Grazing - a personal blog from Steve Ehrmann

Steve Ehrmann is an author, speaker, and consultant.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

"Flipped Classrooms" versus "Blended Courses" versus "Hybrid Courses"

Many faculty and staff take“flipping the classroom” to mean that they should make recordings of  lectures, assign them as homework, and use the vacated lecture time to more interactive work in the classroom.  

Will that work? What if students aren't investing enough time in homework now? Will it help or hurt to add video lectures to that load?  And if students continue to come to class unprepared, won't the instructor feel compelled to drop the interactive work in class and lecture instead? The more things change, the more they may stay the same.

Improving learning outcomes requires more than swapping the same activities into different contexts.

And using the term "classroom" as a synonym for "course" tends to divert attention from what goes on outside the classroom. That's not good. Think of typical classroom lectures as exercise videos. How strong do people become from watching exercise videos? Their new strength comes from the practice they do after watching the video: the homework.

"Flipped classroom" has displaced an earlier, more suggestive term: "hybrid courses."  By hybrid, I mean a course whose design gets its educational power by making the most of what's possible in and out of classrooms. Drawing on those two sources, hybrids can be different and more effective than either of those sources.

[It's true that many hybrids also adjust the amount of time students spend in and out of classrooms as part of their design. But in my view a well-implemented hybrid gets the most value from its way of multiplying what can be done in and outside classrooms.]
For this blog post, let's just focus on interpersonal interaction in hybrid courses.  Many research-based practices for effective education rely on heavy doses of interpersonal interaction, far more interaction than in most lecture-based courses.  When designing a hybrid course, what kinds of interpersonal interaction are best done online? face-to-face?,

Interaction better done face-to-face

  • The virtually instantaneous judgment needed for some kinds of coaching (think of using prepared learning assistants to help facilitate student discussion and collaboration in the classroom);
  • The quick back-and-forth that can resolve some misunderstandings (think of using clickers to support peer instruction);
  • The sharing of emotional responses that can help further motivate students and introduce them to different ways of perceiving and valuing. ("The equation of simple harmonic motion" is an earlier blog post on that potential.)
  • (add your own suggestions)

Interaction better done online:

  • More thoughtfully paced interaction that’s important for novices just learning to think and communicate in the terms of the field they’re studying (see Smith citation below);
  • More options for students to study and discuss different things, according to their interests  (ditto about Smith)
  • Greater ease of communication, especially for students who’d rather not interrupt, students (and instructors) whose native language is not English
  • More visual forms of peer-to-peer communication (e.g., students using video clips to help explain a point)
  • (add your own suggestions)
For online discussion to work well, instructors had better coach the students in how to make constructive contributions. Then instructors ought to use simple rubrics to give students simple feedback (and fractional points toward their grades) – this week have you shown evidence understanding the contributions of others? Are your contributions helping to move the discussion and the work forward? When I taught an online course a couple years ago, I was staggered by how the intelligence of student contributions improved when I took those two steps.

Here's an research report from Karen Smith  on the importance of asynchronous discussion to learning a new language. The language is Spanish. However, if you think about it, deep learning of any content involves entering a new community and mastering at least the rudiments of a new language. The study of literature, of social work, and of mathematics all have their own ways of thinking and communicating.   The sample size in Smith's study is small (different sections of one class at one university) but the findings ring true to me.

  • Smith, Karen L. (1990)  Collaborative and Interactive Writing for Increasing Communication Skills, Hispania, LXXIII:1, pp. 77-87.

To sum up: let's take a fresh look at how the best use of out-of-classroom work can enrich learning done within classrooms, and vice versa. And let's call the results "hybrid courses."

PS. No, I haven't forgotten "blended courses." For me, the word "blended" suggests that faculty mix some face-to-face with some online, shake the result, and serve. Yug.