With an increasing number of post-secondary educators teaching both online and face-to-face courses, characteristics of each format inevitably cross over from one to the other.
St. Lawrence College, with campuses in Brockville, Cornwall and Kingston, understood the complexities of hybrid programming after identifying inconsistencies in the practice across the province. It was evident hybrid course development required strong pedagogical research, careful selection of learning technology, and a consistent design approach. The inclusion of these elements ultimately helped create a shared college strategy for hybrid learning promoting quality curriculum and avoiding common pitfalls during a larger adoption of this new teaching modality.
To facilitate the adoption of hybrid learning, the college created an initiative to provide an explicit, more disciplined approach to hybrid course design and support.
In 2014, the Centre for Contemporary Teaching & Learning (CCTL) at St. Lawrence College collaborated with faculty on the Hybrid Learning Initiative (HLI), a set of resources, processes and principles to guide the design and delivery of hybrid courses. The CCTL chose a team-based approach to hybrid course development to leverage expertise from various members specializing in curriculum development, instructional design, e-learning, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) compliance and multimedia production. A recent restructuring created the School of Contemporary Teaching & Learning (SCTL) to further promote the importance of hybrid and online learning at the college.
André Léger oversees the Centre in his capacity as Associate Dean of the SCTL, and provides academic oversight for the Hybrid Learning Initiative. He describes the HLI as “a professional development opportunity giving faculty the ability to explore a new instructional modality within a supportive and collaborative environment amongst likeminded peers.” The process is currently designed for full-time faculty. It takes place over two semesters and includes a series of individual consultations and training sessions, as well as larger group sessions.
HLI participants cover topics including:
- principles of instructional design, such as ADDIE, chunking content (faculty work with a curriculum developer to outline a specific learning plan properly integrating online and face-to-face instruction), sequential instruction and needs analysis;
- educational technology and how to use it;
- curriculum development;
- technology to create new assessment strategies; and
- proper integration strategies between onsite and online instruction.
Previous HLI participants share their work and experience with the larger college community at the annual St. Lawrence College Learning Connections Conference, an internal professional development collaboration between CCTL and the Human Resources and Organizational Development departments.
The HLI sets out a number of operating principles for hybrid courses:
- Students are able to learn a portion of the content through self-directed learning. Some faculty create video summaries to highlight aspects of a course reading. Others ask students to complete short learning activities – a reading or a video-viewing – to build an online learning environment based on group discussion.
- Hybrid learning should adopt a learner-centered approach by giving students more opportunities to participate in the process. For example, a typical format would involve giving a specific group of students the role of facilitators for an online discussion and then ask them to present their findings in the next face-to-face class. This not only promotes the integration of both learning environments, but also gives students the ability to lead online and onsite instruction.
- A number of online/digital resources are provided to be used as instructional materials. These resources include instructional videos made by faculty: learning activities such as discussions, journals, digital readings, practice quizzes and content curation tasks using apps such as padlet.
- Students benefit from completing activities and learning concepts ahead of face-to-face lessons. This enables faculty to engage in more robust discussion in their onsite classrooms and maximize their time.
- Students benefit from individual reflection or group activity following a face-to-face lesson. For example, students might review a video recording of a presentation they conducted in class and offer some insights for improvement
- Weekly lessons are broken into smaller “chunks” to aid comprehension.
- Students have ample opportunity to interact with and learn from each other during the online lessons.
Associate Dean Léger encourages faculty to envision the online portion of their hybrid courses as a Community of Inquiry (social, cognitive and teaching presence). Faculty respond to this guidance in different ways, but all provide the same level of engagement by encouraging students to:
- curate content in new ways using blogs, content pages, discussions, surveys, etc.;
- lead and facilitate group discussions and synthesize information within a face-to-face presentation;
- share research and resources by going outside the textbook readings; and
- utilize social media to curate interesting articles or practical examples.
Outcomes and Benefits
Professor Taunya Murphy, Coordinator of St. Lawrence College’s Hairstyling diploma program, enrolled in the HLI because of the benefits she saw for her students. “My desire to create a hybrid course was completely based on student learning. The Hairstyling program is a fast-tracked two-year diploma program, meaning students have a lot of courses each semester. Hybrid learning allows for some of the instruction to take place off campus, at times students may find more convenient, and provides the foundational knowledge for students to build upon in the face-to-face portion of the class.” While designing her hybrid lessons, Professor Murphy conducted a needs assessment by gathering input from current students to make her course as appropriate as possible for her learners.
Professor Murphy also reflects upon the reality of the range of digital fluency amongst her students. “Hybrid works well for students who are proficient and it is a good introduction to online learning for those who are not. Hairstylists, like people in most fields, are required to continue learning for the duration of their careers. Hybrid learning allows students to complete more self-guided learning and teaches them to seek out the answers and the education they’ll need throughout their working years.”
Associate Dean Léger notes the HLI evolved through various iterations based on faculty feedback since its pilot in 2014. “Our approach to teaching faculty about good course design has truly been a reflective experience, and we have added more elements within the last version of the program, such as multimedia production and promoting digital content creation. We have excellent faculty at St. Lawrence College, but our goal within the CCTL is to ensure all faculty realize their potential in becoming contemporary educators. The HLI program is designed to support faculty so we can meet the needs of contemporary learners.”
Associate Dean Léger believes the HLI creates a stronger community of practice amongst faculty, allowing them to share ideas and feedback from students to reinforce their teaching approach. Students then receive a better learning experience from the improved integration of online and face-to-face instruction. Also of value is the HLI’s focus on competency-based learning, which helps build students’ essential employability skills in hybrid classrooms.
Challenges and Enhancements
Associate Dean Léger’s experience taught him one of the biggest challenges of hybrid course development is overcoming the belief technology can solve all teaching problems. St. Lawrence College recently established the new position of Manager of Multimedia Design to not only reinforce the college’s technical capacity to create innovative resources, but also serve as a reminder that educational technology must be designed and used with intent. The Manager will provide one-on-one consultation with faculty in selecting appropriate technology and will help build learning objects reflecting accurate sequential instruction using proven educational strategies.
Educational technology and multimedia should not be an afterthought, according to Associate Dean Léger, but rather the result of an integrated discussion on teaching and learning. “The Manager of Multimedia Design will help faculty plan their lessons accordingly by emphasizing meaningful instruction and leveraging technology in a way that is conducive to individual classrooms.” In turn, technical help and assistance from faculty are available to ensure students are properly supported when participating in online learning.
The Hybrid Learning Initiative continues to require an investment of time and effort from the CCTL as well as from faculty learning a new modality of instruction. Professor Murphy knows not all faculty are comfortable with online learning. “Instructors who feel their computer skills are lacking can find hybrid course development daunting, but they shouldn’t let this hold them back. The HLI experience has been great because of what I have been able to learn and design for my students.”
Associate Dean Léger knows the increasing interest in education technology brings with it additional pressure to innovate. This is challenging as financial resources are needed to acquire new technologies and create appropriate strategies that help support faculty. St. Lawrence’s current focus on contemporary educational practices coupled with the positive reactions from faculty graduates of the HLI have helped Associate Dean Léger promote a larger investment in this area from the college.
Associate Dean Léger’s desire is for additional technical skillsets within the CCTL to address the needs of contemporary learners and give stronger e-learning support to faculty. “We have also invested in new technologies for deployment in Fall 2016 to supplement the HLI and our other online course development projects. For example, we now have video rigs, a combination of hardware – in our case, iPads, Padcasters and a few extra items – that turns tablets into high-quality recording devices. This is part of a larger initiative we are drafting to promote more tablet technologies in the classroom.” To go beyond lecture capture, the CCTL is training faculty to create content using apps such as Explain Everything so they can curate video in innovative ways within a larger lesson plan. Associate Dean Léger says faculty “love the tech” and more will be deployed as interest increases amongst faculty. St. Lawrence College shared its findings with colleagues from other colleges and universities by presenting at the Advancing Learning Conference 2016.
The college’s Fall 2016 semester also brings the roll-out of a new service for students, Panopto, enabling them to easily create videos to share amongst their classmates within a safe learning environment. These new applications will be integrated within the HLI to bolster the existing selection of educational technology at St. Lawrence.
Professor Murphy’s goal following the successful implementation of her hybrid course is to create a fully online course for the Hairstyling program. “In addition to students learning the content, so many essential employability skills are achieved through this medium, including personal responsibility, problem solving, communication, and time, information and resource management.”
For Further Information
Associate Dean, School of Contemporary Teaching & Learning
St. Lawrence College – Brockville, Cornwall and Kingston
Coordinator/Professor, Hairstyling Diploma Program
St. Lawrence College - Brockville
Centre for Contemporary Teaching & Learning, St. Lawrence College