Learning Curve

The way I have structured my hybrid course is that I teach 2 hours a week in one face-to-face block in a traditional classroom setting, and move hour 3 out of the classroom and online. My preferred option so far has been developing Blackboard “modules” because it seems the simplest way to move students through what is often a multi-modal class where they have multiple tasks that include journals, blogs, asynchronous discussion boards, quizzes, and electronic assignments.

For the first two classes, I booked a lab for the “hybrid” portion, a luxury I would not have in the fall semester, but which was extremely helpful in assisting those students struggling with or resisting the technological aspects of the course. I am noticing more buy in with hybrid as students become familiar with the course and the expectations, and that is comforting. Now I am just available during the scheduled class hour, and students can contact me or message me for assistance or discussion. It’s almost like private office hours just for that one class.

I suppose what I am getting at here is that taking the time to set students up for success is a crucial step in hybrid courses. Having flexible deadlines for the first few weeks has proven extremely beneficial as it takes the pressure off students who are struggling to access and/or complete the hybrid material. The down side is that without firm deadlines, some students will leave things until the last minute….we have had a short discussion every week in class regarding the self-motivation needed to be successful online, but there are still a number of students with outstanding weekly tasks. This too, is part of the learning curve.

In addition to the regular curriculum, teaching in a hybrid format, especially while it is still so new, needs to include a focus on teaching how to be a successful hybrid student. It doesn’t have to take a great deal of time, but I found it helpful to review the hybrid curriculum weekly with students for issues, concerns, and troubleshooting. I am also carefully monitoring student completion of the hybrid material, and following up with students who may be at risk. It’s worth remembering to build time to do all that into the first month.

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Techno Glitches

Experiencing just a little bit of frustration this week.

The online modules through blackboard were straightforward, and I really enjoyed the challenge of restructuring my class so that the online learning (a mix of written information, asynchronous discussion, and an activity that reinforced the week’s lesson) was relevant and engaging. I set up time in the computer lab for students who wanted hands-on help, but they were all game to try it on their own.

For another class, I exposed students to online learning as I often do, by flipping part of the class and giving them a video to watch for homework. I also presented a grammar self-assessment module that I am building.

The problems seem to arise for the students. Sometimes this is due to motivational issues (something I want to address in a later post), but there seem to be a number of technical issues…they are not comfortable with online, they are confused by Blackboard, they don’t have an updated flash player which enables them to open videos. Another colleague who tried a hybrid class had nothing but issues with students unable to access, print, or interact with the material.

I also experienced Blackboard crashing. Once, it crashed mid class as I was demonstrating how to access the online module, an occurrence which did not help me in my endeavours to convince some of the more sceptical students about the benefits of hybrid learning. In addition, I spent more time than I should have triple checking online components (logged in as a student) to ensure they worked, being accessible to students at all times in order to respond to issues they were having, and doubling my work by delivering one hour both as an online AND as a face-to-face class, again to address some of the unresolved issues surrounding the technology.

Our IT team is great and responds patiently to my questions. But my underlying concerns don’t go away. The technology infrastructure will have growing pains, to be sure. But for hybrid to work effectively (and I think there are great learning opportunities with hybrid….far more than just online, or even just face-to-face, but again, that’s another post), there needs to be a reliable technological learning system that students find intuitive and easy to use; more time dedicated to training students to navigate online, and to support them; and more time built in for instructors to ensure they can troubleshoot and respond to student needs in a timely fashion (but preferably without it being a 24/7 job).

Having said all that, a couple of students have come forward to express their delight at having the opportunity to do some of the work at their own convenience. And I love that we now spend the bulk of classroom time on meaningful projects, discussion, and activities instead of lectures.

Trepidation and Other Responses

I introduced myself to a small but enthusiastic group of 13 students thus afternoon, all of them enrolled in my short story class. They were keen, talkative, interested, and came across as motivated and engaged. We had a two hour class together. The third hour, scheduled for Friday mornings, is going to be a Hybrid hour that they can do online at their convenience.

I’ve spent a great deal of time this week thinking, debating, reading, and ultimately building the online module: A fact sheet giving an author bio. A Discussion Board with 4 questions relating to the text. And a Creative Writing a project in an online journal.

I’m excited about it. I think it’s a good use of time and technology. I know there are activities which lend themselves to this, thus freeing up our weekly classroom time for more in-depth activities and discussion. I planned the hybrid hour carefully, figuring students would be thrilled that they didn’t need to come in at 8:30 am on a Friday morning.

But while the 8:30 reprieve might have won some fans, the idea of hybrid was not a runaway success. Student responses were mixed, but included the following:

– I like real classes
– I learn better face-to-face
– I can’t do online. It doesn’t work for my learning style.
– But I want to have a class!
– I don’t have internet at home.

To be fair, some if this came from trepidation. It’s all new. Heck, I feel that way too. We discussed it in detail and agreed to give it a shot anyway. Part of the learning adventure.

Then on the way home, discussing this with my husband, he came up with a comment that I hadn’t considered. “If I had paid for a class, I’d be angry if part of it was online,” he said. “If I wanted online, I’d take online.”

Food for thought as we move forward.