articulate their emotional reactions, clearing the way for focused learning. Such openness allows for the sharing of frustrations and triumphs, which is crucial for mental clarity and deeper engagement.

Giving students space to be heard without judgement paves the way for more than just emotional expression. It facilitates discussions on learning strategies that extend beyond the classroom walls. As students talk about their struggles, they move from feelings of defeat to empowered problem-solving, saying “I need more practice here” instead of “I can’t do this.”

Engaging students with thoughtful questions such as: “Is it the application of the theory that’s challenging?” helps demystify complex topics. This approach does more than build trust — it empowers students to approach their learning journey with confidence. This equips them with strategies that will serve them well in academia and beyond.

The experience with blended learning has brought forth a fundamental truth: teaching is all about connection. It has shifted our focus from mere content delivery to truly engaging with students, acknowledging the intricate give-and-take that characterises our relationships. 

The classroom has become like a dance floor. Sometimes we stumble and other times we move in perfect harmony. With each chat, question or shared insight, we take a step towards enriching not just our students but ourselves too. As educators, let’s keep this dialogue alive, because it’s through these connections that we develop a collective wisdom. Our collective wisdom.

Kyrin Liong is assistant professor in the Engineering Cluster, and Victor Wang is associate professor in the Engineering Cluster and deputy director of STLA, at the Singapore Institute of Technology.

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