Much of my teaching career at Morehead State has included teaching hybrid courses. In hybrid, also known as blended, courses some traditional face-to-face “seat time” has been replaced by online learning activities. I began this journey around the same time, and for the same reasons, that I embarked into online teaching — many of my nontraditional college students needed more flexibility to balance their education with their lives. Looking back at the high school students I taught in working class cities I think a similar blended approach could be beneficial for them as well. More than a dozen years later, I find that I enjoy teaching writing in a hybrid course even more today and my love affair can be explained with three simple reasons.
I first began teaching hybrid courses almost by accident. Most of my Morehead State teaching career has included teaching at our Mt. Sterling campus. I have taught easily a dozen sections (each) of our Writing I and Writing II courses at the regional campus. While some of my students on the main campus are nontraditional, almost all of my regional campus students are nontraditional. Even when they are of traditional age they are often juggling more responsibilities ranging from jobs to family responsibilities to health challenges. And even my “traditional” students, on the main campus and the extended campus, are often balancing jobs and family responsibilities. I teach in Eastern Kentucky, in the heart of Appalachia, and my students and their families balance on a financial knife edge most of their lives. All of this means that sometimes they miss a class due to circumstances beyond their control or they attend class in less than optimal condition (in terms of sleep, hunger, or general health). In recognition of these real struggles, there are a number of ways that I am flexible about due dates and attendance (see Empathy and Respect), but I also know as an experienced educator that there is usually a point of no-return when it comes to absences after which no student can recover. But I have found dividing the work of the week between face-to-face class time and asynchronous online work usually gives serious students with challenging lives a better chance at success. If you missed class because your car broke down, your kid fell sick, or your boss called you into work (and threatened you with the loss of your job if you didn’t show up) then you can keep up with the work and still contribute to your class community. While my online teaching methods have cycled through several iterations, my current favorite is the hyperdoc.
Space and Time
I conferenced with my Writing I students this week and I lost track of the number of times I uttered these two phrases:
- Writing is thinking
- Time is your friend
Every good writing teacher knows that good writing comes out of good thinking. While not all good thinking results in good writing (because humans), if there is not good thinking then the writing will not deliver. I carefully craft my classes to offer my student many experiences and inputs to inspire their thinking about our current projects. That is one of the reasons I love themes – because we can continue to build on the thinking and writing that came before to maximize our benefits. However, as an experienced educator, I also know that many of us (me included) need more time to process and reflect on the ideas we encountered in class. We need space to decide what we think away from the heady influence of those quicker on their feet. I have long required a certain amount of this via writing journals then blogs as well as in-class writing, but I have found that requiring one or two asynchronous online activities offers students the opportunity to extend their thinking. It also offers the quieter students who often don’t speak up in class the opportunity to shine. I also love that this allows me to utilize a variety of technology to support this learning and reflection. I like bringing in video, audio, and image as well as text to support this thinking. There are limited computer labs available to me for my classes, but this gives me the benefits of technology without the necessity of juggling in lab time. Have I mentioned how much I love hyperdocs for this?
While writing is an essential professional and life skill, I also consider teaching my first-year students self-regulation essential to their future success. Many of my students struggle with time management and setting priorities. Not a surprise as most humans struggle with those as well. I know that I do. However, hybrid courses make students responsible for their own work in a way that regular face-to-face class meetings do not. There is work that takes place away from the shelter of the instructor-led classroom — work that must take place at a time and place determined by the student. However, there is also time spent every week in the comforting familiarity of a classroom so questions can be answered and help arranged. That is one of the things I love about hybrid courses: students still receive instruction and attention each week but also must take responsibility for their own learning and work.
I love teaching hybrid writing courses because a balance of class meetings and online work gives us all more flexible schedules, time to think, and self-regulation experience. One of the great failings of our current educational model is treating all learning experiences the same. Different humans need different support for different content areas and skills. Hybrid or blended courses offer the flexibility to adjust to those different needs. I fully concede that that there are disciplines where hybrid classes won’t work as well or maybe not at all, but I believe that hybrid writing courses work very well for me and for my students. What do you like or dislike about hybrid courses?
Note: Hybrid classes work particularly well for our pandemic teaching/learning context whether classes have limited face-to-face or the ability to conduct some synchronous meetings. Trying to replicate a traditional school day via Zoom is a fraught enterprise, but careful implementation of a hybrid model can offer teachers and students a beneficial balance of just-in-time support and instruction combined with the freedom to learn and grow.