Lesson #1: There
is no standard approach to a hybrid course.
The first two questions
everyone asks about hybrid courses are, "How much of the course
should be online?" and "What part of the course should go
online?" There are no pat answers!
Hybrid courses show
enormous variety in how the face-to-face ratio to online time is distributed.
In this Hybrid Course Project instructors reduced class time from 25%
to 50%. They also scheduled their courses very differently. For example,
some replaced one class per week with online assignments. Others met
with their students in class for several weeks and then suspended class
meetings for several weeks as the students worked independently or in
teams on online assignments. One hybrid instructor simply replaced the
last 30 minutes of a weekly night course with online work to ensure
that students were prepared to participate in the in-class discussions.
design hybrid courses to accommodate their own teaching styles and course
content. Therefore, learning activities taking place in and out of the
classroom vary greatly. For example, an instructor can redesign traditional
lecture material into online modules for the students to complete prior
to attending a class and emphasize discussion in the class. Or, an instructor
who prefers to present in class may use out of class time for online
discussion forums that direct students to think critically and discuss
their views with other students and the instructor.
Lesson #2: Redesigning
a traditional course into a hybrid takes time.
should allow six months lead time for course development. At the end
of the project, the participants were universal in their advice to others
developing hybrid courses, "Start early and plan very carefully;
hybridization is a lot of work."
Because it's often
difficult to begin work on redesign, a formal faculty development program
can help instructors in many ways, including getting started and pacing
their progress. The majority of the project's instructors started learning
about hybrid methods and planning their courses in June 2000. By August
they had developed a course plan which they continued to improve upon
during the fall 2000 semester. They taught their first hybrid courses
in spring semester 2001.
Lesson #3: Start
small and keep it simple.
overestimated what they could accomplish in their first hybrid course
and overworked themselves and the students. The following are suggestions
for hybrid course developers. (Also, see Peter Sands' "tips"
in Inside Outside,
Upside Downside in this issue of TTT.)
- Instructors should
have a thorough understanding of the time commitment and consequences
of active-learning pedagogies before deciding on an appropriate technology
to use in a course. For example, online discussions or forums are
effective and popular with students, but instructors need to learn
how to moderate online discussions effectively before they use them
in a course.
- Relatively high-tech
activities, such as streaming video, are also relatively high-risk
pedagogically at present; these technologies are not always easy to
use, things do go wrong on a regular basis, and even when everything
works right, bandwidth issues limit what and where learning activities
take place. Students strongly prefer working from home, thus technologies
should be selected with this preference in mind.
- Learning to use
the technology appropriately and effectively can also be a challenge.
For example, for his first hybrid course one instructor put all of
his lectures online in streaming video. He learned that 50-minute
lectures online were too long; "lectures on the screen aren't
the same as lectures in person." When teaching his second hybrid
course, he broke his content presentations into less than ten minute
streaming video clips, and he interspersed his mini-lectures with
student-centered problem-solving activities.
- Building upon
the initial redesign, hybrid course development is an incremental
process with new modules and learning activities added in subsequent
Lesson #4: Redesign
is the key to effective hybrid courses to integrate the face-to-face
and online learning.
An instructor's first impulse is often to add online work in addition
to traditional coursework or simply to load lecture content, such as
PowerPoint slides, online. However, in order to create effective interactivity,
full course redesign is essential for successful hybrid courses.. As
one instructor put it, "The emphasis is on pedagogy, not technology.
Ask yourself what isn't working in your course that can be done differently
or better online."
There is only one
effective way to use online technologies in hybrid courses: it is essential
to redesign the course to integrate the face-to-face and online learning.
The online learning modules are central to a hybrid course's success,
and the students' work online must be relevant to the in-class activities.
The project's participants emphasized this point repeatedly. When asked,
"What would I do differently?" they were united in their response:
"I'd devote more attention to integrating what was going on in
the classroom with the online work." This was true even though
the project's faculty development sessions repeatedly emphasized the
importance of connecting in-class material with out-of-class assignments.
One instructor responded emphatically, "Integrate online with face-to-face,
so there aren't two separate courses." We found it impossible to
stress integrating face-to-face and online learning too much.
students were quite critical if they felt the face-to-face and time-out-of-class
components of the course were not well integrated. This was one of the
students' chief complaints about some of the hybrid courses. The debriefing
sessions with the project's instructors indicated that instructors were
aware of these course integration problems, which arose more from their
inexperience with the hybrid mode of instruction than from a problem
with the model.
The thought and planning required for a course redesign is difficult
and time-consuming. Thus, instructors need to make certain that the
time and resources required to create a hybrid course are available
before they commit to the process. Release time, summer contracts, and
other practices for providing instructors with the time required to
redesign traditional courses into hybrids are important considerations
for campus administrators.
Lesson #5: Hybrid
courses facilitate interaction among students, and between students
and their instructor.
Contrary to many
instructors' initial concerns, the hybrid approach invariably increases
student engagement and interactivity in a course. One of the primary
fears expressed by faculty about hybrid courses is that they will lose
contact with their students. Just the opposite occurs. Hybrid courses
encourage instructors to develop new ways to engage their students online
and foster online communities. This greater online interaction will
emerge in the classroom as well.
Thus, it is important
for hybrid instructors to learn how to facilitate and manage online
interaction. As these are critical skills for teaching hybrid courses,
it is important to offer sessions in managing discussion forums and
in building online community for instructors planning to teach in the
Lesson #6: Students
don't grasp the hybrid concept readily.
The hybrid model
is new to students, so they need a clear rationale for its use. Our
instructors learned that students required repeated explanations about
the model, explaining clearly what it is and why the instructor chose
it. To quote from one student's observation, "There was only one
real problem; it was difficult at first to understand how the course
was being taught and to get the technology to work properly. After the
course got rolling, it did get easier and easier to get a grip on it."
The hybrid instructors
anticipated working with their students on technology skills. However,
far more important were students' psychological maturity and time management
skills. The instructors reported that their most significant problems
were with students not taking responsibility for their courses and with
students' poor time management skills. As one instructor advised, "Time
management is a problem. Begin a conversation with students about time
management. Spend a couple of weeks logging daily activities yourself,
and your time management discussions will be rooted in your experience."
Students need to have strong time management skills in hybrid courses,
and many need assistance developing this skill.
should pay attention to their students' expectations and skills. Surprisingly,
many of the students don't perceive time spent in lectures as "work",
but they definitely see time spent online as work, even if it is time
they would have spent in class in a traditional course.
Lesson #7: Time
flexibility in hybrid courses is universally popular.
The increased time
flexibility was very important, especially to students, as evidenced
by this student's comment: "Yes, I would recommend this course
to others. I like the flexibility in that I can work on the course work
when it fits into my schedule. With working, taking care of a family
and going to school, I don't always have the freedom to be to a class
at a particular time." At a substantially commuter university,
such as UW-Milwaukee, this is not surprising; the students have identified
parking problems as the university's number one deficiency for some
For the students
the importance of time flexibility appears to outweigh any inconvenience
caused by the technologies. However, students' expectation of time flexibility
is that the course work can be done at home, not merely outside the
classroom. Apparently, work done in a computer lab is not perceived
by the students as more convenient to work done in a classroom, no matter
how many hours or how many days the computer lab is open. Thus, students
strongly prefer using learning technologies that are available from
home. This is an important insight for those developing hybrid courses.
Lesson #8: Technology
was not a significant obstacle.
Technology did not
prove to be a barrier for most of the instructors or their students.
Most students' problems with technology occur at the start of the classes.
All of the instructors agreed with their colleague who stated, "If
the students got past the first couple of weeks, they were ok."
For technology issues, instructors did recommend writing very complete
and clear "how to" instructions for students. One faculty
participant reported that he asked a friend without a lot of computer
savvy to read and work through his instructions to students to ensure
that they were useful and accurate.
concurred that the first week of class should be dedicated to technology
orientation and class socialization (students work together online most
successfully if they've gotten to know each other). Some instructors
objected to losing this course time to non-course content topics, but
all felt it was essential.
The students liked
using the technology, because they perceived they were acquiring a useful
skill. Generally, students thought that Blackboard was easy to use and
appreciated the opportunity to learn how to use the Web. Universally,
they believed that computer skills learned in the hybrid course would
help them in other courses and in the workplace.
Lesson #9: Developing
a hybrid course is a collegial process.
All of the Hybrid
Course Project instructors emphasized the importance of discussing the
course redesign problems and progress with colleagues. They found the
opportunity to interact with an experienced hybrid course instructor
especially valuable. An instructor with experience could answer questions,
share "war stories" about what to expect when teaching a hybrid
course, and generally give reassurance. This was greatly appreciated
by the inexperienced hybrid instructors.
Faculty learn best
from each other. Instructional designers and faculty development specialists
play an important role in the redesign process, but it is essential
for the instructors to interact among themselves. The hybrid project
participants benefited from the exchange of ideas and issues, both in
person and online.
Lesson #10: Both
the instructors and the students liked the hybrid course model.
instructors were positive about the hybrid model. As one instructor
remarked, "The hybrid took something I always knew was possible
and let me do it." Granted, these instructors were self-nominated
and interested in using instructional technology in their teaching.
Nonetheless, 100% of the Hybrid Course Project faculty participants
would recommend using the approach to others and plan to teach with
the hybrid model again.
The primary reason for their positive assessment is that the hybrid
model was valuable for student learning. They stated that the hybrid
model improved their courses because
- Student interactivity
- Student performance
- They could accomplish
course goals that hadn't been possible in their traditional course.
The students were
extremely attracted by the hybrid course's time flexibility. This was
a universal student response in every hybrid assessment protocol. The
substantial majority (80%) of students said that they thought the hybrid
model was worthwhile, and that they would recommend a course offered
in the hybrid mode to others.