High Impact Practices: how to incorporate them into hybrid as well as face to face classes?

After our discussion, I received the following question from Rex Koontz,

My big question regarding high impact practices is this: as we move to a more hybrid/blended system of course delivery, how can we build high impact practices into every level of hybridization?

This, I think, is a really good question. If we are moving to more hybrid or non-synchronous forms of course delivery, how do we make sure these practices are incorporated into those courses as fully as in face to face instruction?

This was my response to Rex, which I hope those of you who have taught hybrid or distance courses will comment upon.

In terms of the increasing hybridity of instruction, I’m not sure if this trend is advancing, or advancing in the right ways if we want to satisfy the equally compelling demands for better learning, improved graduation rates, post-grad success and so forth.  We would probably need better forms of assessment, for both hybrid and face to face courses, if we wanted more definite answers about this question.

All my courses, for example, use WordPress courseblogs, which is my favored delivery system. In all my courses, whether for undergraduates or graduate students, I use the course blog as a discussion forum, as a repository for required readings, as a portal for their online library resources, and as a space for their ongoing research results to be shared and reviewed.  There is no reason why this approach could not be emulated in BlackBoard, as many already do, or with other platforms.

These online interactions do not substitute for face to face interactions, but supplement them. My rule of thumb, which I have taken from the economist and NYT columnist Ed Glaeser, is that online interactions do not substitute for interactions, but supplement them, in more or less-powerful ways. This is a view that seems to be getting corroborated in at least some of the research that I have seen. (See, for example, this 2003 study by some sociologists at Berkeley).

In my view, if we are going to move towards greater hybridity, then we need to configure the online resources for optimal access, reliability and interactivity, and follow the same principles of pedagogy that we should have been using all along for face to face classes, but translated to this specific medium: these include active learning, independent research, authentic problem solving, group work, swift and detailed feedback, plenty of opportunities for practice, and so forth.

There are ways to do this with the online components of instruction, but they require development time and resources (and professional development for faculty), monitoring of what works and what doesn’t, and attentive revision and tweaking of course presentation over several iterations of the course. (and don’t forget IT support/course design infrastructures and possible additional personnel to provide high quality feedback and grading for large sections).

So building and sustaining the HIPs in the classroom necessarily entails careful planning and support at the front end, in the course design stage, and sometimes additional support during the semester itself, and then careful revision and updating at the back end, as courses are prepared for the next cycle.

At the very least, assignments have to be designed with these demands in mind, group work assignments and online forums for asynchronous coursework need to be set up beforehand.

Once the course is live and work is handed in, their work should receive some degree of peer review and instructor feedback. This feedback should prepare students to advance to the next level of difficulty with the material. And faculty need to have ways to communicate continually with students about their comprehension of the material, their concerns, and what questions they are developing.

In any case, those are my thoughts about how to develop a culture of teaching at UH that incorporates HIPs into every level and every aspect of interactions with students, both online and face to face. Best, DM

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2 Comments on “High Impact Practices: how to incorporate them into hybrid as well as face to face classes?”

  1. David Brenner says:

    My own sense, based on research and leading professional development workshops, is that “student engagement” is almost always in inverse proportion to the “distance” of the distance learning being offered. To be sure, there are techniques for tweaking this relationship — but will sufficient investments be made to develop and implement them? Best, David Brenner

    • Dave Mazella says:

      Hi, David. These are good questions. We’ve had a number of CTE forums devoted to Distance Education and Teaching with Technology, and the problem of maintaining engagement in a virtual environment comes up at every forum. Our most experienced and effective teachers and course designers in this mode have told us that planning and good course design on the faculty side are key for sustaining student involvement across the semester, as are building in opportunities for students to practice the course content, ask questions, and receive feedback. University, college, or departmental support needs to come in the form of time for development and refinement of new courses, help with instructional design, and technical support during the running of the course. In the absence of such support, these courses become yet another way for UH to lose large numbers of students. But, speaking as someone who uses course blogs, I’ve found that I wouldn’t return to teaching my face to face courses without an online forum to supplement it. So technology can cut either way, depending on the user.


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