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Volume 8, Number 6: March 20, 2002

Introduction to Hybrid Courses

by Carla Garnham and Robert Kaleta,
Learning Technology Center,
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

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What is a hybrid course?

Hybrid courses are courses in which a significant portion of the learning activities have been moved online, and time traditionally spent in the classroom is reduced but not eliminated. The goal of hybrid courses is to join the best features of in-class teaching with the best features of online learning to promote active independent learning and reduce class seat time. Using computer-based technologies, instructors use the hybrid model to redesign some lecture or lab content into new online learning activities, such as case studies, tutorials, self-testing exercises, simulations, and online group collaborations.

What is the Hybrid Course Project?

During 1999-2001, the University of Wisconsin System Curricular Redesign Grant Program funded a collaborative project involving UW-Milwaukee and four UW-College campuses (Rock County, Sheboygan, Washington, and Waukesha). Coordinated by UWM's Learning Technology Center, the project developed a Web resource of hybrid courses, created a model faculty development program for teaching hybrid courses, and supported 17 faculty in their efforts to design, develop, and teach their first hybrid courses.

The instructors represented a wide variety of disciplines, and the courses they converted to hybrid ranged in size from less than 15 students to over 200 students. These courses covered all undergraduate levels, i.e., freshmen through senior, and the students enrolled included both traditional college-aged and older adult students.

The faculty adopted very different approaches to the hybrid model, based on their instructional styles, course content, course sizes, and course goals. Instructors employed different patterns for reducing their class time by 25% to 50%, such as eliminating one class per week throughout the semester, meeting for several weeks and then not meeting for several weeks or cutting non-productive time from a longer evening course. Many developed online learning activities that required their students to become familiar with content prior to coming to a class discussion. Use of "entrance tickets," i.e., handing in assignments to gain permission to attend an in-person class, was popular.

Why offer hybrid courses?

Hybrid courses offer a number of advantages over face-to-face teaching and totally online courses. Instructors reported that the hybrid course model allows them to accomplish course learning objectives more successfully than traditional courses do. Most faculty noted increased interaction and contact among their students and between the students and themselves. A communications professor teaching a large enrollment class states unequivocally, "The amount of student to faculty contact is going to increase in the hybrid format. Students are more engaged in learning activities and therefore will seek out more assistance." (View Professor Johnson describing his interaction with students in his hybrid course, and read Jack Johnson's article on his experience with the hybrid format in this edition of TTT.)

The hybrid model gives instructors more flexibility with their classes. For example, a professor of technical writing was better able to approximate a "real world" writing environment for her students by using the hybrid model (Listen to Professor Spilka describing her course, and read Rachel Spilka's article in this edition of TTT.) An archaeologist transformed lectures on artifact classification into online learning activities and, as a result, gained in-class time to allow his students to handle and experience classifying objects. (View Professor Andrew Collins describing his hybrid experience).

Both students and instructors liked the greater convenience afforded by the hybrid course model, which allows coursework to be scheduled flexibly and decreases time spent commuting and finding parking. Time flexibility was overwhelmingly the most popular feature of the hybrid courses for the students.

Our faculty participants almost universally believe their students learned more in the hybrid format than they did in the traditional class sections. Instructors reported that students wrote better papers, performed better on exams, produced higher quality projects, and were capable of more meaningful discussions on course material. These qualitative assessments of better student learning are supported by quantitative data from the University of Central Florida, which show that students in hybrid courses achieve better grades than students in traditional face-to-face courses or totally online courses. (See Recent Presentations at http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~rite/ for the Educause NLII 2001 presentation, "The Payoff for Systemic Evaluation of University-Wide Distributed Learning", slide 6.) Data from the University of Central Florida also show that student retention in hybrid courses is better than retention in totally online courses and equivalent to that of face-to-face courses. For more about University of Central Florida research into distributed instructional models see DL Impact Evaluation at http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~rite/.

What did the instructors say?

All of the project instructors reported having positive experiences with the hybrid model. They also agreed that developing the hybrid course had required more time than developing traditional courses, primarily because of time and effort required to redesign the course, learn new teaching techniques, and acquire new technology skills. But they would all do it again.

Some comments from the hybrid course instructors include:

  • "My students have done better than I've ever seen; they are motivated, enthused, and doing their best work."
  • "I sense a heightened level of enthusiasm in my students."
  • "Introverts, who are quiet in the face-to-face class, really participate online."
  • "I was tired of hearing myself talk. This gets so much more student interaction."
  • "Discussions are good, both in and out of class."
  • "The hybrid allowed me to do things in my course that I've always wanted to do and couldn't."

What did the students say?

Students were also very positive in their evaluation of the hybrid course model. However, some students have difficulty adjusting in the beginning because they initially equated fewer class meetings with less work. It is important to provide students with a thorough orientation to this new style of learning; they need to be made fully aware of the expectations of the course, and they may need help learning to manage their time. Consequently, one product of the Hybrid Course Project is a Website resource designed for students who need more information about hybrid courses and how they differ from traditional classes. The Student Hybrid Course Website can be found at http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/LTC/hybridcourses.html.

All participating instructors agreed that the first week of class should be dedicated to technology, especially since some students were concerned that they lacked the necessary technology skills and access to fast modem connections. Some students dropped the hybrid course because of their fear of the technology or their perception that the course would be more work than a traditional course. But the instructors feel that if students survive the first two or three weeks, they can successfully manage a hybrid class.

Eighty percent of the students reported that they would recommend hybrid courses to their friends. Most frequently, they appreciated the convenience and the freedom to work at home and at their own pace. The following are selected questions from surveys administered to students in project courses at the end of spring semester 2001 (n=282 for each question):

 
Agree
Disagree
No opinion
I could control the pace of my own learning.
69%
19%
12%
I could organize my time better.
77%
11%
12%
The time I spent online would better have
been spent in class.
16%
67%
17%
There should be more courses like this.
61%
16%
23%


What is the KEY to developing successful hybrid courses?

To teach a successful hybrid course an instructor must invest significant time and effort in redesigning a traditional course. Because class seat time is reduced and a significant part of learning is moved online, instructors must reexamine their course goals and objectives, design online learning activities to meet those goals and objectives, and effectively integrate the online activities with the face-to-face meetings. (View Peter Sands describing how he integrates online activities with classroom work, and read his article in this edition of TTT.) In addition, many faculty must acquire new teaching skills, such as learning to facilitate online interactions and assess student online learning; they may also need to acquire some new technology skills.

In order to help faculty with the course redesign process and with learning to teach online, the project coordinators have created a model faculty development program for teaching hybrid courses that can be readily adopted and adapted for use at other campuses. This program is essentially a hybrid workshop, with online resources, independent learning activities, online discussion, and face-to-face meetings and activities. It gives instructors experience in learning in a hybrid environment and models good hybrid course practices. Detailed information on this Faculty Development Model can be found at http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/LTC/fac-dev.html.

Conclusion

The UW Hybrid Course Project created much valuable information, both for instructors and faculty developers interested in hybrid courses. The accompanying Teaching Scholars Forum paper, "Lessons Learned" from the Hybrid Course Project, as well as the Hybrid Course Project Website (http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/LTC/hybrid.html), provides more information from the project.

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