It Depends ­– On the Economics of Education

By Steve Eskow
Editor, Hybrid vs. Virtual Issues

Lynn (“Hybrid, Online, or F2F – It Depends“), as you and Carrie (“Online Hybrid as Asynchronous, Co-present, and Remote“) and all of us agree: it depends. And perhaps it depends on some matters you haven’t mentioned.

For example, it depends on whether your students can get to campus, have the auto or the bus fare, have the baby sitter or husband who will babysit. Those who can’t may take their graduate study in an all online program.

You’re a researcher, Lynn, so I can ask this: Is it possible that the agreement you report – your students and you having similar opinions in favor of hybridity – is a result of their clear awareness of what you’d like them to think? Would they give me the same opinions you get if you weren’t in the room? If I were your student and clearly aware of your views, I don’t think I’d want to risk offending you by suggesting that I’d just as soon have all the sessions online.

eskow_feb09I’m a bit troubled by your frequent references to students who are better at expressing themselves orally than in writing. I’m not sure the best pedagogic response to that common feeling among students is to go with it. Perhaps those students weak in writing are those most in need of more practice.

Increasingly we hear of students resisting buying the required textbooks and, crucially, resisting reading them. And I hear of teachers in this age of student evaluations who react to this resistance by respecting it: less reading and writing, in an age where the new technologies put a premium on the reader (of blogs, if nothing else) and the writer (of blogs, if of nothing else). Might we as a profession need to take a stand on more writing in academic instruction?

As I’ve indicated, my own work is in the poor countries and is influenced by the economics of building-based education as well such other social impacts as the disruption of communities. I’d be willing to bet with you, Lynn, that as the economic situation in the US worsens we’ll experience lots less resistance to technology-mediated education by taxpayers, teachers, and students. Those buildings your students come to are a technology that costs millions to construct and maintain.

It does indeed depend.

Adventures in Hybrid Teaching: The First Day Is the Hardest

heeter_upside80By Carrie Heeter
Guest Author

Monday was the first day of the semester, and Monday night, 6:30 to 7:20, is the live component of hybrid TC841, my graduate design research class. Hybrid means a third of class time happens in person, and two-thirds online at the students’ convenience.

This is the first year my department (Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media at Michigan State University) actually scheduled a class meeting time (yay!), meaning I did not have to begin by finding a time when every enrolled student was available to come to class. In prior years after I found a day and time every student could attend, we would squeeze into the GEL (Games for Entertainment and Learning) Lab conference room.

In spring 2009, we had an actual scheduled time AND place. Room 161 Comm Arts. The room has a projector. What luxury.

My department very generously lets me telecommute, but they do not consider it their responsibility to support my lack of physical presence in Michigan. So, as of Monday morning, I did not yet know how I was going to get to class from my office in San Francisco.

I saw that two students enrolled in TC841 had been my students in a class I taught in fall. Both had been gone over break so I waited to contact them until they returned. At 12:32 Sunday night, I emailed them to ask, “Do either of you have a laptop you would be willing to bring to class tomorrow night, to Skype me in?”

heeter01There was no answer when I got to the office at 8am California time. By 9am, I received a “sure!” email from YoungKim. I proposed we start trying to connect at 6, before the 6:30 class.

At 6:08pm Michigan time, I received an incoming Skype call. (Yay!) With some fumbling, my audio worked. He figured out how to connect to the classroom projector, and logged in to and opened Breeze, the TC841 blog, and ANGEL in separate browser windows. I got video of the class via YoungKim’s Skype.

My tablet PC was running Breeze for video (not audio). My desktop PC was running Skype for audio but no video (using a handheld mic) and a second Breeze connection as well as the blog and ANGEL.

Five minutes before class started, Breeze failed on the tablet PC, meaning they lost my video. Reconnecting never worked. My only connected camera was the laptop. But the Skype connection was to my desktop. Video of me was not going to happen.

I had forgotten that the last time I used Skype was showing it to Sheldon on his new laptop, and that while playing around I had turned my image upside down. So most of the class only saw me as a small upside down still image in the Skype window. I’m afraid to go check what I might have been wearing.

Students were still arriving, so some never saw me on video at all. I joked that I hadn’t had time to brush my hair but would be ready for video next week. It is unusual to be able to see the class when they can’t see me. Much better than not seeing them, that’s for sure. When one student walked into the classroom 10 minutes late, he entered a room with 13 students sitting at tables, looking at a projection screen. A disembodied voice (me) said, “Welcome to TC841! The students here are pretending there is a professor.”

Half an hour into class, one of my cats pried the office door open (which I had closed to keep them out). After meowing disruptively for a bit, she jumped onto my keyboard, switching the Breeze window to a mode I’ve never seen before, one where I could not control Breeze or change to any other windows on my computer. (Why would there be a “switch to larger than full screen and freeze all controls” special keystroke command? Just to give cats disruptive power, I think.) At that same moment a student who had logged in to Breeze (as I had proposed they do) took over Breeze and was playing around, resizing his video window, eliminating the class’ and my view of the PowerPoint.

After fumbling for a minute, I quit Breeze (command Q), went to the blog, and opened the PDF handout I had posted of the PowerPoint so I could know what else to talk about. Class moved into a lively discussion about “sampling” methods used in research about media design, and ended on time.

A good time was had by all.