Round Table on Alternating-Hybrids and Flipped Classes in the College of Education
On Tuesday October 29th, the CEPSE/COE Design Studio hosted a roundtable on alternating-hybrids and flipped classes in the College of Education at Michigan State University.
Dr. Punya Mishra and Dr. Danah Henriksen from the Educational Psychology and Educational Technology program, Dr. Kristy Cooper from the Educational Administration Department, and Dr. Kim Maier from the Measurement and Quantitative Method program spoke about their experiences and lessons learned in designing and implementing such unique courses. The roundtable was also an opportunity for audience interaction and conversation around these interesting pedagogies.
While these courses generally alternate between (a) face-to-face class meetings interspersed throughout the semester and (b) online interactions; each course specifically implemented a different strategy based on the needs of the students in the class.
Knowledge. Media. Design
Dr. Henriksen and Dr. Mishra spoke about the alternating-hybrid course (CEP 917 – Knowledge. Media. Design) they co-taught in Fall 2012. Their class had an equal number of face-to-face and online students; and to accommodate the hectic schedules of the full-time employed online students, the instructors decided to hold synchronous “face-to-face” sessions every other week and to have students work online during the remaining weeks. This course was previously taught fully face-to-face; as such, the course had to be redesigned into a hybrid course that fits the needs of both the face-to-face and online students. The decision to make this a hybrid course came from the difficulty of having the full-time employed online students find a time to meet weekly.
This course was divided into two complementary parts: synchronous face-to-face meetings and asynchronous online work. Synchronous sessions were held on alternate weeks on Tuesday nights from 6 to 9 pm and several technologies were used to mediate the conversations between the face-to-face students, instructors, and online students. GoToMeeting, a video conferencing tool, was the main portal for online students to join class through and bring them into the same space as the face-to-face students. While GoToMeeting was used for whole class discussions, other tools such as Etherpad, Google hangouts, and Skype were used for small group conversations. Every small group was made up of two online and two face-to-face students and they chose which platform to communicate through. This minimized any technology issues since each group chose what they were most comfortable with.
Asynchronous work was the key to keeping the student community running during the off weeks when the class did not meet face-to-face. In fact, according to Dr. Mishra, some things, such as discussion forums related to content, are better suited to be done online as they lead to deep conversation. Having the discussions be asynchronous gives the students time to reflect on the readings and craft a well-thought-out answer. This was achieved through a course website developed on WordPress. The activity on the website was content oriented as it was an active hub of communication around the readings. Every week, students would have readings to complete and discussion questions to answer. The asynchronous communication allowed them to think deeply about design. In addition, short videos aimed at synthesizing and connecting the readings were uploaded on the website. In the videos, the instructors gave a quick overview of the authors, the readings, the surrounding context, and key ideas about the content.
In this alternating-hybrid course, there were two sets of technologies: content-related technology that students used to complete the asynchronous course assignments (e.g., Garageband) and communication-related technology for synchronous interactions (e.g., GoToMeeting). Managing the communication-related technology was a feat. It required two instructors being in charge of the course in case of the need to troubleshoot. In addition, it was important to have one instructor monitoring the GoToMeeting backchannel. Some online students found it easier to participate through typing rather than speaking up. This brings to light the differences in class communication norms: what is the equivalent of raising your hand when you are attending remotely?
Whereas Dr. Mishra’s and Dr. Henriksen’s course met 50% of the time synchronously in a face-to-face setting, Dr. Cooper’s class met the majority of the time synchronously in an online setting.
Inquiry and Analysis of Teaching and Learning
The alternating-hybrid strategy Dr. Kristy Cooper used in her course was different than that used by Dr. Mishra and Dr. Henriksen. The majority of the class interactions took place online during weekly synchronous sessions every Tuesday from 6 to 8 pm. The technology of choice was Skype at first, but then Dr. Cooper switched to using GoToMeeting. In addition, the class met face-to-face five times a semester in Birmingham, MI.
To prepare for the synchronous sessions, the students had to watch, short, five-minute teacher-prepared videos before hand. Typically, those involved Dr. Cooper narrating an Excel sheet. On the course management system, there were assignments to be completed after watching the videos. These involved answering a quiz that autocorrected the students’ answers. If students got the question wrong, they could go back, review the video, and attempt the quiz as many times as they liked until they received the correct answer.
The synchronous sessions mainly involved group work. Dr. Cooper would introduce tasks on her PowerPoint and then ask students to work with others on a Google Doc to complete the assignments. The decision to use Google Docs allowed the students to record their work and keep track of it. It also presented an opportunity for the instructor to open a group-specific Google Doc and take a “sneak peek” of what was going on. As such, students were held accountable as there was a running record of how they were spending their time.
While both of these are examples of alternating-hybrid courses, they did include some element of flipped pedagogy as the instructors in each class included videos for students to watch on their own time before participating in the synchronous conversations with the rest of the class. In Knowledge. Media. Design the videos introduced and contextualised the readings, whereas in Inquiry and Analysis of Teaching and Learning the videos were tutorials intended to teach students some methods. Despite their different functions, both videos required a huge time investment, and some effort from the instructors prior to the beginning of class. The videos, however, are now resources that will be immediately available in future iterations of the courses.
While the flipped pedagogy was a secondary component in the courses described above, it was the main pedagogical style in Dr. Kim Maier’s Quantitative Methods course.
Flipped Class: Quantitative Methods
Dr. Maier’s Quantitative Methods course has been taught in a traditional face-to-face format and in a fully online format. To prepare for the online section of the class, Dr. Maier had prepared videos of the content for students to watch. Each week, students had to watch, on average, around five 12-minute videos.
When teaching her face-to-face class last spring, the students requested that the videos from the online class be made available. This request ultimately led Dr. Maier to experiment with flipping her class. At first, she would make the videos available but still go over the content during class. As the weeks passed by, however, Dr. Maier informed her students that they will be responsible for watching the videos before hand and come to class prepared to apply the content and discuss their own research projects in light of the material. Since there was no attendance policy in place, attendance dropped significantly. In addition, students would come to class anxious if they haven’t watched the videos. This was a struggle for Dr. Maier. She had hoped to use class time for conversations and discussions around these statistical methods and to help students practice and move their research along.
The roundtable panel and some audience members gave excellent suggestions as how to successfully flip a class and provide students with the most positive experience. One tip is to make the videos as engaging as possible. Then, build assignments into the videos that ask students to apply the video content in some way. For example, have students complete a quiz as soon as they enter class or ask them to generate questions for discussion during face-to-face time. In brief, students need to be held accountable.
The assumption that “in a flipped class listening is learning” is false. Real learning happens in the face-to-face conversations about the online lecture and in the application of the content. Real learning is in the practice that occurs in the classroom.
As such, in both alternating-hybrid courses and flipped classes it is increasingly important to strike a balance between the synchronous and asynchronous communications that take place (for the former) and between the face-to-face and online interactions (for the latter). Balance is the key to a successful learning experience.