Hybrid Courses Are Best
Research coming out of the University of Central Florida about media-enhanced courses will likely change forever the way most of us teach. The UCF catalog classifies some courses as "M," which means "media-enhanced and reduced seat time." An M-Course may meet twice a week instead of three times a week in order to free up time and effort for students to work individually or in teams between classes. Usually the out-of-class work is facilitated by the Internet.
For several years, researchers associated with the Center for Distributed Learning (http://distrib.ucf. edu/dlucf/present.htm) have been comparing results in M-sections with traditional, face-to-face (F2F) and Web-based-only sections. The outcomes are dramatic and consistent. Students enrolled in "M," or hybrid, courses have the highest success rate! These rates are higher than those for F2F courses and Web-based-only courses. (See the presentation by Steven Sorg, Frank Juge, and Robert Bleds'e at the CDL Web site.)
These results match my experience and instincts. If they are widely replicated, at UCF and beyond, we will be designing most courses by "the 90-10 Rule," which posits that both 100 percent F2F courses and 100 percent Internet-based courses are inferior to hybrid or mixed courses. Usually the optimum mix will be between 90-10 and 10-90. But if 90-10 is to become the "gold standard," a key role for institutions will be to assure that F2F students have adequate Internet support. The best distance learning programs will be supported by periodic regional gatherings of course participants, and by "get-to-know-you-and-trust-you" retreats.
I have found it helpful to construct a table of comparative advantage. Almost everything I do is best done face-to-face, either in my office with individual students or during class, when one student's comment might stimulate another's learning. Both my students and I are willing to give more time to the course—unfortunately, not the same time and not at the same place. My challenge is to structure assignments to take advantage of our mutual time, and to free up F2F time for class discussion, visiting lecturers, and in-depth exploration into basic economic concepts.
As shown in the chart, I asked myself, "What activities that I normally pursue in class can be shifted out of class with the least loss in effectiveness?" In the "Lecture Monologue" row, the "Advan" in the "Virtual Only" column reflects my subjective belief that a monologue lecture delivered over the Internet is almost as effective as an in-class lecture. By contrast, in the "12-Person Discussion" row, the "Disadv" in the "Virtual Only" column reflects my judgment that 12-person discussions over the Internet are much less effective than in-class discussions. Even though it would be best if students both heard and discussed my lecture during class, by making the lecture available over the Internet, I have more time to encourage a full, in-depth discussion.
Professors with different teaching styles, students, and subject matters should and will make different entries in this "Table of Comparative Advantage." Whether a course is 90-10 or 10-90, this technique encourages us to place the right activities in their most appropriate environments. Properly designed hybrid courses are a wonderful way to get students to spend more time on task and, hopefully, develop a better mastery of the material.
David Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org) is vice president and dean of the International
Center for Computer Enhanced Learning at Wake Forest University.