Grant Spurs Hybrid Learning Class Development

by Richard Paige

June 26, 2014

Wabash College is one of seven schools selected to participate in a group dedicated to the design and implementation of hybrid learning courses on campus.

The Midwest Hybrid Learning Consortium (MHLC) received a $25,000 planning grant from the Teagle Foundation to explore and develop on-line educational opportunities in a traditional, residential liberal arts setting. Along with Wabash, the MHLC includes Albion College, DePauw University, Grinnell College, Hope College, Lawrence University, Macalester College.

Hybrid learning is a term that describes a course where the traditional in-class lecture has been enhanced by technology and digital media, essentially to meld the best features of the lecture and on-line learning. A hybrid course is designed to integrate face-to-face time with professors and on-line activities to reinforce and complement each other, rather than duplicating classroom practices.

“We will be collaborating with other institutions to develop hybrid learning strategies that will work for each individual institution in their own distinctive way yet be applicable to other campuses,” said Dean of the College Dr. Gary A. Phillips and member of the MHLC leadership team. “The challenge here is to deal with the different way of constructing a classroom experience to take advantage of technology by front-loading the learning outside of class and turning the in-class time to problem solving, collaborative work, and conversation.”

The goal of the MHLC is to enhance student engagement in learning and continue to deliver the wide ranging and intellectually stimulating courses that liberal arts students have come to expect. The group will spearhead a process where faculty can learn the fundamentals of hybrid learning and gain experience in building and teaching those courses.

In true liberal arts fashion, the MHLC’s efforts will take place across a broad spectrum of the academic catalog, including biology, chemistry, communications, computer science, economics, entrepreneurship, languages, mathematics, physics, psychology, religion, and writing.

Lon Porter (left) is committed to hybrid learning course development.While hybrid learning is an evolving discipline, such courses often use on-line learning opportunities to bolster face-to-face interaction and feedback, while reducing the amount of time in a traditional lecture setting. The goal is to use the strengths of both to enhance the overall educational experience.

“We can work together to pioneer technologies that would provide a golden opportunity,” said Lon Porter, associate professor of chemistry, who will design and teach a hybrid learning course. “We can try things that have had some initial success and really capitalize, which is building relationships with our students, engaging them in the classroom, and showing them that we have a stake in their education. We would like to find technologies that can supplement those goals. By combining efforts, we will have a more well-rounded picture of how technology can be applied to the liberal arts mission.”

This grant will take the first steps in addressing how to best engage the student and raise the level of learning. The MHLC believes that hybrid teaching will allow faculty to excel at high-impact interaction with students in an on-campus setting. This project will test and assess student learning throughout the process, staying true to core educational values while exploring all that emerging technologies can offer.

The MHLC hopes to provide guidance in constructing syllabi and creating active and collaborative learning approaches when it comes to course creation. Further, digital design specialists, works-in-progress reports, and the publication and presentation of pedagogical efforts will build a community of practice among members.

“The exploratory part of this is where things go or how the different types of learning activities fit together,” said Chad Westphal, associate professor of mathematics and computer science, who will design and teach a hybrid learning course. “We want to save time where we can for real human interaction. Creativity allows us to look at the menu of what’s available and ask ‘what can I do or what should I do with this course and these students’ and be bold enough to try it out. This grant feeds into what we’ve been doing and want to continue.”

The Wabash College Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts, a national leader in the assessment of teaching and learning, will be the guiding force in the assessment of this three-year project and the development of these hybrid learning courses.

“It’s easy to imagine the liberal arts as something from the past due to our focus on classic education and things like writing,” Westphal said. “Those are important, and we hold to those dearly, but not at the expense of remaining on the cutting edge in teaching and engaging students. We want the best tools in the best environments with the best combinations of students and instructors. We want to optimize the time we have together.”


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