Best of both worlds or double trouble? Hybrid Teaching and Learning Blog 1

This is a guest post authored by ICC English Faculty, Jen Hopp. If you have virtual campus/online learning information or ideas to share and would like to write for the 5th campus blog, contact Patrice at phess@icc.edu

Dividing Tasks in Hybrid Learning

When I sat down for the first time to map out a hybrid course, I felt a bit overwhelmed.  I knew the material.  I knew Blackboard.  I knew how to teach both online and face-to-face.  However, the hybrid is a different beast, and I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t just creating a slimmed down, sort-of-correspondence type course.  While my courses are always evolving, regardless of delivery style, I’ll share here how I’ve approached the task of sliding a course into the hybrid delivery mode.  I’ve listed first the questions I ask myself and then some examples from my courses.   I’m in ELS, so I teach Composition and Humanities courses – a lot of writing and a lot of reading/discussion.

Step 1:
What do I want to or absolutely have to teach in person?  What can I easily move to the online portion?

In Composition, I need to lead the discussion on paper modes, MLA, research skill, grammar/mechanics, etc.  Those are the core of the course, so I claim them for in-class time.  Also, when I work with this material, I want to see the students’ faces and be able to respond immediately to questions.  On the flip side, I don’t really need to sit and watch them do peer reviews, so I move that to the online portion.  They review a peer’s paper digitally within a strict timeline using the Blog function.  It works wonderfully, and that’s a good hunk of important, gradable learning that translates easily to the digital classroom.

Additionally, in a full face-to-face Comp course, I build in “work days,” which end up being sort of mini conference days.  While the students work, I sit at the desk and put on my “come talk to me face” (too bad I don’t have a picture of it to insert here), and if that look doesn’t scare them off, they feel comfortable enough to come talk about the paper.  Good stuff is done during these times.  However, this is something I can easily put online by tailoring the discussion boards appropriately and by reminding them again and again to see me, email me, or post a question in a board.  So far, it’s worked.

In Literature, I simply ask the students to read larger chunks from week to week.  In a face-to-face class, I’d quiz them on the reading first thing (since comprehension is a major goal and an obvious key to discussion), then we’d move into discussion.  We don’t have enough time to do all that in a hybrid format, so I move all of the quizzes to the online portion as well as half of the discussion.  Additionally, I put subject-based PowerPoint presentations assignments online with virtual due dates.  Students complete, view, and respond to those assignments in between class meetings.  They earn points both for completing the assignment and for responding to their peers.

One other example: in all of my classes, I love to link up clips and articles about our current subject.  I keep folders full of stuff in all of my units so that as I have time or as I need another example I can scroll through the folders and have a cool link at the ready.  In a full face-to-face class, I usually keep those folders closed to the students.  In hybrids and online courses, I open those folders up and ask the students to view and respond to the links they find.

Step 2:

Now that I’ve done a rough division of the work, I need to check my time frame.  Do I still have too much to do in class for the amount of time I’m actually going to have with the students?  Or vice versa? 

When I transferred Film 110 to hybrid, I pulled out all the films, tests, and quizzes, and the course was pretty much divided in half.  Film 110 is a natural for the hybrid format.  The students watch films on their own time, and we have a discussion both in class and online.  Composition, however, is a little trickier because it is a balance of explanation, example, and practice.  My first time through the course as a hybrid was a little too restricted on examples, so I learned very quickly to make more time in the face-to-face portion for sample essays and to post other samples online.  For instance, I use former student papers (with permission) as samples in class, but I would never just give my students free access to a full paper, so I don’t put it online as an example.  I will, however, link them to professional pieces, online writing labs that give partial examples, or even sites like About.com, which has a nice little article on preparing to write a memoir (a type of paper we do in ENGL 110).

Examples, however, are not grade producing work.  Since I want to make sure that grade producing work is being performed in both the face-to-face and the online portions, I always use discussion boards in my hybrid courses.  Obviously, we still discuss in class.  However, I set up the boards for several reasons:

  • As a response to assignments that we don’t have time to cover in class.  In Film, students choose three films from a group of nine for each unit.  They have to write a discussion board response for each film, and they have the full four weeks of each unit to complete those.  Since the students are on a four week time line, everyone is watching different stuff at different times.  By requiring them to post and respond to each other before the end of the four week unit, I create an additional level of both gradable learning and peer interaction.
  • As a way to assess student understanding.  In Comp, I’ll often ask students to go out to the web and find an article, an ad, a cartoon . . . something that exemplifies the type of argument we’re discussing.  They post the link and then reply to at least three of their peers’ posts, and I can assess understanding by the types of examples and explanations the students provide. Obviously, the “hands-on” component is an excellent learning tool.
  • As a way to create and sustain community.  As mentioned in the first point, requiring peer-to-peer response helps to foster community.  Of course, since we see each other face-to-face as well, discussion boards serve to promote the community already happening in class.  This takes me, as the instructor, out of the “fount of all knowledge” (ha!) arena and reminds students that the people around them (their peers) have excellent ideas and insight.

Step 3: 

How am I going to manage the students online (aka how am I going to make sure they do the online half of the course)?

Points, points, and more points!  It’s a system that’s pretty well established in modern education, so I attach points to almost everything I have them do online — plain and simple.   As mentioned above, I use the discussion boards a lot.  I plan them carefully so that no board repeats what we do in class.  Each board is used to either “go deeper” or as an example.  At the end of the semester, students do an assignment that requires them to assemble, assess, and defend a grade for the discussion board section of the course.

Final thoughts:

Let’s be real about this process.  Even after you’ve done all this thinking and planning, it probably won’t be perfect.  I’ve got sticky-notes and scraps of paper all over my desk with lists of little changes to make next semester, and I’ve been doing this hybrid stuff for a while.  But in the end, teaching in the hybrid format is really just straddling the line between face-to-face teaching and online teaching.  We have the opportunity to use the best of both worlds to make our courses more accessible to our students.  Hybrids, to me, are a wonderful chance to rethink what I’m currently doing and to figure out how I can reach more students and engage them more deeply in the learning process.   Experimenting with delivery styles is a huge educational privilege . . . okay, and it’s a lot of fun, too.  Please let me know what you think by responding below!!

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2 responses to “Best of both worlds or double trouble? Hybrid Teaching and Learning Blog 1

  1. Darlene Cornelius

    I have been Hybrid from the beginning, Never found a solution for an over all Discusssion Board grade. I like your idea and am working on emplementing a similiar idea into (on to?) grade book (I need help with my English). Thank you. Darlene Cornelius

  2. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on hybrid courses, Jen, and agree that certain courses are “naturals” for the hybrid format. One course that has been highly successful for me in the hybrid format is MGMT211 – Managing the Supply Chain. I have taught this course in the hybrid format many times, and each time it becomes a better experience for both students and for me as the instructor. It seems that “practice makes perfect.” “Perfect”, in the sense that, the combination of course variables seem to be working. The combination that seems to be working in this course is the topic, the type of student and the experience of the instructor. Because this topic is current and relevant to the success of businesses in all industries, there is an ever-changing, mass of electronic information available for expanding the student’s understanding of the textbook information. It’s great! Another important ingredient for success in this course is the type of students enrolled in the course. Many are professional, non-traditional students who are highly motivated to participate in online activities. You mentioned the evolving nature of a course and the need to balance between in-class and online, and this takes some “hands on” experience. I am always tweaking and trying different approaches to provide more efficient and effective instruction. I agree that it can be challenging to motivate students to engage in the online activities. I also assign points, but one tip that works for me is to keep the online and in class areas of instruction somewhat separate. For example, I use online feedback for the online aspect and try not to mix or duplicate communication between the two areas. This also helps to encourage students to develop an online community. I also find that online class discussion is better developed and deeper than in-class discussion. Student input at the end of the semester is very valuable to me in making changes and improvements to this hybrid course. I like teaching in the hybrid format.

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