Skip to main content

Hybrid Hiccups vs. F2F Courses

This year has been a study in contrasts. I chose to teach a traditional technical writing course in the fall and a hybrid course during the spring semester. The differences in student projects, the quality of their analyses, and general attitudes is remarkable.

I know research found no easily quantified differences in learning outcomes. However, I think anyone could compare the group projects between these courses and see a difference in the products. While the lessons learned and the facts students retain might be similar, the results do demonstrate something.

Some elements of are "intangible" because they are social and philosophical. For example, groups struggled online, even with guidance and gentle remainders to establish schedules and routines. In the traditional course, groups developed stronger bonds and worked together frequently. It should be noted that the face-to-face (F2F) students exchanged more e-mail and chatted more often than the students on the officially hybrid course.

Students in the traditional course met in a computer lab once a week. This allowed them time to help each other with desktop publishing issues. Both courses included design students, but in the F2F course these students were leaders. In the online course, leaders failed to emerge. (I try not to influence how groups function, but maybe I should be more proactive online.)

The hybrid students did the bare minimum on assignments. They counted words, literally, and seemed driven by convenience instead of a desire to learn something new. Online was, as several admitted, perceived as "less work" because there were fewer in-person meetings.

I had not registered D or F marks for nearly three years. Unfortunately, the hybrid course had a high number of incomplete and missing assignments. Ten percent of the students will not receive credit for the course. I am told that the failure / drop rate approaches 30 percent online.

The best students in both classes were definitely equal. For some students, the online space was not problematic. The problem is that the average grade was approximately six percent lower. Sure, a 81 versus an 87 seems minor, but it is significant to me.

I like online content. As a teacher, I was able to post my lectures as audio, include supplemental videos, and I could return papers easily with comments. Students could easily check the calendar, announcements, and obtain handouts. Unfortunately, even with those materials available, less than half of the students downloaded all the materials I offered.

Students have to be self-motivated for online learning to function. I am disappointed, but I realize I did all that I could. I sent students e-mails to remind them of due dates. I asked questions when they seemed to struggle. I posted leading questions, imagining they would realize I was hinting they needed to communicate better within groups.

Maybe it is because so many parents, working students, and students with misconceptions about online learning were in the hybrid that it had a slightly shifted grade curve. The convenience was essential to some of these students, but that meant they were balancing a lot in their lives. If students who could not otherwise take the course were able to complete a requirement, I suppose that is a good thing.

Though I like the hybrid model, with both online and traditional meetings, it is clear that I need to consider that the students attracted to such a course might have different needs and expectations. A course with group projects is not like a computer programming, math, or statistics course. One of my students said his online econ course was great because he worked ahead. Group work online, in his view, was annoyingly complex.

I kept student comments, with their permission, and hope to write about this in a more formal way. Who takes a course affects the dynamics more than I anticipated. It might not be the format caused the reduced grades, but the student population attracted to the format.

It would be nice to discuss this with other teachers of hybrid courses.

The change I would make is to have more F2F meetings before switching to an online course. I think the students needed a greater sense of community that requires more time to develop online than in person. I would have six consecutive traditional courses, at a minimum, if group work is to remain a component of the class.

I admit, the social aspects are not "officially" part of a class on writing, but they are important to the future success of graduates.


Popular posts from this blog

Comic Sans Is (Generally) Lousy: Letters and Reading Challenges

Specimen of the typeface Comic Sans. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Personally, I support everyone being able to type and read in whatever typefaces individuals prefer. If you like Comic Sans, then change the font while you type or read online content. If you like Helvetica, use that.

The digital world is not print. You can change typefaces. You can change their sizes. You can change colors. There is no reason to argue over what you use to type or to read as long as I can use typefaces that I like.

Now, as a design researcher? I'll tell you that type matters a lot to both the biological act of reading and the psychological act of constructing meaning. Statistically, there are "better" and "worse" type for conveying messages. There are also typefaces that are more legible and more readable. Sometimes, legibility does not help readability, either, as a type with overly distinct letters (legibility) can hinder word shapes and decoding (readability).

One of the co…

Let’s Make a Movie: Digital Filmmaking on a Budget

Film camera collection. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
June 5, 2015 Deadline
July 2015 Issue

Every weekend a small group of filmmakers I know make at least one three-minute movie and share the short film on their YouTube channel, 3X7 Films.

Inspired by the 48-Hour Film Project (, my colleagues started to joke about entering a 48-hour contest each month. Someone suggested that it might be possible to make a three-minute movie every week. Soon, 3X7 Films was launched as a Facebook group and members started to assemble teams to make movies.

The 48-Hour Film Project, also known as 48HFP, launched in 2001 by Mark Ruppert. He convinced some colleagues in Washington, D.C., that they could make a movie in 48 hours. The idea became a friendly competition. Fifteen years later, 48HFP is an international phenomenon, with competitions in cities around the world. Regional winners compete in national and international festivals.

On a Friday night, teams gathe…

Edutainment: Move Beyond Entertaining, to Learning

A drawing made in Tux Paint using various brushes and the Paint tool. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
November 2, 2015 Deadline
December 2015 Issue

Randomly clicking on letters, the young boy I was watching play an educational game “won” each level. He paid no attention to the letters themselves. His focus was on the dancing aliens at the end of each alphabet invasion.

Situations like this occur in classrooms and homes every day. Technology appeals to parents, politicians and some educators as a path towards more effective teaching. We often bring technology into our schools and homes, imagining the latest gadgets and software will magically transfer skills and information to our children.

This school year, I left teaching business communications to return to my doctoral specialty in education, technology and language development. As a board member of an autism-related charity, I speak to groups on how technology both helps and hinders special education. Busin…