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...