Hybrid Classes: Expectations vs. Reality

My name is Jason Snart.  I’m an English Professor here at COD and I teach a lot of hybrid classes.

What is a “hybrid” class?  A hybrid, or what is sometimes called a blended, class involves a combination of face-to-face, in-the-classroom learning with online learning.  At the College of DuPage instructional time is usually divided on a weekly basis.  So maybe a class that would meet from 9-9:50am on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the face-to-face version would, in the hybrid version, meet in class on Monday and Wednesday but not on Friday.  Instead, there would be an online learning component each week, probably available through our Learning Management System, Blackboard.  

What might that online learning involve?  It could be a discussion board assignment, a collaborative web-based activity (like building a wiki), or it could be a mobile learning assignment that you complete using your smartphone.  Note that online learning is not necessarily just you, reading something posted online and then doing a quiz, or watching a video recap of what you covered in class.  It’s usually much more collaborative and engaging than that.   

The idea behind the hybrid is that, in its best form, it combines what is great about face-to-face learning and what is great about online learning and melds them into a “best of both worlds” scenario.  You don’t have to choose just one or the other: you get both.  And each learning mode can be engaging and meaningful.  

But for as promising as the hybrid learning learning model seems to be, not many students know what a hybrid class is or what it might involve.

Rather than me telling you what it is like to design and teach a hybrid class, though, you are probably much more interested to know what it is like to actually take a hybrid class.  So to introduce what hybrid classes are like from the student perspective, I teamed up with two students from my Honors English 1102 course from Fall 2015–Caroline and Maggie.  We collaborated to write the article that you are now reading.  In what follows, Caroline and Maggie give you some of their expectations going into the course and as we moved through it, and also what they discovered to be the reality of their experience.  You will see that the article is organized by time period, from the very start of our course to the very end.  Within each section Maggie and Caroline talk about expectations and reality.

Hopefully you will find this a useful introduction to what hybrid classes are–brought to you directly by students who have successfully completed one.  And maybe a hybrid course is something you will look to take in the future…..if you haven’t already discovered how great they can be.

Registration: How a Hybrid Course Appears in MyACCESS

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Expectations

Caroline: Unfamiliar with “hybrid” courses, I truly had little to no expectations. I expected to be forced to use our laptops every day in class and that each assignment would be through technology. I did not know how the real classroom would play a part in the course.

Maggie: The term “hybrid” class evokes images of innovative learning techniques and interactive online assignments. It seems new and interesting, albeit a little intimidating. My expectations when first reading about hybrid learning were broad, because I knew so little on the topic to begin with.

Reality

Caroline: I had no idea what the “HYB” part of the course name meant. I was not looking specifically for a hybrid class, I simply saw it worked with my schedule. I was intimidated after understanding what “hybrid” meant but I also took it on as challenge to myself. The biggest bonus was the short class meeting time. After registering, COD helps place you into an “Orientation to Online Learning” course in blackboard. Here, it explains what you need for a hybrid class and provides you with all the Microsoft Office applications they predict you will need.

Maggie: A class that only meets for two 50-minute sessions each week is every college student’s dream. When I read the description of my first hybrid class, I was sold. I expected a heavy amount of online work to make up for the out-of-class time, but the prospect of having Fridays off was enough to convince me to register and hope for the best.

Day One in Class

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A Screenshot Showing Part of Our Course Menu in Blackboard and the Syllabus Page

Expectations

Caroline: I charged my computer, made sure I had all my needed cords, and checked the need for a textbook. I figured we would jump right into things on our computers after going over the syllabus.

Maggie: I expected a rigorous first day chock-full of information on hybrid and online learning. While some classes use day one as a short and sweet syllabus day, I had a feeling that a hybrid class would probably jump right into the first lesson.

Reality

Caroline: I was unaware that I would not need to even open up my laptop during the whole class. The entire time we reviewed the syllabus, we talked about how much we do in class. Our professor explained the work we will be doing outside of the classroom, which was surprisingly very minimal and easy for each week. We discussed our fears openly about a hybrid course and even after day one I found myself extremely comfortable with a hybrid class.

Maggie: While not short and sweet, day one proved to be less intimidating than imagined. It ran the way most first days do: skimming the syllabus, getting to know classmates, etc. However, there was the added lesson in utilizing the online component of our class. With the professor’s explanation of what is expected of students in a hybrid class, I became much more confident that I could handle the workload.

Week 4 of Class

Expectations

Caroline: In the beginning, our professor asked us to post our expectations of the course and what we feared. The majority of our class explained that their time management is their biggest fear. I was right on board with them. One quarter down, we had done 4 assignments online already. I figured that once a week would be a breeze, easy to accomplish and that I would work on my time management and get it all done because we openly discussed our fears.

Maggie: Time management proved to be the biggest concern for me when taking a hybrid class. With so little class time and a decent amount of online work, it was hard to resist procrastinating until Sunday night to finish discussion boards on Blackboard or group powerpoint projects. While the appeal of hybrid learning was largely the freedom that came with it, this also proved to be a bit of a challenge.

Reality

Caroline: I found myself working hard in the beginning. Our professor would assign each assignment for the week at the very beginning of class on Monday. Each assignment would be due Sunday before midnight. I completed some things days early but quickly realized my procrastination was not pushed away. I was also surprised with some of the work assigned. We would have to do readings from our textbook and write many mini-essays. Some assignments would be easier than others, but it was not as minimal as I anticipated. At this point, I was not happy with how I was carrying on.

Maggie: After 4 weeks of class, I had finally found a method of work I could handle. With no class on Friday, I used that time to complete the online components of my hybrid class or collaborate with group members on long-term projects.The key to success was the same as in any class: planning, planning, and planning.

Midterm

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A Selection of Units from our Hybrid Course

Expectations

Caroline: Being a first semester freshman, the word “midterm” scared me. I had never had to deal with a large assignment that was nearly like a final. I was confused how this would play into a hybrid class but curious as well. Thankfully, we did nothing like a huge paper for our midterm. It was just a normal time of the year. At this point, I expected my motivation to continue on strong since I had been given so much time for each assignment.

Maggie: Because of the emphasis on online learning, I expected my hybrid class to have little to no group work outside of the classroom. Most professors use in-class time to let students work on projects together, whether they are long-term or short-term assignments. Therefore, I figured that with so little time in face-to-face meetings, there would be very little group work as well.

Reality

Caroline: In reality, I was not as motivated as I had anticipated. I still got my work done but instead of during the week, I began cutting it quite close. I believe our professor saw the stress building up on students from other classes and became a little more lenient with deadlines, extending just a couple. I was also extremely surprised at the amount we actually used our textbook and all of the different outlets of learning we used besides online. We could all easily communicate through blackboard threads but we also were pushed into groups for multiple projects. These were very effective and nothing I had expected from a hybrid class. Even though it is a mix of online and classwork, what you get out from the face-to-face time is very substantial.  

Maggie: In contrast to my expectations, my hybrid class, more than any other, had a significant amount of group work. This may be partially due to my professor’s preferred teaching style, but may also be because the online component of hybrid learning makes group work much more efficient and seamless. Using Blackboard, Wiki pages, Google Slides, and other online learning tools, collaborating and sharing content was simple and quick. As someone who doesn’t usually enjoy working on group projects, I had no issue with this aspect of hybrid classes.

The Rest

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One of Our Mobile Learning Projects: A Padlet Embedded In Blackboard

Expectations

Caroline: I figured by this point I would have everything down, I would be the ultimate hybrid class pro. Going through an entire 16-week course, you would imagine you would have everything planned out and a certain routine down. I also believed that this would be the same with my classmates. Though my worries about our final were significantly lowered after I got a hang of our workload, the thought of a final still gave me anxiety.

Maggie: Because of the hybrid component, I expected my assignments to take up a significant amount of time each week. With both the assignments given in class and the assignments posted online, I worried if it would feel like I couldn’t handle the workload, or not meet the standards that the class held.

Reality

Caroline: Everything in our hybrid class followed a similar order and structure, there was nothing shocking or different. They were each different topics that kept us thinking but the format of our work was the same. For some reason, I never quite got myself on a schedule for the class. Maybe it was the flexibility of it being partially online that hindered me from locking down a system, but even towards the end I would find flaws in my time management.

Maggie: My worries about handling coursework soon disappeared when I realized that just because the class was hybrid, didn’t mean it had to be any more demanding than any other course. The workload was different, but not more challenging or time consuming than one could expect in any other class. I had no issue managing to complete, to the best of my ability, every assignment for the class.

Final Thoughts

Maggie: As with anything new or different, hybrid classes can be intimidating. From managing time outside of class to collaborating on group projects and keeping up with all assignments, hybrid classes are no walk in the park. However, they aren’t an impossible challenge either. With unique methods of learning and a chance to utilize online components to their full potential, hybrid classes are a refreshing change of pace from the run-of-the-mill college course.

Caroline: Throwing oneself into an unknown is something people struggle with. There are so many questions and so little answers, but it is impossible to find those answers if you do not try. Registering for a hybrid class was this unknown for myself. As a first semester student in college, I wanted to test myself, see what I could do. I challenge anybody to do the same.

From my hybrid course I learned so much more about myself and my abilities and what I truly want out of course and from an instructor. I realized my downfalls such as time management, and although I could not perfect them, a hybrid course helped me to realize them. A hybrid course also assisted me in realizing all of the possibilities for different outlets to learn and how to use technology for the better. Strangely enough, it also provided different outlets to connect with my instructor, making it easier than just sitting in a classroom. It was like unleashing a whole new world of teaching and learning and class relationships.

Unknowns can be intimidating, unknowns in classes can be intimidating, but hybrid courses are an unknown that I strongly believe should be discovered by students. Morphing our ever changing technology world and our well-known classroom setting into one is a powerful tool for college students to know.