Wednesday, January 11, 2006



(No, not the cars.)

As the start of the semester looms, it’s time make the final, heartbreaking calls on which small sections to run, and which to put out of our misery.

In looking at the course counts, I’ve seen a disturbing pattern return.

Broadly speaking, we run courses in three formats:

1. Traditional – instruction occurs in class, one hour per week per credit. The classic.

2. Online – the class never meets physically, but occurs entirely online. New and popular.

3. Hybrid – class time is reduced by about half, with the difference moved online. Should offer the best of both worlds – meet once a week instead of twice, say.

In practice, the hybrid classes are persistently and deeply unpopular. Even when we run them for courses that usually fill, hybrids often don’t even make the minimum enrollment to survive.

Educationally, I can see a lot of upside to the hybrid format. Tests can be offered in class, to prevent academic dishonesty, and classroom discussions offer a welcome safety net in case a given online lesson or exercise doesn’t work. Students can have much freer schedules, but they still get a chance to build rapport with an instructor. (Logistically, the upside is that we can fit two sections of a course into the timeslot that used to hold only one. At prime time, that’s nothing to sneeze at.) The parts of a class that make the most sense on the internet can go there, and the parts that just don’t make as much sense there can stay in the classroom.

But for some reason, students just don’t sign up for them.

For a while, we thought that the problem was a lack of either awareness or understanding. We’ve gone out of our way to educate the students as to what a hybrid is, and they seem to pretty much get it. They just don’t want it.

Has your campus experimented with hybrids? Have you had any luck? What worked? It seems to early to just give up, but the results thus far haven’t been encouraging, or even acceptable. I’m banging my head against the wall, and it’s starting to hurt...

We've found it's because if they want it online, they want it completely online. And often that is simply logistics on their end since oftentimes end of class evaluations point to "issues" which a few in-class meetings could solve.

I also overheard in one of my F2F classes last semester that many students still prefer to "show up, listen, and just take tests." Those same students will only choose online courses if that's the only way to fit something into their schedule.

Now, the big question is how to make sure ALL students in an online course understand it requires more than an hour or two a week to earn an A. :-)
Oh darn. I signed up to teach TWO of the hybrids for fall and now I find out they're likely not to fill?! They're still too new for us to have a picture; only one person in our dept has offered them up until now.
I think kelly nailed it. Students either want it one way or the other. When you have a hybrid it's much easier to forget when you have class because it's only once a week, and also easier to justify skipping it. Also, coming in for only the exams seems like a chore in a hybrid class. In a traditional class it's part of the routine.

I say this having had one hybrid myself, where the exams were on site, and I hated that. Also, my fiance has an online class with a computer 'lab' which is technically hybrid, and he forgot to go to lab at least twice last semester.
This may sound silly, but at our university we use the word "blended" for what you're calling a hybrid. Most of our students know exactly what that means and the classes are quite popular. Just a thought.
I'm actually teaching my graduate seminar in this way due to time crunches. We're meeting weekly for an hour and a half and doing the discussion prep work online for each seminar (fact-finding, questions of basic procedure, etc.). If the purposes of the two halves are clearly delineated it works well, though I find that the instructor's time spent online far exceeds the time I would have spent in a conventional class (i.e., I have to post and repost on some issues and answer many more emails).
Well, at my last place I did all hybrids, and enrollment did drop -- but it is dropping for F2F classes, too. One thing I've noticed is that students aren't that keen on the extra $30 per hybrid class ... But except for the students who don't like Blackboard, most of the students seem to like it. Now I should mention that my hybrids only lose one hour a week of face time. But I weigh online discussion heavily (20%). I find it helps the most with my daily classes -- we drop Fridays and the weekly discussion boards tend to be thematic, so that even if I didn't get a chance to tie things together in class, there's a chance to do big picture stuff over the course of the week.

I'm experimenting with hybrids at the new place -- if you remind me, I'll try to keep you posted on how they go in Spring. My evening class is a hybrid, though, and people seem to be ok with it so far ...
As an undergradate currently slugging away, I admit that I've never been a fan of the hybrid format for precisely the reason of "I want it one way or the other."

Hybrids seem to almost be more effort at times and to require a level of outside work I can't afford with my heavy load of other classes.
Hybrids are popular if it's a face-to-face course with online "extras". Or, if you like, it's an online course with face-to-face "extras". So if a hybrid (blended learning) course is the only one on offer, students may well like having lots of ways to get the material because it's more likely that one of them will suit their style.

But offer a F2F, online, hybrid three-way option, and why would any student choose a course that only offers 50% of their preferring learning style rather than 100%?
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