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Three Myths about Hybrid and Online College Courses

Three Myths about Hybrid and Online College Courses
There are a number of misconceptions facing online and hybrid education programming, but if done right, the classes can be rewarding and meaningful both for educators and students.
As many educators recognize, hybrid and online courses are increasing in higher learning institutions. Yet in spite of this, lack of encouragement among some professors and administrators for this type of instruction means the supply is not necessarily keeping up with the demand. Some colleges are reluctant to increase the number of online and hybrid courses because of misconceptions about their utility.

Why such restrictions and, in many cases, lack of support for this type of instruction? In discussing this with some college faculty, there seem to be three dominant misconceptions about online or hybrid instruction.

Although for some professors there may be some truth in these statements, they can be addressed with adequate preparation.

1. Inferior Quality and Quantity of Learning

First of all, the quality of education students receive in non-traditional courses can actually be superior or at least equal to what they receive in traditional ones. Contrary to belief in the opposite, the sentiment of some professors is they don’t think students can learn as well if the instructors aren’t fully present with them in the classroom. This may go back to “old school” thinking about teaching where the exalted professor is in the classroom to impart knowledge to passive students. Nowadays, educators typically recognize that there are components of teaching other than lecturing that are at least equally important in the classroom, such as discussions, inquiry-based activities, debates, independent research, group work and use of multimedia resources.

This pedagogy can also be part of hybrid or online instruction. Students today learn differently — they multitask, find information instantly using technology and frequently don’t even take notes. I became cognizant of limited note-taking the first time I observed students after class walk up to the white board and take pictures of what I had written with their smart phones. If students dispute the veracity of a statement made in class, within seconds they can argue or agree with the point in question using information gleaned from their handheld devices. Of course, this is dependent on professors allowing the use of smartphones or laptops in the classroom, which I do, since it assists in their learning. Rather than stifling the use of technological resources, why not encourage it? They’re going to use them anyway, so why not employ their use as a pedagogical strategy?

For example, I frequently pose questions and ask students to quickly find relevant information using their smartphones or laptops. Students enjoy the challenge and are stimulated by the inquiry-based activity. At the end of each semester, I ask hybrid course students for feedback regarding the quality of instruction and the amount of material learned and they overwhelmingly have positive statements. No one can deny the excitement about learning, the fascination with new knowledge and the empowerment students feel when they successfully work independently on an academic task that takes considerable time and effort. This is what college learning is all about and it can take place in both traditional and non-traditional settings.

2. An Online or Hybrid Course Takes a Great Deal of Effort to Create

Quality hybrid or online course preparation does require a lot of work and it takes a considerable amount of time initially. However, after teaching the course a few times, it becomes manageable and the “payoff” is definitely worth it.

If professors think back to the first time they taught a college course, I doubt anyone would say it went smoothly. My first educating experience was as a teaching assistant in an auditorium filled with more than 200 expressionless faces. I quickly learned the value of good course preparation and organization and so the same is true of initially structuring a hybrid or online course.

3. The Failure Rate is High

If a course is not structured properly and appropriate course prerequisites put in place, the failure rate could indeed be higher than in traditional courses. However, this is not always true. For example, at the college where I teach, a study was recently conducted looking at the pass/fail rates of hybrid and online versus strictly face-to-face instruction for the same course, and we were pleased that the outcomes were similar. However, we do have course prerequisites in place that automatically affect the pass rate and we also offer extensive faculty support and development in the creation of hybrid and online courses.

Hybrid or online courses may not be for everyone, but for those motivated to teach or take one, the experience can be rewarding, meaningful and educationally sound.

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