Can Hybrid Classrooms Increase Interaction?

Last week, I posted an infographic about a flipped classroom model that’s being used in high schools. By “flipped classroom,” I’m referring to a model of learning that puts the instruction part of a course (such as lectures) online, freeing up class-time for hands-on work. Essentially, what was once done in the classroom is done at home, and what was done at home is brought back into the classroom. This puts the instructor in the role of facilitator, rather than the sole keeper of knowledge. Students can work to understand the material on their own time and at their own speed, leaving class time open for discussion, questions, group work, or individual work.

I think I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I took one online course while I was an undergrad, and I hated it. It was a business writing class, and the instructor was non-responsive to emails, gave very little directed feedback, and left the class to basically figure things out for ourselves. I hated the feeling of being so disconnected from my professor–so much so that I sought out another instructor in the English department who also taught business writing. He was gracious enough to meet with me to discuss my work, and I’m not sure I would have faired very well in the course without his constructive feedback.

This one experience tainted my views of online courses, and I’ve avoided taking them ever since then. It’s also another reason I’ve been cautious about the idea of teaching an online course. I wouldn’t want a student to go through the same experience that I did. I, like many others, fear that teaching online becomes too impersonal, too distant, too disconnected.

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Hybrid Learning: The Flipped Classroom

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the way we view the college classroom and the college learning experience.

I’ll admit that I have taken a few lecture-based classes that really captured my attention. The instructor talked for 50 minutes, and I sat there, mesmerized.

Actually, come to think of it, it was only one class… out of the 80+ classes I’ve probably taken in the past 7 years. The truth is, I usually hated lecture-based classes. I have an extremely short attention span, and even as a “good” student I struggled to stay engaged.

I’ve had a number of conversations with one of the professors in my department about how we might begin changing the classroom model to better fit our students. And one of the things we talked about was moving the instruction or lecture portions of class online, so actual class time could be spent doing other things.

Clearly I talk about this stuff way too much, because my family has started sending me news articles and blog posts that deal with non-traditional learning whenever they come across them. My mother sent me an infographic this morning that describes a “Flipped” classroom model that is being experimented with in a Colorado high school. Although Since I’m interested in how this would work in higher ed, I couldn’t resist posting about it.

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eBook Design: Designing for the Media v. Designing for the Medium

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about how eBooks can be disorienting for the reader (and by “reader” I meant me.)

I have a difficult time “finding” my place when I’m reading an eBook. This isn’t really a problem when I’m reading a novel, but it becomes very frustrating when I’m reading a textbook or doing research. When I read a novel, I usually read from the beginning of the book to the end. I don’t flip back and forth. I don’t refer back to an earlier section. It’s a very linear expereince.

When I’m researching or studying, however, my reading practices are very different. I read a section, make highlights and notes, put the book aside. Pick up another text. Highlight. Take notes. Put my reading materials away and try to write for a while. If I get stuck while I’m writing, I pick my reading materials up again. I’ll flip through the text, looking for a quote that seemed important.

None of these “reading” (I use scare quotes because I’m clearly doing more than just reading) practices translate very well to an eBook.  The navigation on an eBook is clunky. It doesn’t really use the affordances of the technology. As the reader, I can progress forward one page at a time, as fast as my finger can swipe across the screen (which isn’t all that fast). Or, I can click on chapter or section links from the Table of Contents, which is really only useful if I know the exact chapter or section I’m looking for. And even then, this only takes me to the first page of the chapter. From there, I’ll have to start flipping pages again…

Annoying, to say the least.

Well, the folks over at KAIST Institute of Information Technology Convergence are prototyping an eBook design right now that certainly expands the navigation experience of the eBook. (Thanks, John, for sending me this video.)

While I am over-joyed that someone is working on improving eBook design, I’m also a little discouraged. I can appreciate that this design solves the page-flipping problem. But it feels like a band-aid solution to a gaping wound. And I have to question whether we are wrong in trying to fit an old technology form into a new medium.

It’s like the Romans saying, “We don’t like the codex book because we can’t roll its pages up like a scroll.”

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