Extending Our Educational Dollars


Solving the Inadequacies of Online Courses

As it was pointed out earlier, online courses are feasible solutions to increasing student enrollment economically.  However, with so many caveats, an institution must analyze how changing the format of a percentage of classes offered can affect reputation, enrollments, endowments, research grants, and even student ranking.  Auspiciously, the major challenges to implementing distance learning extensively and successfully can, in fact, be remedied by modifying its format, even with the current financial constraints.

Hybridized Courses, namely the combining of virtual online classrooms with physical classrooms, discussions, and labs, can correct many of the negatives associated with conventional online coursework.  How this concept is realized is critical to its success, as some colleges are already experimenting with this model on a small scale.  In order to be a successful initiative, the institution of higher learning must incorporate the concept into its mission, implementing hybridization and online coursework in a holistic manner, as opposed to a short-term reaction to budgets.  Only in this way can a quality program be built to the advantage of the student and institution.

Hybridization in the presentation of curriculum is actually simpler than it appears, and it is an excellent way of dealing with tightened budgets.  The complexity lies more heavily in the personnel relationships, as well as the academic and political environment in a post-secondary institution.

Hybrid Coursework Calms Fears

While online coursework can solve some of the unavailability problems of the working adjunct, the interpersonal connection between students and teachers, as well as among department faculty, is critical.  The hybrid course is the more powerful alternative for providing continuity in curriculum.

The best implementation of a college hybrid system avoids the common fear of “computers taking over the teaching of students.”   Desirable characteristics include:

  • Preserving the solid reputation of a university and its academics, thereby attracting more research grants, more highly-regarded faculty, and outstanding students.
  • Supporting and generating innovative teaching methodologies.
  • Providing ample classroom time for question and answer, as well as spirited intellectual discourse.
  • Integrating the availability of laboratories for the sciences and computer-based technologies.
  • Preserving the highly social environment of on-campus academic pursuits.
  • Promoting the culture that promotes the intellect while offering students opportunities to participate in athletics and exercise programs on the campus.
  • Availing students of extra-curricular activities, including entertainment, spiritual enrichment, cultural activities, and outdoor experiences.
  • Providing opportunities for students to work for income on campus, as well as performing community services under the auspices of the university.
  • Allowing academics to know their students to the degree that they could write a suitable letter of recommendation for graduate study.

Creating classes that have both online and classroom components is the key to hybridization.  Computers have an important role, but it is clear to the student and the observer that the computer is not the teacher.  The computer is considered a necessary tool, just like a textbook.  Expanding the quality and depth of the material being taught is facilitated by the computer.    Classroom time is well-managed.  An example might be providing the subject material in overview and initiating lead-in discussion, as well as dictating assignments. Then, the student derives the content and enrichment from the online materials.  When completed, the classroom is again visited, this time to check for understanding, field questions, review, and test the students.

In reality, the sky is the limit if online and hybridized coursework are approached creatively.  Distance learning in various formats have the potential to expand the reach of education in very unique ways.

For instance, if a school wants to increase its foreign student enrollment, providing online courses for the year before student entry can generate huge benefits, especially with ESL, and prerequisites that are not taught at the same level in the other country (like US History, for instance).  In fact, mini-courses can be offered to prospective students to prepare them for the entrance placement test.  Also, these same courses can train a student’s ear to English as spoken in the U.S.   These are important tools, not just in learning, but in securing enrollments better.

Students that are a year away from entering into their careers have special needs that may not have been fully met by any of the educational formats mentioned.  Hybrid education may offer universities a means of preparing these students while serving as mentors.  Senior year classes can be managed by a team from the academic department.  These educators and researchers can collaborate, using online classes to teach the course, and the team approach to assess the students’ progress and vocations.  Just like graduate seminar, these undergrads can work and study in a symbiotic environment with mentoring professors and other students, while taking the online classes needed to complete their studies.

The approaches to hybrid education are endless, and the best approach is the one tailored for the department, and when possible, the course.  Digital means of teaching, inextricably linked to a knowledgeable instructor, can improve student access to a higher education in a very cost-effective way.

© 2012 Laurie Mena


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