Thoughts on Hybridity

January 4th, 2010

The most important thing to say about hybrids (partly online, partly in-class courses) I said in my last post:  there must be fairly stable and widely shared expectations about them, especially from the students’ perspective. Things like how they’re scheduled (and impact on student and faculty schedules) can’t be unreliable or erratic. Yet the prospect hybrid courses should present puts the cart before the horse: the first thing to consider is what would motivate hybrid instruction in the first place.

Why have hybrid courses? There are a host of reasons, from the personal (the convenience they should mean for both faculty and students) to the institutional (the conservation of classroom space, perhaps even the acceleration of time to degree). But the ones I want to stress have to do with teaching and learning per se — what instruction (hybrid or otherwise) is presumably all about.

Perhaps no one ever did more to get at what mattered most in teaching and learning than Arthur Chickering and Zelda Gamson, who, in 1986, summarized decades of educational research about which kinds of teaching/learning activities improved learning outcomes; they distilled that research down to their famous “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.” According to them, good practice in undergraduate education

  1. encourages contact between students and faculty,
  2. develops reciprocity and cooperation among students,
  3. encourages active learning,
  4. gives prompt feedback,
  5. emphasizes time on task,
  6. communicates high expectations, and
  7. respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

It’s not hard to see how hybrid instruction, offering new/online forms of interaction and communication (even as it reduces “seat time”) helps to address these. In fact, that’s precisely the reason that Steve Ehrmann worked with Arthur Chickering to apply these principles to online and blended learning in “Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever.

That these principles apply to online teaching environments as well as classrooms is obvious. What is perhaps less so is that they apply differently. Online interaction or communication is not the same as that which occurs in classrooms — think, for instance, of how online discussions allow everyone to contribute in ways that would chew up too much time in the classroom — and that has to be taken into account in planning online and hybrid courses. Since online instruction has to maximize its advantages (the reflection allowed by asynchronous instruction) while minimizing its disadvantages (the loss of the immediacy and spontaneity of the classroom),  it has become common to think of hybrid or blended learning as the “best of both worlds.” This is such a popular way of invoking the possibilities posed by blended or hybrid instruction that we shouldn’t be surprised to see it used, not just once or twice, not just three times or four times, not even five or six or seven or eight times, but nine times, ten times, and more.

“Getting the Best of Both Worlds” was in fact the theme of the 2009 Sloan-C Workshop on Blended Learning and Higher Education some of us were involved in (and no, it’s not one of the hyperlinked “best of both worlds” instances above). Of course, “best” may be in the eye of the beholder. Determinations of how to get “the best of both worlds” will likely vary by instructor, by discipline, by kind and level of instruction. And so it may be still more useful to mention the theme of that same annual workshop from the year before: “Blending with a Purpose” was also the title of  the keynote presentation by our own Tony Picciano. A version of that presentation is available on YouTube. Tony also edited a special issue of the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks on blended learning that features another version.

I recommend both versions to all who are interested in hybrid courses, but above all I recommend what is at the heart of both, nicely encapsulated in that phrase “blending with a purpose”: academic program and course goals and objectives should drive the approaches and technologies used in hybrid courses. Is the overarching goal of “going hybrid” to increase interaction among students? to get them to say more in response to course content than classroom time would allow? to appeal to a variety of learning styles? to foster collaborative research? to make instruction writing-intensive? Whatever the big reasons, and these barely scratch the surface, the great achievement would be to make the blending of online and in-class instruction purpose-driven, goal-oriented. Easier said than done, no doubt, but then the point is how much easier it would be to start with the pedagogical goal(s) in mind.

Comments are closed.

Skip to toolbar