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Volume 8, Number 6: March 20, 2002

Inside Outside, Upside Downside

Strategies for Connecting Online and
Face-to-Face Instruction in Hybrid Courses

by Peter Sands
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

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Hybridity is the order of the day, as teachers combine the distributed teaching and learning of distance education with the comfortable interaction of the classroom in an effort to achieve a synthesis of the two. Even a cursory search will turn up evidence of the expectation that hybrid forms of teaching will supplant others, especially for people who may need an alternative delivery format because of their busy schedules, but who also need the support structure of a traditional classroom. (Levine and and Warren K. Wake; Isenhart)

Hybridity in postcolonial studies refers to cultural and racial mixing resulting from forced commingling of peoples. In genetics, hybridity refers to offspring of two genetically dissimilar parents. A hybrid is also a mechanism in which two dissimilar parts produce the same function or result. Hybrid teaching and learning partakes of each of these concepts to some degree.

In the case of the hybrid course, seat time is reduced and some of the course activities--information transfer, exchange of ideas, testing, essay-writing, etc.--are distributed throughout the semester, with students accessing course materials and performing other tasks online. This is often accomplished through an off-the-shelf Course Management System, such as Blackboard, Prometheus or WebCT, but it can also be accomplished via something as simple as email, or as information-rich as streaming video. Because of the highly text-based nature of websites and email, hybrid courses become de facto writing-intensive courses when teachers work carefully to integrate the online and classroom components.

A prominent example from outside the UW System is the work being done at University of Central Florida, where the Center for Distributed Learning (http://distrib.ucf.edu/dlucf/home.html) and the Research Initiative for Teaching Effectiveness (http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/%7Erite/) have studied their own very large program that encompasses the range of possible uses of technology from purely online to hybrid to technologically enhanced classroom courses.

Recent research, such as that on "overcoming barriers" to teaching online, has both confirmed previous understanding of what is required for success and added new insights, such as that while the range of problems is interconnected, creating an "organizational culture or norms favorable to" the program is necessary to minimize the other obstacles (Cho and Berge). This is similar to the insights of the Writing Across the Curriculum movement (McLeod and Soven 5-7, 47ff). Berge and Cho found ten major obstacles:

  • technical expertise
  • administrative structure
  • evaluation/effectiveness
  • organizational change
  • social interaction and quality
  • student support services
  • [feeling] threatened by technology
  • access
  • faculty compensation and time
  • legal issues

With some effort, faculty members can address technical expertise, evaluations of effectiveness, social interaction, their own and their students' feelings of being threatened by technology, and the effective use of their time.

Because the online component of the hybrid class is the unfamiliar and time-consuming one, teachers have to pay closer attention to that than to their face-to-face interaction, so long as those face-to-face interactions successfully connect with the online work in the course. Successful hybridity--however that may be defined--requires bringing the two dissimilar parts together so that they work in concert and produce a third result. In the case of effective hybrid courses, there are two dissimilar groups of two that must come together and produce a final result: teachers/students and online/face-to-face classrooms.

Some basic instructional strategies exist that can help teachers tie together the two components of their hybrid courses. Although there is significant published research in various disciplines about teaching in hybrid environments, what follows is a distillation of experience rather than a synthesis of the published studies. Much of what I have to say comes from basic tenets of the Writing Across the Curriculum movement (Bazerman and David R. Russell; McLeod and Margot Soven). Additionally, the lore and research surrounding computers in composition, a branch of English Studies where networked computing has been in use for more than two decades, provides a good background for online teaching in other disciplines (Hawisher, et al.). Teachers interested in teaching online would do well to familiarize themselves with the range of helpful books more directly related to hybrid or online courses, such as Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace (Palloff and Pratt) and 147 Practical Tips for Teaching Online Groups (Hanna, et al).

Here are five simple principles that may help teachers better connect their online work with face-to-face teaching:

1. Start small and work backward from your final goals.

This is a basic precept of course-planning: what do want students to be able to do at the end of the semester? What must we do on the first day, the second day, the third day, to get there? But when planning major integration of digital communications technologies to a course careful attention to learning objectives becomes even more important, helping teachers to avoid a counterproductive focus on the technologies themselves.

2. Imagine interactivity rather than delivery.

While information-transfer may be more effective online, simply putting materials upweb will not guarantee that students engage with and learn from them. For that, you need activities that require students to perform basic academic tasks, such as summary and analysis, and that place them in conversation with each other, such as through responses to each others' summaries and analyses. For every student who says in my course evaluations that they enjoyed or learned from lectures, there are scores who report higher engagement because of interactions with each other as well as the teacher.

3. Prepare yourself for loss of power and a distribution of demands on your time more evenly throughout the week.

Once seat time is reduced and everyone is online but not in the same room, opportunities to monitor and manage interactions move from the geographic space of the classroom to the temporal space of the week (or month, or whatever unit of time intervenes between classroom meetings).

4. Be explicit about time-management issues and be prepared to teach new skills.

Students who have spent the past two decades or so in traditional classroom settings will have to learn new skills to cope with the distribution of requirements over time, and to cope with their new dependence on each other, for if teachers create opportunities for interaction, then each participant becomes dependent on the participation of the others.

In the traditional classroom, conversation is hampered by the academic schedule: if someone has an idea on Wednesday, but their class meets on Tuesdays, that person has to wait six days to discuss with the class and professor. And that's assuming that the class is small enough--or designed--to allow for conversation rather than lecture alone. But in a hybrid model, where classroom time is reduced and students engage each other directly online, a conversation can be sustained over several days and even weeks.

If a hybrid class meets regularly, say once a week for a reduced time, then one of the ways to sustain a conversation is to distribute due dates for reading responses and other writing assignments throughout the week, rather than just on the day of the class meeting. If your class meets less regularly in the physical classroom, such distribution occurs naturally because there has to be a set of assignments and goals that keep students returning regularly to the online meeting/discussion space.

5. Plan for effective uses of classroom time that connect with the online work.

This is the most important tip. Recall the discussion earlier about the nature of hybridity: bringing dissimilar elements together to perform the same functions and achieve a shared result. If you're thinking about how to integrate the online and classroom components, it is only a short step to increased interactivity in your course. Many teachers bring to class one or two responses from students that were posted online and project those responses using an overhead projector, then discuss them with the class.

Additionally, by sequencing assignments so that they move students from significant discussion/responding online, through written reflections about their responses and the reading, to group or individual projects that are posted to a common learning space, such as a website or discussion board, for discussion and elaboration, teachers can have students engaged in doing, rather than just experiencing or reading.

What many are now calling low-threshold applications, such as email and word processing, are pretty well integrated in students' lives already. Conversely, many students who claim significant computer literacy really only have experience with email, chat and web-surfing, but not necessarily with the full complement of applications we call "office suites."

It is not appropriate to teach all applications in a single class. It may not even be desirable to attempt to teach all applications of possible use in a given class. For my purposes, spreadsheets and databases are rarely useful in a class, although I might use them to keep track of student grades or information that I'm teaching. On the other hand, specialized database software for notetaking or bibliography generation, such as Citation or Endnote, can be of use in my research-intensive writing or literature seminars. Similarly, while email has made such terrific inroads in every aspect of academic life that it has the potential for great use in a class and rarely needs to be "taught," the file-sharing capabilities of the network, of office software, and the humble Internet browser, are rarely familiar to students, and must be taught as skills. The best way to do so, in terms of managing time and information is to teach the skills in the context of a task that must be completed or information that must be learned. This is in keeping with the cognate principles for teaching of grammar and mechanics in context (Kolln; Weaver).

Particularly in a small class, there is pressure to integrate the out-of-class activities with in-class activities. Rather than having students review terms or read lecture notes, have students write definitions of key terms and post them on a class bulletin board for discussion and refinement, then read the postings an hour or so before class, select one or two to be displayed on an overhead or on a computer projector, and prepare the lecture in part as a response to what students write. This is a just-in-time-teaching, or JITT-style writing and response method that distributes time spent thinking about the course throughout the week and helps the teacher teach material when the students need to know it and are ready to learn it, rather than only at a prescribed time in the syllabus (Novak; Novak, Evelyn T. Patterson and Andrew D. Gavrin).


Works Cited

Bazerman, Charles, and David R. Russell, Ed. Landmark Essays on Writing Across the Curriculum. Landmark Essays 6. Davis, CA: Hermagoras Press, 1994.

Cho, Soomyung Kim, and and Zane L. Berge. Overcoming Barriers to Distance Training and Education. USDLA Journal 16.1. Featured Articles. January 2002. 13 March 2002 (http://www.usdla.org/html/journal/JAN02_Issue/article01.html)

Hanna, Donald E., Michelle Glowacki-Dudka, and and Simone Conceição-Runlee. 147 Practical Tips for Teaching Online Groups: Essentials of Web-Based Education. Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing, 2000.

Hawisher, Gail, et al. Computers and the Teaching of Writing in American Higher Education, 1979-1994: A History. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1996.

Isenhart, Lucie. CCD's Teaching/Learning Innovations (Hybrid Courses). 13 March 2002 (http://ccd.rightchoice.org/tlc/innovs/i_hybrid.htm)

Kolln, Martha. Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects. 3E. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 1999.

Levine, Sally L, and and Warren K. Wake. Hybrid Teaching: Design Studios in Virtual Space. October 2000. 13 March 2002 (http://research.the-bac.edu/sva/index.htm)

McLeod, Susan, and Margot Soven, ed. Writing Across the Curriculum: A Guide to Developing Programs. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1992.

Novak, Greg M., Evelyn T. Patterson, and Andrew D. Gavrin, ed. Just-in-Time Teaching: Blending Active Learning with Web Technology. Prentice Hall Series in Educational Innovation. NY: Prentice Hall, 1999.

Novak, Gregor. JITT. 1999 (http://webphysics.iupui.edu/jitt/jitt.html)

Palloff, Rena M., and Keith Pratt. Building Learning Communities in Cyberspace: Effective Strategies for the Online Classroom. SF: Jossey-Bass, 1999.

Weaver, Constance. Teaching Grammar in Context. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1996.

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