Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Onsite-online articulation in hybrid courses

In hybrid courses, I suppose the ultimate goal is to maximize the online and onsite experiences, drawing from the strengths of each to create a unified, fulfilling course. I think the articulation between the onsite and online components of hybrids may be the next great frontier for me in my own teaching and scholarly work. Teachers really want to know how to make the most of the possibilities.

I want to remind you that the electronic part of my hybrid writing course environment is asynchronous and that a focus of the course is conversation. In many ways I see the online component of the course as a way for students to develop and hone written conversational skills.

This goal of conversation is one fundamental pedagogical way to connect the two modalities. Since they will be talking with each other a lot in different environments, you can productively encourage students to reflect on the difference between their f2f, spoken conversations and their written dialogue. This reflection can be overt. Several colleagues and I have students present briefly in the f2f class based on a message board conversation thread from the week before. The presentation also allows us to have a follow-up conversation about the topic we were discussing online, after the ideas have percolated a bit.

You can also use the writing-intensive electronic part of the course to exemplify writing-to-learn pedagogy. Students can identify areas of complexity and confusion on a message board, and then you can use those points from which to launch that week's in-class conversation (this strategy works well in a fully onsite class as well). For example, if you assign a difficult text, ask students to summarize the text online, and then you can see from their summaries (I often have each member of the class summarize one paragraph or section of a reading) fracture/weak points and discuss them in class.

You can conceive of the electronic component of the course as a way to sustain good f2f conversations. Often during an in-class conversation teachers think of something relevant to the conversation that they wish students could read. The hybrid is beautiful for this, allowing you to follow-up easily with readings and resources. You could make such connections overt and part of the course experience: After each class, students will come to expect some follow-up readings to augment their in-class work. One democratizing feature of e-learning is that you can encourage the students themselves to contribute to the "post-class reading lists," suggesting other readings that can be augmented by the onsite conversations. Really, your whole hybrid "mindset" can extend beyond the class itself. I once had a student say on an online evaluation of my teaching: "He even went as far as to contact me a term after I had taken him [...] to discuss how a topic that I wrote about in his class was now in the news." With e-connectivity, when inspiration strikes, you can reach out to your students.

In a similar vein, you can use the two modalities to appeal to different learning styles. Although learning style-based teaching is taking some heat lately, you can certainly do some simple things: Give the reticent in-class student opportunities to manage/moderate online threads or encourage the student who is a strong in-class contributor to bring out that voice in writing on the course message boards.

Students can also learn how to think about each other's work verbally and in writing. I find peer review a good hybrid crossover activity. If you have students engage in peer review in different ways, they will learn how to critique both f2f and in writing, and you can ask them to reflect on the difference: for instance, you could have students take their time out of class to write a written peer review online (and I have found advantages to giving them this kind of thinking time), and then you could use class time to discuss these reviews.

There are two underlying ideas here: One is to capitalize on the advantages of the two modalities. How do you make the most of each? The other is to show (again) how hybrid and online teaching can exceed normal onsite course boundaries. Class doesn't have to stop when class time ends. The course experience can be an evolving conversation that may peak when students are in class or writing on a thread online but that lingers during the whole term--and beyond.