Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hybrids are hot: Suggestions for moving to hybrids

In my recent travels, including during a Penn State Regional Colloquy at which I delivered the keynote, I've been hearing from lots of people about using digital tools to teach writing, and the will of the people is clear: Hybrids are hot. Educators and students are interested in combining online and onsite learning modalities.

This makes sense. The fully online environment is a huge leap for some, yet the fully onsite environment can lead teachers to neglect the flexibility, logistical advantages, and writing potential of digital communication tools. These feelings were bolstered by last year's study conducted for the U.S. Department of Education that students whose learning include online components learned more effectively than onsite students. Coupled with these findings are school movements to get students out of the classroom to enhance their learning. At Drexel, spearheaded by my colleague Valarie Arms, we have a component like this in our Freshman Writing Program called "English Alive," which views the City of Philadelphia as a "living text."

With a hybrid, students get the in-class anchoring that so many of them seem to need, especially when they are in their first year, but they also get the flexibility and enhanced writing environment of the online modality and opportunities to learn outside the classroom. As a student said in eCampus News of his hybrid course, " was a nice mix" (1).

So for various reasons, not all of them pedagogical (class space, market competitiveness, etc.), programs are looking to hybrids. People define hybrid or blended course in different ways. At Drexel's Freshman Writing Program, we are basically in class for half the time and out of the classroom the other half, and most, but not all, of that out-of-class time is online. So, for example, your Tuesday-Thursday course would meet in class from 9:30 to 10:50 on Tuesday as it always would, and then you would figure out a way to migrate that Thursday class experience into another format.

As I recommend for the move to fully online teaching, I think a good paradigm for new teachers is migration: Reflect on things that have worked well for you and think about how to conduct those experiences online. Here are a few ideas for the conversion, and of course many of these are similar to ways you would move to an online course:

1) Keep it simple. As I said, think about migration: How can you take your tried-and-true onsite practices and have them take place online?

2) If your class often centers on conversations about texts and other materials, you can have those conversations in many interesting ways online. I have written earlier posts about using message boards in this way.

3) Peer review is a great activity to migrate online. The peer review onsite class that you conduct with student drafts can be turned into a fully online experience.

4) There are many ways to deliver course "lessons" online, whether with asynchronous conversation tools, PowerPoint or other presentation software, or increasingly easy-to-use video technologies.

5) Hybrid can mean technology, but, as I mentioned, it doesn't have to. A hybrid experience for students can simply involve something outside the classroom walls. The one-on-one conference time that many of us have with our students can now be thought of as hybrid time. Going to see a performance or a speaker could be part of the hybrid part of the course one week.

As you know if you read this space, migration is my governing paradigm, and I still think it is the best way to get teachers initially comfortable with online tools. However, these digital learning spaces offer ways for us to re-think what we are doing. With the hybrid, rather than a cut-and-dry "Thursday migration," we have found ways to bring together the hybrid and online parts of the course, and we are seeking ways to maximize the articulation between online and onsite tools, basically to make the two halves of the course work synergistically to maximize student learning. Next time I'll look at some straightforward ways to try to make the two components work together.

1) See "Interest in Hybrid Courses on the Rise." eCampus News. February 2010. 15.