Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Build Your Own Hybrid

Blended or hybrid classes are a persistent mystery.  They’re typically defined as a blend of onsite and online, so a class that might normally meet on campus twice a week would meet once a week, with the other half conducted online.  The research I’ve seen on them suggests that they offer the best of both worlds educationally, and they certainly make a world of sense intuitively.  But students generally don’t take them.  

Today someone pointed out that there’s a more optimistic way of looking at it.

Most of our “online” students aren’t entirely online.  They typically take a few onsite classes, and then use an online class or two to round out their schedule while still keeping work-friendly hours.  They keep some connection to campus, but still have several days per week they can devote to paid employment or other obligations.

In a sense, those students have built their own hybrids.  The key difference is that they’ve blended their overall schedules, rather than individual courses.

We don’t really market this kind of hybrid.  We market online classes as convenient, which they obviously are, but I haven’t seen a college market the idea of blending a schedule.  Students have largely figured it out on their own.  

That may be a missed opportunity.  Deliberately building and marketing something like “be full-time, two days a week” might reach some people.  (It would need to be catchier -- my background isn’t in marketing…)  

This version of a hybrid schedule gets around some of the issues that purely online students face.  It isn’t as isolating, since there’s still a regular in-class component.  Instructors’ office hours are accessible.  (That’s not theoretical; I’ve had professors tell me that some of their online students show up in person at office hours just to introduce themselves.)  Students who prefer, say, lab classes in person can take them in person.  And when they need to conduct business on campus -- the bookstore, the registrar, financial aid, whatever -- they can do it when they’re here.  

We have far more of this kind of hybrid student than we have purely online students.  Some of that is probably a function of geography; as with most community colleges, we mostly draw locally.  But much of it seems to be also a function of student confidence.  Students who start out entirely onsite often start integrating online courses in subsequent semesters.  They already feel integrated into the college, so moving part of a schedule online feels less like a sacrifice and more like a convenience.

This might also help explain the online completion paradox.  Completion rates for online classes are generally lower than for onsite classes, but students who take at least a few online classes tend to graduate at higher rates than students who don’t take any.  The hybrid schedule may allow them to navigate complicated lives more easily, and therefore make it likelier that they’ll finish.

Has anyone seen a college deliberately market a hybrid schedule?  Is there a downside to the hybrid schedule that I’m not seeing?