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.

Hybrid, Online, or F2F – It Depends

lynnz80By Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education

In her articles, “Adventures in Hybrid Teaching: The First Day Is the Hardest” and “Online Hybrid as Asynchronous, Co-present, and Remote,” Carrie Heeter addressed the issues that face teachers and students in a hybrid classroom, including technical, personal, and pedagogical. How the classroom environment is shaped by these issues is summed up in Carrie’s response to a comment by Steve Eskow, which appeared in “The Campus: The Old Imperialism?” Carrie said, “It depends.”

Her account of the issues and reader responses to her articles highlights the complexity of online versus face-to-face teaching and combinations thereof. In any classroom environment the technical, personal, and pedagogical issues are interconnected, making “it depends” a legitimate answer. For example, questions of whether live instruction is less demanding than online depend on the goals and objectives of the course; what kind of technology the teacher and students have access to; and the personal circumstances, personalities, attitudes, and motivations of the students and the teacher.

lynn2009febA graduate course that I teach, Multicultural Education, provides an illustration of this interconnectedness. The students are full-time teachers, and the course is offered in the evening at a regional campus. The course has evolved from a face-to-face class using one online discussion a semester to a hybrid using asynchronous discussion boards for student interaction online as well as face-to-face meetings. The students and I both agree that the hybrid class allows for options and opportunities to engage and interact in different ways.

The online part of the course, as others have mentioned, gives my very busy students an opportunity to engage actively in class without having to drive anywhere. Because it is asynchronous, they can also do it at their convenience, within parameters that they as a group agree upon. Because the forums are written and not oral, it gives those students who are comfortable with and good at writing a chance to engage the material in a different way and at a different level than face-to-face offers. Some of these students even try to engage their classmates more actively in the discussion. However, some of the students write enough to fulfill the assignment requirements and do not go beyond that.

The face-to-face format offers advantages as well. First of all, there are some students who are better at expressing themselves orally than in writing. Face-to-face discussions give them the chance to engage effectively with the materials and with each other. Face-to-face also seems more open to spontaneity. Perhaps I feel this way because I am a fairly good discussion facilitator. I watch faces and listen to tone of voice. I listen to what is being said and what is not being said, and I guide the discussion accordingly, creating more flow than I often find in my students’ written online discussions. As with the online assignments, some students participate more fully than others, despite my attempts at engaging all the students.

(I can hear someone out there saying, “You take care of the issue of oral discussions by giving your students the opportunity to have them online. Let’s save that discussion for later.”)

educating_net_genIn their essay “Preparing the Academy of Today for the Learner of Tomorrow” in Educating the Net Generation (an e-book), Hartman, Moskal, and Dziuban (2005) conclude that what constitutes good teaching practice is universal. “Students believe that excellent instructors:

  • Facilitate student learning
  • Communicate ideas and information effectively
  • Demonstrate genuine interest in student learning
  • Organize their courses effectively
  • Show respect and concern for their students
  • Assess student progress fairly and effectively” (section 7).

I think that hybrid classes serve as one example of good teaching practice because, in order to meet the needs of all of our students, we need to offer them as broad a learning environment as possible.

References

Hartman, J., Moskal, P., and Dziuban, C. (2005). Preparing the academy of today for the learner of tomorrow. Educating the Net Generation. Retrieved February 3, 2009 from http://www.educause.edu/Resources/EducatingtheNetGeneration/PreparingtheAcademyofTodayfort/6062

Online Hybrid as Asynchronous, Co-present, and Remote

heeter80By Carrie Heeter
Editor, Games Development

[Editor’s note: The following article was submitted as a reply to a comment by Steve Eskow, which appeared in “The Campus: The Old Imperialism?” Eskow asked, “I wonder how Carrie Heeter feels about hybrid learning.”]

“It depends” is a cop out but also usually true. A major factor in deciding whether or not to be together in the same room is how motivated students are not to have to come to campus every week to be in class. I have found that full-time students who are enrolled in an on-campus program are most resistant to fully online classes. They are used to and enjoy the presence of fellow students, and they have organized their lives to be able to go to classes. The familiarity of in-person togetherness overshadows potential benefits of fully online learning. Those exact same individuals welcome a fully online summer section, enabling them to go home (or anywhere else) for the summer but still complete requirements toward their degree.

Students who live a long distance from campus, those with full-time jobs, and parents of young children are much more likely to welcome a class that they can attend from home. Here, too, the convenience of fully online outweighs perceived and actual limitations of technology.

I would like to add a distinction regarding online class sessions. They take three different forms: asynchronous, synchronous-physically present (co-present), and synchronous-but-online (remote). Each has different teaching affordances. Physically present requires a building.

As a teacher, quality of teaching and learning is another critical factor. I live in San Francisco and teach at Michigan State University. So it is a given that my students are going to have a distant professor. I get to decide whether to teach fully online, to require them all to go to an on-campus classroom almost like a “normal” in-person class, or to do something hybrid (asynchronous, co-present, or remote).

For eight years I exclusively taught fully online. Then I started adding an hour of optional “in-person” time huddled around a conference phone in a conference room. I didn’t know exactly what to do with that hour, but it seemed to add something the students had been missing. Then I had some students who didn’t want to go to campus so about a third attended via free conference.com audio and Breeze for PowerPoint, and two-thirds were physically together in the conference room, also linked by Breeze and an audio conference call. This mixed mode is a bit bizarre but meets both the co-present and remote students’ needs.

This fall I taught an in-person class that met in a classroom, live, three hours every Wednesday night. The only reason this happened is that I stepped in to teach this already scheduled class at the last minute. But I learned a huge amount trying to figure out how to make three hours of live class vitally interesting with a Skyped in virtual professor. It helped me better understand what to do with my live student time.

My current best practice thinking is a hybrid solution. When I am providing linear information, I can offer a much better learning experience if I write documents, craft PowerPoint presentations, and record audio. I do that for mini-lectures, content modules, and introducing assignments. I also package guest interviews with industry professionals. If I want every student to participate, we do it asynchronously (via blogs or uploading project reports).

I use synchronous time for:

  • Any questions? (clarifying assignments and concepts works better when everyone is live)
  • Breakout small group discussion or activity during class period, followed by synthesis and full class discussion
  • Quick review (Q&A – with me doing the Q)
  • Thought provoking questions (students volunteer answers, and I sometimes call on random people)
  • Student presentations to the class

Because my class this semester turns out to be entirely comprised of on-campus students, everyone  – except for me  – is in the classroom. Technologically, everything I am doing right now could immediately accommodate remote students. But I don’t have any who want that. At the beginning of a semester, I start with a student survey, to help me decide how to offer the class.

Simulated Labs Are Anathema to Most Scientists

Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education
7 November 2008

[Editor’s note: This article was originally submitted as a comment to John Adsit’s November 6 I-Blog article, “Old School Thinking Blocks Quality Online Science Classes,” on 11.6.08.]

I completely agree with the last portion of what John [Adsit says in “Old School Thinking Blocks Quality Online Science Classes“]. My own blogging on the subject is at smartscience.blogspot.com.

I also mostly agree with the rest of his comments.

1. Typical lab experiences are poor. However, many science teachers, using the same labs, provide great lab experiences. Online science courses must do as well.

2. John refers to an “‘integrated’ lab program” in America’s Lab Report. [The entire report is available online at no cost.] Actually, the report refers to “integrated instructional units” more than twenty times. It never uses the phrase “integrated lab program” or even “integrated lab.” It’s not the lab program that they wish to be integrated but the instructional unit containing the lab.

keller013. The question of exactly how online science courses will meet the goals is left open. That’s partly good because new technologies cannot always be anticipated. However, the range of options should be restricted a little. Here, America’s Lab Report provides an excellent guideline. Here it is.

“Laboratory experiences provide opportunities for students to interact directly with the material world (or with data drawn from the material world), using the tools, data collection techniques, models, and theories of science.”

As long as your online science labs fill this definition, you can go forward and test it against the lab goals and the integration goals.

4. Absolutely, old school thinking is blocking excellent innovation in science, especially in the lab area. The reason for this blockage is not hard to find. In addition, the blockage comes in the form of restricted means rather than ends. The blockers (e.g., UCOP) say you cannot use online labs in any form rather than specifying results that must be achieved. America’s Lab Report took the opposite approach.

The reason for the blockage clearly comes from a statement on one UC web page that no virtual lab THAT THEY HAD SEEN could substitute for hands-on labs. Yet, they steadfastly refuse to look at new technologies in virtual labs.

Here’s the problem. A plethora of virtual labs have appeared, and they’re all SIMULATED. That is, they use equations and/or algorithms to generate data, objects, and phenomena for investigation by students. This approach is anathema to most scientists. The attempts to make simulations into science labs has so turned off these scientists that now they won’t even consider ANY virtual labs.

alrYet, many people continue to attempt to create virtual labs from simulations. Instead, they should be looking elsewhere. For example, one of the authors of the NACOL report, Kemi Jona, has been working on an alternate approach: remote real-time robotic labs. They’re virtual, online, and real. They violate the rules of the UCOP, but they meet the America’s Lab Report definition and goals.

That such exemplary work is banned by California and New York is a travesty. With ever-declining budgets and schools in crisis, any valid approach should be supported.

The approach should be as good or better than the best traditional labs. The standard cannot be the “typical” labs that are so poor. They’re a “straw man” and should not be part of the debate.

I hope that someone can get the attention of the UCOP and have them look into some of the excellent alternatives to supervised traditional labs. If they end up looking at simulations, they’ll just be turned off again, and we’ll have to suffer many more years of banned virtual labs. We must present them with real innovations that don’t depend on simulated activities but use real data from the real world with highly-interactive collection of personal data by students.