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Lessons Learned

Course redesign is central to developing effective hybrid courses. A strong tendency exists for instructors to introduce online work to their traditional syllabus as an add-on, producing what we call the course-and-a-half syndrome. Most first-time hybrid instructors say in retrospect that they did require too much of their students simply because they took face-to-face components of their course and piled on a variety of online assignments. In effect, the course-and-a-half syndrome results from an instructor attempting to manage parallel face-to-face and online learning activities in tandem, without fully integrating the two. It's clear from our experience that both the online and face-to-face portions of the course must be redesigned and integrated with one another to make a hybrid approach effective.

Contrary to some instructors' initial concerns, hybrid courses do not isolate students from one another or from the instructor. Hybrid courses that are carefully designed actually increase student engagement in their coursework and interaction with their peers and instructors. Instructors, however, must work specifically to establish an online learning community through the use of discussion forums and collaborative small group work, activities that may seem unfamiliar and uncomfortable from a more traditional perspective. Faculty development programs must place special emphasis on such key elements of hybrid teaching and learning.

Assessment of student learning is an opportunity for new hybrid instructors to move away from more traditional approaches — a two exams, a term paper, and a final — still predominant in many face-to-face courses. The online environment lends itself most readily to frequent low-stakes assignments with rapid instructor feedback, an approach that has been demonstrated to be highly effective in face-to-face learning as well. However, we have found that instructors need to be introduced to the possibilities for online assessment, e.g., breaking up a term paper into several pieces submitted for feedback throughout the semester, as well as to standard face-to-face techniques such as entrance and exit assignments that can serve to integrate online with face-to-face components of a hybrid course. Otherwise, instructors may try to replicate their face-to-face modes of assessment online, which can produce learning activities far more limited in scope than need be, and which typically overlook the value of online discussion, small group projects, and the facilitation of peer learning community both in the face-to-face and online aspects of the course.

Finally, an unanticipated benefit of "going hybrid" that has been frequently reported to us is that hybrid instructors find their non-hybrid courses (both face-to-face and online) pedagogically transformed by the experience and practices of hybrid instruction. A surprising number of instructors have independently stated to us that they felt their teaching had been rejuvenated by the techniques associated with the hybrid, and that they have subsequently adopted those techniques in other types of courses with gratifyingly positive results. It's not uncommon for instructors whom we encounter several years after they first started teaching hybrid courses to tell us that they now teach only hybrid courses, because other forms of instruction seem so restrictive and dull by contrast.

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