Hybrid Education: The Interactive Class of Today and Tomorrow

Judith McDanielBy Judith McDaniel
Editor, Web-based Course Design

I’m learning several new things in the classroom these days, thanks to the opportunity and necessity of online teaching. At the university, every class is assigned a learning management system course site. It is used for all course reserve materials, and as a teacher, I have gradually expanded to using automatically graded quizzes, posting class news and information, and now requiring online discussions. Hybrid classes are those that go beyond using the course site as a bulletin board. Hybrid classes incorporate a significant amount of online learning and interaction along with the face-to-face component of the class.

I teach face-to-face classes at a large public university and I usually have about 100 students in a class. It’s easy for a student to hide in that setting. I don’t know all the names, and even with a seating chart, it is hard for me to call on the right student with the right name! They also don’t know each other, for the most part. A shy student could go through the entire class without ever making a public comment, saying hello to a fellow student, or interacting with me beyond submitting papers and taking an exam.
a group of people discussing; picture artistically blurred
That’s changed now. Every student in my class is part of a small online discussion forum of eight or nine. Each student is required to post in response to regular prompts from me. At least twice during the semester I schedule time for these discussion groups to meet face-to-face. So students not only know that Brad posted an opinion that contradicted or supported their opinions, but they know who Brad is when they sit next to him in class or pass him on campus.

For the most part, students love this kind of interaction. Out of perhaps 1000 students I have engaged this way, I can remember only two comments from students who did not want to be required to express and support an opinion that could be identified as theirs.

The Education Budget Crisis: Is It Necessary?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

According to the latest headline, the University of Hawai`i system is facing a $76 million budget crisis that threatens “massive cuts to programs, departments and schools”[1]. Yet, the state recently announced that $203 million has been released to the UH for capital improvements.[2]

The same holds true for the public schools. At a time when budget cuts are forcing layoffs, pay cuts, furloughs, and program reductions, the state is releasing $75 million for — you guessed it — capital improvements.[3]

I’m aware that UH is not alone and that countless colleges and universities around the country are facing similar hard times and budgeting practices. Thus, when I refer to UH specifically, I’m also referring to all the other higher ed institutions that are suffering similar fates.

Link to the TalkETC discussion on this article

For me, the fundamental question is, Are physical structures such as classrooms and offices so essential to education that they must take priority over programs and staff? Or put another way, When push comes to shove and we’re forced to choose between the two, do the buildings win?

Perhaps 20 or even 10 years ago, the answer would have been yes. Without campuses and buildings, education would be impossible.


But today, with online programs flourishing, the answer has to be a resounding no. Education is already being delivered online via strategies that don’t require expensive classrooms and offices. In fact, nearly all the physical structures that make up a traditional campus are superfluous for totally online classes. Students and professors can work from anywhere: home, dorm, coffee shop — wherever they have an internet connection.

To its credit, the UH isn’t completely oblivious to the potential of online learning. To address the severe budget cuts, the chancellor has begun a system-wide planning process to prioritize efforts, and under “D. Maximizing resources,” we find “Explore greater use of technology–enhanced learning (distance learning) to increase access to learning opportunities and achieve savings”[4]. The fact that this is last among the six priorities in this category is telling, I think.

The problem, I’ve been told, is the state’s funding process, which treats capital improvements as a separate budget item. Colleges and schools aren’t allowed to reallocate CI funds to other uses. Thus, we face the very real prospect of offering students well-maintained as well as new buildings but severely truncated programs.

But what if . . .

What if the funding process were made more flexible and colleges were given the power to use all or most of the CI funds in innovative ways to save or restore the programs that are now in danger of being cut or curtailed?

If this actually happens, how would we ensure that the funds would be used wisely?

My bias is toward pouring the funds into electronic infrastructure, staff reorganization, and resources that would mazimize a college’s completely online strategies and offerings. In my mind, the money’s there for colleges to thrive, but only if they’re willing to take the leap from physical to primarily virtual structures.

Given the freedom to decide, are colleges ready for this leap? Or would they still opt for capital improvements?

Needless to say, gravity is probably strongest in the middle, where the pull is toward a collegial splitting of the funds between CI and online, But the real danger in this kind of non-decision is that we may simply perpetuate the status quo, watering down the real power of the funds and going through the motions of changing without actually changing and ensuring that the we’ll travel all the way back to where we are now.


1. Dan Nakaso, “University of Hawaii in Crisis Over Deficit,” Honoulu Advertiser, 9 Nov. 2009.

2.$203M Going to Physical Improvements at UH,” Honoulu Advertiser, 7 Nov. 2009.

3.Public Schools to Spend $75 Million on Improvements,” KPUA, 5 Nov. 2009.

4. Virginia S. Hinshaw, “Preliminary Recommendations on Prioritization,” University of Hawaii: Communications, 8 Sep. 2009.

What Can Colleges Learn from Online K-12 Schools?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

K-12 school systems, such as California Virtual Academies (or CAVA), are providing completely online programs. Obviously, colleges are very different from K-12 schools, but are there lessons to be learned from the school model? At a time when budgets are being slashed, colleges are forced to look closely at their online programs as a possible means to reduce instructional costs. If existing programs aren’t as effective as they ought to be, colleges may want to examine K-12 models for elements that could be adapted to college programs.

In this article, I provide resources and links to information about CAVA and how California public schools are approaching completely online learning. After reviewing the information and, perhaps, conducting your own research, please join the discussion on the question, What can colleges learn from online K-12 school systems such as CAVA? To post a comment, click on the title of this article. This will take you to a page that displays the article, the ongoing discussion, and a box to compose your comment. Alternately email your comment to me at jamess@hawaii.edu, and I’ll post it for you.

The California Virtual Academies

The California Virtual Academies is a completely online K-12 charter public school system. CAVA is fully-accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Schools (ACS) of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). In place of an actual campus, the State loans students a complete computer system and textbooks, and pays for broadband connection. “There are no buildings to heat or maintain so costs per student are low. Kids are assigned a teacher and software links them to their class and curriculum. There is also daily attendance and homework.”

According to the general FAQs, “The K-8 program is self-paced and flexible within the parameters specified by state law. The high school program is a combination of self-paced work and scheduled lessons and activities.”

Audio excerpts of Len Ramirez, KPIX reporter, from the video:

Click here for the video.

(Sources: Len Ramirez, KPIX reporter, “Virtual High School” [CBS News 4.7.09] and “More Calif. Kids Schooled at ‘Virtual Academy’” [CBS5  3.9.09]; the California Virtual Academies site)

If We Don’t, Someone Else Will

Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

The United States is falling behind. For many, that’s not a surprising statement, but others will find it hard to believe.

We see statistics summarizing our declining science education, our lack of world-class Internet infrastructure, and many more. What we haven’t seen much of are examples of us falling behind in innovation. Yet, that’s exactly what’s happening. It’s been predicted for quite a long time now by some more pessimistic prognosticators but not demonstrated.

My field is science, and my current work centers on technology to support science education. It’s no surprise that my example comes from that area. For years, I’ve watched as company after company (and even individuals) make science simulations and attempt to sell them as science “labs.” Of course, they’re not truly labs, but that’s beside the point.

sebit2These companies all have produced essentially the same product. It’s a Flash-based animation system wherein students make some choices of parameters and see the result. These animations are two-dimensional and have little support added online for learning and essentially none for tracking. I don’t have to list them here because a quick Internet search for “virtual lab” will give you lots of examples.

So, from where does the first visually appealing, three-dimensional simulation system sold in the United States come from? Turkey! You may have thought of Turkey as some backwater country with lots of small, dusty villages. Not so. It’s a vibrant, secular society that’s put a premium on education in general and science education in particular. Furthermore, they’ve committed to using online education to reach their goal of an educated society. Sebit Technologies has been created by Turkey’s telecommunications leader, Türk Telekom. With all of the money at their disposal, they have made some real waves in online education.

turk_telekomYou can bet that Turkey will not be the last place we see new competition for United States education dollars. Unless our country gets moving with true innovation, we’ll watch as more and more foreign-created innovations take over our schools (and other business markets).

As I’ve suggested before, teaching itself could eventually be handled offshore. Your children or grandchildren may be learning from teachers in India or China. That might sound quite cosmopolitan but will have a huge impact on one of our most stable professions — teaching.

We shouldn’t give up without a fight. It’s time for our government to foster real education innovation. I don’t mean with tax breaks or allowing free market forces to work. We must have serious investment by government in technology infrastructure for education. We may even have to put tariffs on these sort of imports for a while in order to get our companies back into the game. The alternative is just to sit back and let the rest of the world take over education in the United States.