Hybrid Education: Sharing the Teaching

Judith McDanielBy Judith McDaniel
Editor, Web-based Course Design

An important part of my face-to-face classes now is to allow students a research choice of creating a blog site and posting their research on it for public comment. Since actually getting the “public” to comment on a blog, even on exciting and current topics like “Is there a gay gene?” or “Is Gardasil a good thing or not?” is nearly impossible, I require everyone in the class to post comments on three different blogs other than their own.

As I read through the posts, comments, and author responses to the  comments, I am reminded over and over again that I am not the only person in this classroom with important information. Each of these students has life experience and some have knowledge that is relevant to this subject. From the student with a gay friend to the young woman who was given the Gardasil vaccine without being told what it was, their information is pertinent and—most importantly—it is very important to and valued by their peers. They ask questions in these comments as well as respond to the information, and some of the conversations that result are far more intellectually demanding than the course syllabus.

I still allow a research option that is “just” a traditional research paper. But for the first time, I asked everyone who chooses to write an essay to post it on our discussion forum for comments. Everyone in the class also posted a comment about two research papers.

How did that work?

Every paper had at least one comment, which surprised me, but several topics were very popular. “Women’s reproductive rights” was a topic that received a lot of comments, but the one I want to mention particularly was “Obesity and You.” Although obesity would be a logical topic in a class on Science, Health, Gender and Race, it was not one that I had included in the list of possible research topics—either for the blogs or the papers. When a student approached me about this subject, I was nervous but let her take it on.

Why was I nervous? Obesity is a topic that is emotional, personal, and difficult to talk about in an objective manner—which is what I require for a research paper. The student did a good job on the paper, and when she posted it online for comments, I tracked the responses.

The first was fine: “I found your paper to be very informative on the topic of obesity. Obesity is such a sensitive subject for those that are over weight; however it is such an important topic that needs to be dealt with. I liked all of the statistics that you used throughout your paper. These helped me realize just how obese our world is becoming and how we need to do something to stop it.”

The author expressed surprise and pleasure that someone had actually read her paper (“I didn’t think anyone would”) and found it helpful. Other comments continued to be thoughtful and respectful. Readers asked for more information on connections between genetics and obesity, race and obesity—and the author responded to them all with more information and always thanked them for reading her paper.

I realized that while obesity might be a difficult topic when students are discussing it in person, online offered a medium for a more thoughtful exploration.

What did I learn? Several things. I realized that while obesity might be a difficult topic when students are discussing it in person, online offered a medium for a more thoughtful exploration. No one was casual or thoughtless or cruel in this discussion. While I can’t generalize too much from this particular experience, when I think back to all of my online discussions, I realize that I have seldom had a comment that I needed to correct or censor for tone. Wherever they learned it, my students seem to have netiquette down pat.

I also learned that I was right—students want feedback from their peers, and they are good, conscientious and careful about giving feedback to others.

And the discussions and further research that resulted also contributed to the learning experience.

This is an assignment I will use again.

One Response

  1. […] or hybrid education (which I have written about in previous blogs on this site and here:  Education Technology and Change Journal )      There are many ways in which I’m not ready to give up that face-to-face classroom […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s