I attended the third annual CUNY online education conference on Friday, May 12th and was able to sit in on a number of awesome talks which related to some of our more recent discussion in technology interfacing with students. Specifically, a talk titled “Finding an Optimal Balance Between Face to Face and Online Instruction in E-Learning Hybrids” caught my eye. The talk was by Yana Durmysheva, a professor of Psychology at Burough of Manhattan Community College.
She began the talk by introducing herself and describing her recent history with teaching online. When she first taught a “hybrid” course (50/50 in person and on line material), she said that she hated it and had no idea how to properly structure the content. She went on to describe how her training in quantitative psychology inspired her to look into the literature to see how student performance (in grades). She found the research results to be something of a mixed bag, with many review studies finding no significant difference in performance by class structure, some finding the best performance in totally face to face teaching, some finding the best performance in fully online teaching, and still some others finding the best performance in hybrid classes. She was frustrated with this research and decided to examine for herself what she believes factors into student success and how she can manipulate and optimize those factors for herself.
Among the crowd attending this talk (approximately 20 people), there was a man who introduced himself as the blackboard administrator at this school. He spoke about how students would often complain to him that the blackboard layout of individual online courses all looked different, and that they were finding it very difficult to interact with fully online courses for this reason. He worked with many of the faculty at his school to develop a standardized template for online courses, a sort of starting point that instructors could then customize further, but would overall maintain a similar “skeleton” to other online courses their students were taking.
It was also brought up by a woman in the crowd who taught many online courses that keeping things simple and obviating the structure of the blackboard page is critical for her not to overwhelm students, especially adult learners. Consistency is key! She also finds better student performance when the content is structured online to be very interactive and foster active engagement, discussion, multimedia assignments, debates with fellow students, etc. This includes scaffolding long term projects with both individual and SYNCHRONOUS online group work.
Dr. Durmysheva went on to say that the most basic tool for her online courses are her powerpoint lectures with recorded voice over them (reminded me of our powerpoint!). She says she received a lot of positive feedback from students regarding those. With regard to other online learning tools, she always feels uncomfortable asking students to pay for licenses for educational software, and has been looking into OER (Open Educational Resources) much more heavily, though she struggles to develop comparable content. I think something like our future initiatives site could be on the right track here!
As to the main subject of the talk, she then went on to investigate the OPTIMAL amount of face to face interaction with students in hybrid online courses. She originally went with about a 50/50 structure, but due to pregnancy she, for two semesters, needed to shift to a 70% online, 30% face to face structure (only 6 meetings!). To her surprise she found an increase in motivation in students and an overall decrease in drop rate. It caused her to wonder, what about only three meetings? What’s optimal?
From two 70/30 semesters (with three sections in each) and many more semesters of 50/50 or fully online courses, she generated some self-made data she intends to continually add to as she investigates. In terms of overall grade means, fully online is running at 82, 50/50 is at 84.5, and 70/30 is at 87! She also provided a frequency table of letter grades and withdrawals for each course structure which I’ve reconstructed below:
She feels that in the 70/30 setup, her face to face time with the students is spent teaching them HOW to engage with the content (how to learn!), rather than disseminating the content itself, which is more efficiently provided in a tailored manor on blackboard. As to how she schedules the six meetings, it is generally as follows:
Meeting 1: Second week of semester, roster is more stable than in the first week and students can already come with some questions and receive a relatively large dump of information.
Meeting 2: Third week of the semester, this is primarily to conduct troubleshooting for the first few assignments/etc.
Meeting 3: Fifth week of classes, this will be the week before their first exam for review and discussion.
Meeting 4: First Exam
Meeting 5: One more meeting before the withdrawal period ends.
Meeting 6: Final exam.
She’ll be teaching two more 70/30 structured courses next semester and develop the data further. Overall I found the talk itself to be an interesting take on hybrid courses, but more than that the engagement from the crowd who were overall very experienced in online teaching was very enlightening. I learned a lot philosophically about online content design that I will certainly be incorporating in my courses next semester.