The innovative classroom: Maximizing student engagement through hybrid learning
Clemson students, faculty and administrators have become part of a movement that is dedicated to exploring the future of higher education by embracing new technology. Benefiting from an innovative blend of two very different learning platforms, hybrid classes in Clemson University’s College of Business and Behavioral Sciences (CBBS) give students the opportunity to learn both in the classroom and through carefully planned online activities. Hybrid learning is one of many new directives seen on college campuses today – directives set in motion in part by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). In its executive summary, the AASCU speaks of its national initiative to “re-imagine and redesign education for shifting student demographics.”
When Dean of Undergraduate Studies Dr. Janice Murdoch, an active member of AASCU, approached Dr. Mary Anne Taylor to teach Introduction to Psychology as a hybrid class, Taylor welcomed the opportunity. Taylor, a specialist in Industrial/Organizational Psychology who is highly respected by her students and peers, has been teaching Clemson students for close to 25 years. Encouragement and support from Murdoch, and the acceptance of the new format from Department of Psychology Chair Dr. Pat Raymark, convinced Taylor to go ahead and take the lead.
Taylor attended a conference on hybrid learning and soon became acclimated to the style of teaching. She also took a series of short courses with Clemson’s Department of Computing and Information Technology (CCIT) so that she could learn how to build the modules needed for the online portion of the course. “I benefited from the valuable knowledge, and constructive support and instruction from the CCIT staff as I experimented with the various capabilities of the web technology,” says Taylor. When it actually came time to create the hybrid curriculum for the course, Taylor turned to Clemson students for input. She formed two interdisciplinary student creative inquiry teams. “The student input was a valuable part of formulating the hybrid course. It allowed me to see the course content from their perspective,” says Taylor. “These teams were very influential in how I structured and launched the course. Students shared their points of view, which allowed me to determine the best format and materials for the course.”
By 2010, Taylor was teaching traditional and hybrid versions of Introduction to Psychology. The course is considered one of the first hybrid courses ever offered at Clemson. Although the advance preparation was extensive, it allowed Taylor to become comfortable with the technology. While the traditional Introduction to Psychology course meets in the classroom three-times-a-week, students who are enrolled in the hybrid version of the course meet twice-a-week in the classroom for lecture-style learning. Each week Taylor’s online lesson replaces the lecture that would have typically been taught in the classroom on the third day. Once online, students find readings, power points, assignments and video clips that come from a variety of sources. Students can ask Taylor questions and share their comments online as well.
“Feedback from students about hybrid courses has been very positive,” says Taylor. “They like the flexibility and freedom from the confines of the typical block schedule. I see hybrid learning as a way to combine the best of both worlds. Students interact face-to-face in a traditional setting and also benefit from an electronic curriculum that has been created to supplement material taught in class. By its very nature, a hybrid course requires that a student be organized, participatory and self-motivated.”
Psychology 201 with Dr. Taylor is the first hybrid class Joe Ancona has ever taken. A business management major, with a minor in psychology, Ancona is slated to graduate from CBBS in December 2016. He is enthusiastic about the experience of taking a course that blends classroom-based learning with web technology. Ancona feels very comfortable with both delivery methods. “I really like how the course has been designed — Monday and Wednesday lectures are followed by a corresponding online module that Dr Taylor has created,” says Ancona. “I see the text book as the roadmap of the class, and the lectures as the guide. The modules follow the textbook and lectures, but use slide shows, videos and case studies to give the material more depth and a different perspective. Sometimes the module introduces new concepts not covered in the lecture. As a visual learner, what I like best is going on the module and trying to figure out the content on my own. This enhances the learning process for me. What I also like is the convenience of the hybrid class schedule. I work full time and the schedule gives me the flexibility I need.”
Also enrolled in Taylor’s Psychology 201 is Hannah Watkins ’17. Watkins, a food science major at Clemson’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences, is enjoying the blend of lecture and online learning. “Dr. Taylor’s lectures are really engaging. She makes it very real world for me,” Watkins says. “Each module is different and very interesting, especially the videos. The modules reinforce what we are learning in class in a very straightforward way. I like how Dr. Taylor uses the modules to switch up the material. Even though a third of the class is online, she is always available. I would definitely take more hybrid courses at Clemson.”
Another Clemson professor who is teaching hybrid classes is Dr. Miren Ivankovic. His economics course “Essentials of Economics” blends one-quarter classroom instruction with three-quarters online learning. The 45 students who are enrolled in the class meet in a classroom setting once every three weeks, usually before an exam. For the online component of the course, students use a sophisticated electronic “text book” that replicates a hard copy text, but has the added value of videos, as well as visually stimulating charts and graphs. He provides students with weekly reading assignments and a suggested timetable of when each reading assignment is due.
“Many of today’s students seem very comfortable with the convenience and innovative quality of hybrid learning,” says Ivankovic. “When I teach a hybrid course I see students benefiting from both traditional and non-traditional learning experiences. I support the hybrid movement but caution students that such courses demand accountability and self-discipline. Those students who excel in hybrid courses learn to think for themselves. It is an invaluable skill that resonates deeply in today’s work world.”
As Clemson continues to offer students a selection of hybrid learning opportunities, it identifies itself as a university that understands the academic needs of its students and faculty. The CBBS community sees firsthand how hybrid classes serve as the middle ground between traditional learning and online formats. This allows Clemson to position itself as an institution of higher education that is open to change, growth and greatness in the 21st century.