Flipping hybrid fail

My first hybrid classes since 1999 started off inauspiciously, with low enrollments (Western Civ 31 at first day down to 22 at census, US History 25 at census). The campus is our satellite San Elijo campus, up the street from Rancho Santa Fe (a wealthy enclave) and up the I-5 from UCSD. The format in the schedule was unusual. Most classes meet twice a week in the daytime or once in the evening. These meet Mondays only 11-12:15 (West) and Wednesdays only 11-12:15 (US). A standard MW 11-12:15 class normally fills at 40 students or gets close.

My format is flipped – students read/listen to my lectures, take quizzes, and post their writing online; class time is for open discussion of that week’s topics. The syllabus and all course information is open on web pages; assigned work is submitted in Moodle, with direct assignments linked from the open syllabus. Attendance is sporadic, as has been online performance, so I did a survey. The following is based on 11 student surveys from Western Civ and 7 from US History, so n=18. They were given in the classroom, not online.

What was the primary reason they registered for the particular class section?
27% wanted to take a hybrid class because they wanted to come to the classroom at least once a week instead of taking an online class
27% needed the class and it was the only one open when they registered
22% needed the class and the on-campus meeting time was convenient
11% love history and will take whatever classes they can
6% registered late and it was one of the few classes left
6% wanted to take a hybrid class so they could do most of the work online

Comments here were heavily toward them wanting interaction with the teacher. Two students mentioned they didn’t even know it was a hybrid until the first class meeting.

My conclusion was that most students were looking forward to classroom time as the main component of the class rather than working online.

The class used the online lectures instead of a textbook, so I asked how that worked for them. The vast majority noted the convenience and price savings of this arrangement. One said s/he didn’t like reading out of a textbook, one bought a textbook anyway, one liked the audio so they didn’t even have to read the lectures, one noted it helped them focus on the “main learning objectives” (must be someone going into Education).

My conclusion was that convenience and price are most important.

Asked how they remembered when things were due, and whether they used the Google calendar I provided, several (22%) checked the online syllabus regularly, several (17% each) either remembered in their head, used the Moodle site to remember, or used the Google calendar. One used G calendar on a cell phone, one a day planner, one a calendar app on their computer. One mentioned they don’t like the hybrid, and found it hard to stay motivated.

I was surprised that so few used mobile technology to keep track of their schedule. In class one day, I asked a student who’d missed a quiz how she remembers what’s due when. She turned her iPad around to show me a fingered scrawl on the screen that said “test Tuesday”.

Likert scale questions were:

I found the online lessions and materials valuable.
72% Strongly agree
28% Agree

I found the on-campus meetings valuable.
44% Strongly agree
28% Agree
17% Neutral
6% Disagree

I asked them about this one in class, of the few (five) students who were there. The top student in the room said some students are just lazy and want everything given to them in the classroom so they don’t have to think.

I was more likely to do the work for this class on time because of the hybrid format.
11% Strongly agree
50% Agree
28% Neutral
5% Disagree

I think I have learned more about history from taking a class in this format than I would have from taking an online class.
41% Strongly agree
59% Agree

I think I have learned more about history from taking a class in this format than I would have from taking a traditional on-campus class.
17% Strongly agree
28% Agree
50% Neutral
6% Disagree

The neutrals here are most interesting (I have been learning from Chuck Dziuban‘s work at UCF that the ambivalent surveys are where the meat is). They prefer classroom to online, which makes sense since some didn’t even know it was a hybrid anyway. They may indeed prefer being “fed” information during class time. Our in-class discussions indicate they retain little from the online materials, even when they’ve taken a quiz on it the night before class and gotten a good score. Factual questions are hardly ever answered correctly in class. They are only willing to engage in enthusiastic conversation on historical topics I frame in such a way that they need know nothing but their own opinion, so class discussions tend to focus on adapting this opinion in light of what I say right there in discussion (which, to me, is kind of like lecturing).

It is possible that the informality of the in-class discussions, where I try to use the primary source readings as a jumping off point into that week’s topics, don’t demand enough. For each class, I once gave a review no-points “quiz” at the start of class, questions on factual information with fill-in answers. I had them start by doing it separately, then in pairs, then with the full (though small) class. If it had been a real quiz, the success rate would have been 40-50% independently. After the survey, one student said I should do that more. It made me wonder whether I should repeat the quiz they took on line at the beginning of each class.

They made other suggestions too, most of them based on giving them some sort of test or quiz for points, in the classroom. I asked if we really still need to do carrot-and-stick stuff in college, and got a positive response. One said that in another (regular) class he has, all the discussion is online (but few do it) and the professor only lectures for the full class time, twice a week. I asked him to be honest about in which class he was learning more. He said he got more “stuff” (i.e. information) in that class, but more depth in my class. He’s in my class for every class session, but has done only 3 of the 13 assigned online quizzes.

I have come to the conclusion from this experience that, all arguments to the contrary (because so many of our students take both online and on-site classes), there is an online student type and an on-site student type. Students who take a class at San Elijo campus are on-site students, and expect a standard classroom experience. This does not seem to be true at Oceanside campus, where the History hybrid sections are still well enrolled. I do not think these sections are flipped in terms of pedagogy. I have offered my survey to instructors at this campus so we can get some data there.

Obviously, given the enrollments, I will be unable to repeat my experiment. In fall, I will be back to a standard twice weekly class in this timeslot. I was going to flip it, but now I’m really not sure that’s a good idea. Instead, I will likely go back to having them do their computer-based research work right there in the classroom (Lab Day), on their laptops, so they will be working in class. And it’s too bad. I thought I had a great opportunity here to lead the kind of seminar I experienced as an undergraduate. But, of course, I did my work and wanted to talk about what I’d read. I simply wasn’t able to replicate that model, even with a hybrid format.

4 comments to Flipping hybrid fail

  • Absolutely fascinating stuff, Lisa – I can relate to so many of the things you are talking about here. Just to pick out one thing: I admire your effort to try to find ways to work with content without falling into the content-trap. I never really figured out how to do that, so I’ve shifted my courses from being content-focused to writing-focused, which is a luxury I have teaching the subjects that I do… it would be a harder strategy to justify teaching history. But boy I sure can relate to “they are only willing to engage in enthusiastic conversation on historical topics I frame in such a way that they need know nothing but their own opinion.”

    One of the best things I did over the past two years is to open up the essay writing in my class (which is admittedly limited; 75% of the writing they do is creative writing, but there is one essay-ish assignment each week) to be EITHER essays about the reading OR essays about writing as a topic to reflect on. With the essays about writing, the students are able to bring to bear their own EXPERIENCE as writers (and language-users in a wider sense). I am interested in students’ opinions about things – but I am actually more interested in the opinions that come from their actual experience… and both as writers and language-users they do have valuable experiences to reflect on and share. So, instead of doing a short (300-1000 words) essay on the reading each week, the students choose: essay on the reading (only a tiny minority, usually English or anthropology majors, choose that option), or an essay about writing itself, the writing process, etc. (topics here – I’m going to jiggle those over the summer; the cartoon topic was super-popular). This is a change I have introduced over the past year, and I am really glad about it. It shored up what was a real weakness in the class for years. I could kick myself for not having done something about it sooner.

    Students make really good use of the readings to extract raw materials for their own storytelling (they retell stories from the readings in all kinds of ways, some straightforward, some totally out there); I am happy with that. I just have not figured out a good way for them to usefully extract material from the stories to use to write analytical essays. But you know, I’ve got plenty to worry about – and since analytical essays are the kind of writing they are doing in other classes (insofar as they are writing in other classes…), I feel comfortable with a focus on creative writing and lots (and lots and lots) of revision, peer review, promotion of the writing process itself.

    Anyway, it is always so interesting to learn about others’ experiences. I love teaching fully online (for a writing course, it is seriously great)… and I don’t think I would ever want to go back into a classroom, but I like to hear about what can go on in a classroom – it makes me wonder how I would teach in a classroom now, after 10 years online. 🙂

  • Birgid

    Lisa, I just wanted to encourage you to go on with flipping.

    I flipped some years ago with an activity-oriented class (information literacy), so it is easy to do advanced on-site training with the students. But still I make 10 sessions out of 13 mandatory. So even if they pass all the graded assignments (one blog post per week, creating an assignment + sample solution about the two main topics of the class) a student will not get her credits, unless I got at least 10 signatures. And – I always count the number of students sitting in the classroom against the number of signatures on the form; they try at least once a term 🙂

    The advantages I feel for me when flipping: I make closer contact with the students, I learn about their misunderstandings much earlier, I learn new things they know, I save time for personal support.

    The advantages my students report (if it comes to evaluation at the end of the term): self-regulated learning, continuous learning, no final exam. At the end they admit that it’s the better way.

    Maybe you could add some searches for the sources. This could make the subsequent reading of the sources more motivating or interesting. And let them create quests. This is fun and they have to know the topic.

    So, give flipping one more chance.

  • Hi Laura and Brigid,

    I wonder to what extent the challenges are based on my discipline and the way I want to teach it, with research in primary sources and less emphasis on the factual and the narrative. I have serious problems with the “story telling” approach to History, particularly since everyone thinks they can be a historian because everyone has a history and they think other people’s are just sets of facts, past or present. Or that the past is “just stories”, with no scholarly rigor required.

    I will give it another chance, but not, I think in this format.

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