December 2011

Online and Hybrid Courses in the Sciences

By Emily Sparrow

With tuition prices on the rise, many students are eager to graduate in a timely fashion. The option of online and hybrid courses offers students the chance to take classes that support a flexible schedule, freeing up their work availability and campus space to take other courses that otherwise might have had conflicting class times.

Many general education classes are offered online every semester, including summer and winter terms. This gives students the chance to complete required graduation credits so that they can progress more quickly towards the completion of their degree.

For students with degrees in the humanities, fitting in enough general education credits from the sciences is often difficult, especially when many science courses have a combination of lecture and lab hours.

Two professors in the sciences, Associate Professor of Chemistry, Alan Gengenbach and Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Lauren Likkel have started teaching two of their classes in a hybrid format for the first time this semester.

Alan GengenbachAlan Gengenbach is offering his Chemistry 103, General Chemistry I, a lecture and lab course, in a hybrid format that is predominantly online. Gengenbach says "It makes sense to use the hybrid method for this course because in general chemistry there is a lot of problem solving that the students do on their own."

He considers it to be more beneficial to use class time to go through the process of solving the problems after the students have tried to solve them on their own. He created short videos on D2L to demonstrate the process of how to solve the problems. "I find this to be more effective because the students get the help through the videos when they know they need it, and can go back and view the videos as many times as needed to learn the concepts."

Chemistry 103 has a lab where the students normally meet in the classroom for three hours. Last year Professor Gengenbach worked with one of his students to create short videos of all of these lab experiments so that in the hybrid course the students could participate in these labs through a video format.

Gengenbach says, "Chemistry 103 has a lot of experiments that are mostly observational, so instead of going to the lab, doing the experiments and recording the information for three hours, the students can watch someone else do it on a video and record the data. This way they have the same analysis and are getting the same results as they normally would." This will free up a lot of time that students can devote to other commitments, such as working or taking in-class courses.

Lauren LikkelLauren Likkel has taught Physics 115, Survey of Astronomy, online for two years, and this semester she taught it as a hybrid course. She explains that "This particular class is very visual and non-mathematical; it is also very information oriented so I think it is an excellent choice for an online course." As a three credit course, the hybrid class meets face-to-face once per week and then the students are expected to view the material, do the reading, and complete the assignments outside of class.

The hybrid course adds to the benefits of an online course by giving the students a chance to meet face to face with each other and the professor. It gives them an opportunity to personally discuss the material and provides them with a safe location for taking exams.

"I think the hybrid class has a lot of potential because it allows the information from the class to be presented in an efficient manner outside of class, and the face to face time can be used to its fullest possibility; that can be introducing, summing up or interacting with the material," Likkel says, "Another benefit with the hybrid class is that you can have secure exams because you can see them in person and have no doubt about who is taking the exam."

Both Gengenbach and Likkel have not taught their hybrid courses without experiencing a few challenges along the way. The challenge with every predominantly online course is getting the students to complete the work in a gradual timeline, rather than waiting until the last minute to complete all of the videos and assignments the night before they are due.

More accountability is placed on the students in an online and hybrid course to ensure that they get the required readings and assignments completed in a timely manner. However, the condensed meeting times allow them to complete the work at their convenience, by the due date.

"I think the real potential for this is the ability to make it more personalized," Professor Gengenbach explains, "The pace of the course and how much time is spent on any one given set of material, that decision is now up to the student. I can put a lot of videos online and they can watch the ones they want to and watch them more often."

Professor Likkel sees the potential that online and hybrid courses have in helping students stay on track for graduation. "Online courses held over the summer or winterim make it possible for students not living in Eau Claire to take classes. This makes it possible for them to make up for having dropped a course some time in their career, so even if they are visiting family, have some other obligation that takes them away from campus, or have some kind of medical situation that makes it difficult to attend class, they can still take the credits.The flexible schedule of an online class can really help out some students."

The benefits of hybrid and online courses do not exist solely for the students. Alan Gengenbach says, "The process of teaching in a new way and learning about that process has been really fun. I think that it will make my teaching better, partly because I've found some new online tools I can use. I hope to take a few of the things I've learned from teaching a hybrid course and put them into my traditional courses to make my traditional courses better."

According to the 2009 Standard Survey for UW-Eau Claire, since 2001 there has been an increase in the amount of freshmen graduating within four years. Perhaps this is because of the increased availability of online and hybrid courses which create a more flexible schedule for the students.

If you would like to teach a course online over the Summer 2012, contact CETL Associate Director, Cindy Albert for information on Support to Develop an Online Course for Summer 2012. Hybrid Course Development opportunities are also available for the Fall 2012 Semester. Cindy can be contacted by phone 836-2385 or e-mail albertca@uwec.edu.

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