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Hybrid online classes: What we’ve learned

Two educators share their perspectives on hybrid online courses.

In 2001, Massachusetts changed its regulations to allow non-universities to offer teacher and administrator programs to qualify for a state teacher’s or administrator’s license. The Collaborative for Educational Services (CES) began its licensing program in 2003, creating programs in the licensing areas of special education, English as a Second Language, reading, math, sciences, school administration, history, and English. We offer these programs throughout the Commonwealth.

Our challenge as a non-university teacher licensure program is in reaching the relatively small number of prospective teachers who want to enroll in such a program. We are less expensive than comparable college and university programs, and if we want to remain inexpensive, we have to find ways to combine classes across multiple locations.  We tried interactive video conferencing (IVC) with some success. This had its problems, however, including technical configurations beyond our control, difficulty retaining technical support, and meeting minimal attendance targets stand out.

Three years ago, in an attempt to reach our students throughout the state more effectively, we tried a hybrid online model blending face-to-face instruction with an online component developed using the Moodle Learning Management System (LMS). Gradually, over the course of the last few years, we “translated” all our courses from a typical classroom format to a hybrid online format so that we were able to offer each class in both formats.

To retain the personal and community aspects of our courses, we set a minimum of three face-to-face sessions for each course, typically requiring people from all over our relatively small state to drive to centrally-located Worcester for their three face-to-face classes. The first, middle, and last sessions of each course usually met face-to-face.

Observations

We learned a lot about how to make a hybrid online (HO) course work. We made some interesting discoveries and developed some best practices that we want to share. With regard to our discoveries:

  1. We found that people were eager to enroll in our HO courses. The HO sections were usually filled before our traditional format sections. We attribute this to several factors: (a) the oft-cited benefit of the flexibility offered by an online course that is available 24/7; (b) savings of time and money by limiting the amount of required driving to class; and (c) a preference for online instruction that we see primarily among our younger teachers.
  2. Instructor after instructor tells us that the quality of written work in HO classes exceeds (sometimes considerably) the quality of written work in traditional classes. We attribute this to the fact that forum posts are read and responded to not only by the instructor, but also by peers. There are studies that support the notion that students do, in fact, put more energy into work that will be shared with their peers. Even the conventional papers seem to be better written–perhaps because a standard of good writing has been set by the peer-read forums.
  3. We found that people usually rated our HO courses just a touch less successful than our traditional offerings.  Our program is unusual in that we offer both traditional classes as well as HO classes. Students taking an HO section have often had the opportunity to experience a traditional class in our program with an excellent instructor. The comparison to the HO experience is inevitable. We often receive comments asking that there be more face-to-face sessions. We all know that strong teachers make a community of their classrooms. There is a relationship, even a bond, among students and between students and teacher in a great class.  Creating that bond with an HO class is a challenge that we strive to meet.
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