The purpose of this qualitative case study was to examine how a professional graduate program in Higher Education Administration at a private research university developed seminar-style courses in a blended format. Blended courses were adopted to support students who may not have been able to attend classes in the traditional format or who desired an alternative format, either due to hardships involving location and scheduling or preferences for learning style and ability status. For the purpose of this program, blended courses were structured with two extended in-person weekend sessions (eight hours on either a Saturday or Sunday), four to six two-hour synchronous online sessions, and other asynchronous coursework in between. Recognizing the importance of discussion in graduate seminar-style courses, this study asked specifically: How can graduate, seminar-style courses offered in a blended format within a higher education administration program promote quality interaction between peers and instructors?
As part of managing the entire process from conceptualization to launch for a new Graduate Certificate in Higher Education Administration in a blended-learning format, I conducted an IRB-approved course evaluation plan. This included conducting original research through survey instruments, observations, and interviews before analyzing the results, making recommendations for practice, and submitting final results of the study for presentation and publication.
Summary of Key Findings
CLASS SIZE
Quality of student and instructor interaction is higher in courses which had 15 or fewer students (Courses 2-2, 3-1, 3-2, 5-1, and 6-1). This suggests that while smaller class sizes, particularly those with no more than 15 students had higher quality interaction, little difference was seen in this study between classes with 16 students, 28 students, or even 41 students.
BLENDED FORMAT
Students rated in-person weekend sessions highly across all courses for helpfulness to their overall learning. This supports previous research into the advantages of blended learning over fully online courses (Garrison, 2017); however, exactly how much time is devoted to in-person class sessions before seeing an impact on interaction is unclear.
DISCUSSION FORMATS
This study found synchronous online discussions had a greater impact than other learning activities. Guest speakers, small group discussions, and whole class discussions—all online synchronous activities—were rated three of the four most helpful tools/activities. Asynchronous discussion boards—regardless of tool used—were rated as the three least helpful. It is likely the discussion-based nature of the graduate, seminar-style courses in this study impacted both the synchronous and asynchronous discussions.
IMPROVEMENTS OVER TIME
The data suggest a modest but distinct increase in satisfaction over time. This is likely the result of improved guidance provided by instructional designers based on experiences from previous courses and increased experience of instructors teaching online multiple times.

Handout for faculty designing courses in the new alternative format.

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