September/October 2003 // Faculty and Staff Development
Balancing the Learning Equation: Exploring Effective Mixtures of Technology, Teaching, and Learning
by Bonnie B. Mullinix and David McCurry
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: Bonnie B. Mullinix and David McCurry "Balancing the Learning Equation: Exploring Effective Mixtures of Technology, Teaching, and Learning" The Technology Source, September/October 2003. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

At present, faculty experience with technology varies widely: Some instructors have been developing Web-enhanced learning environments for quite a while, and others have just joined these ranks. In general, though, technology has come to seem less novel in higher education, and its prevalence has allowed faculty discussions to move beyond discussions of mere availability to more critical issues associated with instructional design. This more focused discussion has the potential to transform learning environments and help us to achieve the promise that technology holds for improving learning.

Potential applications of the Internet and the allure of Web-based instruction in particular demand our continued attention. Across the nation, faculty members are gaining the teaching experience that allows them to identify, appreciate, and critique the educational possibilities of electronic media. While most our own experience involves WebCT (our institution having only recently switched to Educator), courseware packages such as WebCT, Educator, Blackboard, and IBM Lotus LearningSpace are similar enough in terms of attributes and implementation to allow shared experiences. In what follows, we offer a descriptive matrix of online instruction in order to facilitate discussion among faculty members and to promote experimentation with different formats. We then provide an annotated "webliography" of resources for achieving technology-facilitated learning and contributing to this growing knowledge base.

A Continuum of Course Modes

Classes at many universities span a continuum of course modes that range from fully in-class (often termed "face-to-face" and involving limited uses of technology) to fully online. Typically, only two or three configurations are considered in the literature, as in Carlén's (2002) typology of online learning communities divided between "online" and "blended" modes of interaction and Lago's (2000) description of learning environments at the University of Central Florida. More detailed analyses include up to 10 configurations (Bonk, Cummings, Hara, Fischler, & Lee, 2000). We propose a continuum of five primary reference modes:

Fully in-class Web-supplemented Web-enhanced Web hybrid Fully online

This structure provides a robust yet fluid framework for situating current practice while remaining simple and sufficiently accessible to educators. Providing faculty members with such a framework and common terminology can promote dialogue as well as guided exploration of the potential offered by these different instructional environments. Table 1 is a matrix that differentiates these categories across four shared features: primary mode of interaction, interaction frequency ratio, contact hour ratio, and most appropriate course types.

For most faculty members, courses fall somewhere along the continuum. Although there are many different ways to organize these categories, the matrix uses current definitions to provide a point of reference for reflection and discussion. Take, for example, the contact hour ratio that compares time spent in classrooms to time spent online. The experiences of others and our personal explorations of Web facilitation confirm the following: As Web use increases and classroom time remains constant, additional time is required of both faculty members and students. The novelty of Web-enhanced learning may result in a willingness to expend more effort learning and exploring an online environment, yet this level of increased commitment is not likely to be sustainable by either instructors or students. Instructors assume a particularly large time burden—both in terms of preparation, especially with first-run courses, and in terms of facilitating student interaction (Stammen, 2001). While improved student participation and interaction are a benefit of Web-based instruction, the corresponding increased demands on faculty members must be taken into account.

Faculty members and institutions should carefully consider the most effective combinations of the modes outlined in Table 1. In hybrid courses, instructors blend in-class experiences with the online delivery of course materials in order to manage their total time spent preparing for the class, as well as to balance the two learning environments. Such combinations challenge the Carnegie unit paradigm that traditionally equates in-class contact hours with quality of instruction. In turn, this situation reminds us that assumptions about what constitutes an "effective" course mode are influenced by a variety of interests and expectations: the instructor's, which derive from departmental/school standards and regulations; the learner's, which derive from a combination of career orientation and personal interest; and the institution's, which derive from budgetary concerns, market competitiveness, and internal pressures for innovation.

In considering various course modes, we should be able to create combinations that are tailored to a given discipline and responsive to particular learners. As we find time to share, discuss, and analyze our various approaches to teaching and technology, we can re-evaluate our own place within this continuum with a better sense of our options as educators.

What Others Are Doing: A Webliography

While the matrix described above can serve as one reference point for discussion, other resources are available on the Web. Educators across the nation are exploring how technology interacts with and supports learning, and their experiences are being posted for others to consider. In the annotated webliography below, we describe sites that offer information on the development of effective technology-enhanced teaching and learning environments.

The Teaching, Learning, and Technology Group

The Teaching, Learning, and Technology (TLT) Group is a nonprofit corporation and an affiliate of the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE). In addition to helping more than 500 U.S. institutions of higher education organize TLT Roundtables (diverse groups that discuss and develop recommendations related to technology issues), the Group provides a number of interesting references and links. Many of these can be found on the Free Resources page, which includes an extensive array of articles, case studies, slideshows, talks, and workshop materials organized by major topics. One notable link is to an online reprint of the Chickering and Ehrmann (1996) article that describes how technology can reinforce the seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education. Also worth checking out is the Flashlight Program, which focuses on assessment; it helps institutions improve educational uses of technology by providing investigative tools (such as Web-based surveys) as well as analysis support, training, and consultation.

Centers that Support Teaching and Learning

Over the past three decades, institutions of higher education have increasingly developed their own centers for teaching and learning (CTLs) to promote excellence in these areas and to actively support faculty development. There are distinct advantages to faculty members beginning their exploration of technology innovation close to home: They have easy access to experts; they can take advantage of face-to-face tutorials and workshops; and their accomplishments are generally applauded as examples for others to follow. Many institutions also have a virtual CTL that offers Web-based references and materials to help instructors develop useful skills and an understanding of effective technology integration. At institutions that lack CTLs, faculty members might first reach out to virtual centers at schools similar to their own. With increasing confidence, they may move on to explore centers hosted by diverse institutions throughout the world. The Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Kansas maintains one of the most comprehensive and up-to-date lists of links to virtual CTLs.

The Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education

The Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network is a professional association of educators, CTL directors, and scholars who are actively engaged in supporting teaching, learning, and technology in higher education. The Network's Bright Ideas page facilitates the sharing of ideas among faculty members; its listserv archives contain discussions, information, and resources on topics of practical interest to faculty members and faculty developers.

Resources for Course Sharing

CourseShare offers higher education institutions, corporations, instructors, and students support for the global sharing of course information and online evaluation, access to 21st-century teaching and learning techniques, and tools for assessing how well they are performing in an online marketplace. The company is guided by the belief that "once instructors and institutions fully take advantage of sharing knowledge related to teaching and learning, entirely new ways of thinking about courses and course offerings will explode" (Bonk, 2003).

The Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) accepts, archives, and disseminates lesson plans contributed by educators based in higher education as well as those working in pre-K-12, vocational, and adult education settings. The World Lecture Hall, developed at the University of Texas at Austin, publishes links to course materials (in 83 major subject areas) created by faculty members worldwide. Some tools are discipline-specific, such as the Syllabus Finder offered by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.

OpenCourseWare at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a notable higher education initiative that features institution-wide online course sharing. In September 2002, the program released representative MIT course content and information to educators and learners worldwide. The University plans to expand the pilot over the next 5 years to encompass all institutional course offerings, and it hopes to be joined by other institutions of higher education in creating "a global web of knowledge that will enhance the quality of learning" on an international level (Vest, 2003).

Learning Object Repositories

Among the noteworthy recent innovations in education are learning objects: short, focused, interactive learning activities that can be used to create responsive, flexible, and learning-centered sessions within courses. (Learn more through the National Learning Infrastructure Initiative.) Merlot is perhaps the best-known repository of such materials. A number of higher education institutions have begun to develop their own learning object repositories that will make materials automatically available to their own faculty members and to others with permission or login registration. See, for example, the Maryland Faculty Online and LangNet, both developed at the University of Maryland, as well as the Wisconsin Online Resource Center, developed by faculty members from the Wisconsin Technical College System.

Professional Development and Collaboration

Tapped In is designed to offer educators online space to collaborate, carry out projects, and participate in topical discussions. K-12 teachers, librarians, professional development staff, teacher education faculty and students, and researchers are afforded free membership and a supportive environment in which to explore new ideas. Site members can access a variety of professional development programs, informal activities, and resources; can facilitate or attend courses; and can consult with experts and other educators.

Best Practices in Electronic Learning

On October 18, 2001, the Louisiana State Board of Regents hosted a webcast entitled "Best Practices in Electronic Learning" for the provosts, faculty, and staff of Louisiana educational institutions and other institutions worldwide. The webcast includes studies that highlight how educational uses of technology can improve academic programs while controlling costs; it also addresses the ways in which the Flashlight Program's tools and services can be used to help carry out such studies. Other topics include learner characteristics, teaching and learning strategies for electronic education, delivery of instruction, interactive learning, managing the electronic classroom, pre-planning and preparing for the electronic classroom, Web-based instruction, multimode presentation skills, and copyright in the digital millennium.

Sharing Experiences and Moving the Field Forward

As the thoughts, experiences, and instructional models of educators expand, the possibility of sharing them within and beyond individual departments or universities is worth exploring. Through such exchanges, we build our collective understanding of technology-supported teaching and move closer to discovering how best to balance the learning equation. Internal newsletters are often a good first step in pursuing current scholarship on teaching and learning. In addition to in-house faculty forums and informal departmental presentations, educators often have the opportunity to discuss their successful innovations at intra-university forums. CTLs frequently sponsor or facilitate such exchanges. These localized exchanges of scholarship can in turn be expanded to national and international audiences. Professional associations and traditional journals across disciplines are beginning to solicit and accept more presentations and articles on teaching and learning, especially in connection with technology. Journals that focus specifically on the instructional use of technology are emerging as well.

In the field of educational technology, researchers and practitioners often voice a cautionary note: It is not only about the technology (Carroll, 2000). Using new technologies merely to replicate traditional pedagogical approaches does not provide any benefit beyond moderate gains in attention generated by the novelty of the media itself. We should remember McLuhan's (1964) maxim that "the medium is the message." To effect a true educational transformation, we must challenge our current systems of learning by recognizing that innovative approaches to instructional technology take place on a very local and personal level. For many institutions, large-scale technology initiatives may necessitate the development of support systems to encourage the efforts of small, diverse cohorts of teachers as they explore new horizons in their teaching.

In our future, we can envision the emergence of "intelligent" simulations and 3-dimensional learning environments as new frontiers for transforming the university experience. Good teaching, however, even in technology-rich environments, will still reflect current models for teaching excellence (Testa, 2000). Experience tells us that when faculty members add their "personal touch" to a learning experience, students respond. The power of new technology as a tool for building knowledge will not replace the need for faces, voices, and shared experiences in the traditional boundaries of four classroom walls; rather, it is these voices, faces, and minds that must determine the appropriate mix of technology and class-based instruction to catalyze meaningful, long-term learning.


Bonk, C. J. (2003). Welcome. Retrieved August 30, 2003, from

Bonk, C. J., Cummings, J. A., Hara, N., Fischler, R. B., & Lee, S. M. (2000). A ten level web integration continuum for higher education: New resources, activities, partners, courses, and markets. Retrieved August 30, 2003, from

Carlén, U. (2002, November). Typology of online learning communities. Paper presented at the NetLearning2002 conference, Ronneby, Sweden. Retrieved August 30, 2003, from

Carroll, T. G. (2000). If we didn't have the schools we have today, would we create the schools we have today? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 1(1). Retrieved August 30, 2003, from

Chickering, A. W., & Ehrmann, S. C. (1996, October). Implementing the seven principles: Technology as lever. American Association for Higher Education Bulletin, 3-6. Retrieved August 30, 2003, from

Lago, M. E. (2000, November). The hybrid experience: How sweet it is! Converge. Retrieved August 30, 2003, from

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Stammen, R. M. (2001, January). Basic understandings for developing learning media for the classroom and beyond. Learning Technology, 3(1). Retrieved August 30, 2003, from

Testa, A. M. (2000). Seven principles for good practice in teaching and technology. In R. Cole (Ed.), Issues in web-based pedagogy: A critical primer (pp. 237-245). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Vest, C. M. (2003). MIT OpenCourseWare: A message from the president. Retrieved August 30, 2003, from

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