Digital push increases hybrid and online courses at GVSU

GVL / Bo Anderson
Online Classes have become the new norm for chemistry students

Bo Anderson

GVL / Bo Anderson Online Classes have become the new norm for chemistry students

Lizzy Balboa

As the push into the Digital Age continues, it’s only natural that Grand Valley State University is picking up the trend and using its paperless resources to save time and money.

Phillip Batty of Institutional Analysis said the number of hybrid and online courses has steadily increased from nine in 2002, to 39 in 2007 and now 116 in 2012.

Fred Antczak, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said he thinks hybrid classes will continue to increase in volume as the university progresses.

“GVSU will probably do more hybrid classes, where part of the work is online and 50 percent or more is face-to-face, because more and more of our students come to college having learned from electronic sources,” Antczak said.

Chemistry professor Cory DiCarlo has already begun experimenting with hybrid learning. This fall, DiCarlo implemented a new, “flipped” teaching plan to his Chemistry 116 course in which he posts his lectures online in video format to preserve the four traditional “lecture” periods for more in-depth and interactive work.

“The main premise is that traditional lecture, where a professor sits in front of a classroom and talks at the students for 50 minutes, is not the best use of face-to-face time,” he said. “The hypothesis here is that since this style of teaching is such a passive experience for the students, that students won’t get a significantly different experience if they view this type of content online instead of in person.”

DiCarlo cited three advantages to the digital lecture style: first, students can watch the presentation at any time they are prepared to learn; second, students can pause or rewind the lectures to work sample problems or review segments; and third, maintaining the lectures online opens up class time for more interactive learning.

The more frequent opportunities to interact with the professor and other students is one of the enticing characteristics that distinguishes flipped classrooms from traditional lectures, the DiCarlo said. He added that education research consistently supports the idea that active participation in class is a more effective learning method for students than soaking in a lecture. This feature, in particular, helps generate a deeper understanding of material and an increase in learning retention.
Antczak added that the asynchronous learning style might better accommodate students managing difficult personal schedules.

Despite the foreseen benefits of online or hybrid learning, courses relying on the Internet do have their challenges.

“Online courses are not cheap and easy, from either end,” Antczak said. “They require a lot of work from the teacher, and great discipline and persistence from the student (the appalling graduation rates of online universities testify to that).”

DiCarlo agreed that his students will find the new learning format challenging.

“You could come to a lecture at 8 a.m. and half pay attention,” he said. “You can’t come to my class and half participate with this different format. There is also a shifting of time spent on the course as students are both attending lecture class times during the week and having to view and digest the video lectures on top of that.”

DiCarlo added that even with the additional requirement to view lectures outside of class, students should spend no more time involved in a flipped course than they do in a traditional course, since those who actively participate during class spend a reduced amount of time reading the textbook to understand course material.

However, Antczak warned that online methods should be viewed merely as tools, not “learning goals in themselves.”

“Some people benefit from them, and we need to find ways of serving those students,” he said. “But the serendipitous comment from another student, the question you would not have thought of that arises in interchange, that sort of learning experience has a hard time catalyzing when everyone is learning at a different time, place or pace. The goal remains student learning. Where we can serve that interest, let’s innovate.”

So far, the new style has been a success, DiCarlo said. His students are more energized, and the level of participation is high.

“The room was so loud this morning with people discussing the day’s in class assignment that the students waiting for the next class started coming in because they thought there couldn’t actually be a class in session with that many people talking at once,” he said. “It was great. I am very excited to see how this goes.”
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