I remember the first time I visited Vanguard’s campus on a Friday. I taught on a Tuesday/Thursday schedule my first semester and had never been on campus at the end of the week. It was a ghost town. I was showing a prospective student around the school and realized there was not much for her to see. There were no students walking to and from classes, no groups gathered around the tables outside Samson’s.
TEACHING IN AN AGE OF HYBRIDITY
As the digital age transforms higher education, a new type of class has emerged – the complex hybrid classroom, where classes meet both face-to-face and in an online forum. The quiet campus climate on a Friday afternoon can be attributed, at least in part, to these classes where Friday sections take place on the web.
I have been teaching hybrid classes for over five years now and have become an advocate for this flexible classroom arrangement. Being on campus less frequently benefits me as a mother of young children, and I believe it also benefits students who may commute to campus, be parents themselves, or have jobs outside the university. As we look for ways to accommodate non-traditional students and to aid first-generation college students, hybrid class models play an important role in making a college education accessible to more people.
GETTING OVER THE HYBRID HUMP
My love for the hybrid class model was not instantaneous. When given the opportunity to teach a hybrid class for the first time, I struggled to decide how to best organize the course. What assignments should be done in the classroom and what activities should students complete on the computer at home? What was the most valuable use of in-person instruction time? What digital tools could be leveraged to expand student learning beyond the classroom?
My biggest fear was creating a class that tried to mimic the traditional classroom, but simply asked students to do more homework online. I actually ended my first semester teaching hybrid classes feeling frustrated. I had spent too much time dealing with technical difficulties and not enough time harnessing online technology to amplify student learning. However, I was also hopeful the hybrid model could work well if I was willing to adjust my pedagogy.
Through trial and error, I discovered hybrid classes provide a unique opportunity for students to become “citizen-scholars” in today’s digital society (Ackerman & Coogan, 2010). These classes allow students to read, write, and interact with real publics on the internet, while also providing the opportunity for students to work with and receive feedback from their instructor and peers in the traditional classroom.
At the Conference on Christianity and Literature this past May, I presented a hybrid class model I have used in first-year composition that intertwines face-to-face writing instruction, rich peer feedback, and digital literacies by asking students to embark in online ethnography. In the course, each student joins an online community and participates in that space for the duration of the semester. Their goal is to understand the literacy practices within that space and analyze the values of its members.
For example, one of my students was training for his pilot’s license and joined an online forum for private pilots to learn more about his extracurricular pursuit. He conversed with other pilots daily and wrote a strong essay about air traffic legislation which would affect him greatly in the future. In this course, students not only expand their analytic and argumentation skills, but they also think deeply about new technologies and become more conscious of how they portray their identity and faith online. Students in this class become “citizen scholars,” as they navigate online and offline learning environments to engage in cultural conversations and create meaningful texts that glorify God.
HARNESSING HYBRID HOURS
My ethnography course is just one way to approach a hybrid learning environment. When designing a hybrid class, it is important not to approach the schedule with a sense of deprivation. We should not think of a hybrid class as “losing” an hour in the classroom, but rather being given an hour for our students to participate in learning activities beyond the classroom. In the future, I would love to see Vanguard instructors design hybrid classes around community literacy, social activism, ministry preparation, and professional internships. Hybrid classes are not simply about moving education online, but about asking our students to apply their learning to the world beyond the university.
And that student who toured the school with me on a quiet Friday afternoon? It turns out she likes Vanguard’s calm atmosphere at the end of the week. She enrolled just hours after leaving campus and will be starting her sophomore year this fall.
With my newborn right after presenting at the conference