Just as it is easy to create a terrible traditional course, it is easy to create a terrible hybrid course. Here are some things I have learned in creating and delivering PSC100Y.

Play, Experiment, and Conduct Pilot Tests

If you are like me, you have had tremendous previous experience being a student in traditional courses, and you have probably had substantial experience teaching traditional courses. In contrast, you have probably never taken or taught a hybrid course. You will therefore need to spend some time learning about hybrid courses (which is the purpose of this web site), and you will need to think very carefully about how your course will work and what might go wrong. Most importantly, you will need to play, experiment, and conduct pilot tests.

I developed PSC100Y over a period of almost 3 years. The first year, I recorded the lectures for one 2-week unit of the course, and I did a pilot experiment in which I inserted this unit into the traditional version of the course. I explained to the students what I was doing, and they happily served as guinea pigs. I compared performance on the midterm exam with the performance from the previous year, and it was about the same. However, this pilot unit was a pale version of what I hoped to do. It did not have embedded quizzes, and it did not have discussion sections. Moreover, the lecture videos were only slightly modified from the original traditional lectures and were not optimized for the video format. I also received a lot of useful feedback from the students. This gave me the confidence to move forward with a full-scale hybridization of the course.

In the second year, I took a faculty workshop on hybrid teaching offered by the UC-Davis Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (now called the Center for Educational Excellence). I learned a great deal from this, and while I took the course I developed a second 2-week unit of the course. This time I updated my lectures extensively to be appropriate for the video format, and I added in the embedded quiz questions (but not the SmartSite quizzes). I then tested this unit the next time I taught the traditional version of the course. Again I learned a great deal (and the students did only a few percent better on the midterm than they had done in the traditional version).

Over this period, I had many conversations with undergraduates about my plans for PSC100Y (especially the students who work in my lab, but also some lower-performing students). They had many excellent suggestions. Perhaps the most important thing I learned from these students was that it is essential to design the class in a way that will discourage students from procrastinating. The SmartSite quizzes (with deadlines for each subunit distributed over the course of each 2-week unit) were inspired by this, and they have proven very successful.

I also did a great deal of experimenting with how to organize, record, edit, and deliver the lecture videos (see Lecture Video Production). You have probably developed a lecturing style that fits your personality and works in a traditional lecture course, but you will probably need to develop a modified style for video lectures. The details of that style will depend on your personality, so you need to try things and see what the result looks like.

After all this piloting and experimenting, I spent the last 9 months finishing the course. I used the video I recorded for two units from the pilot testing (with enhancements based on what I had learned from the pilot testing) rather than starting over. However, the three units I created in the last 9 months are clearly superior (as evidenced by the midterm scores). Someday I will go back and re-record the lectures for those two pilot units…

Bottom line: Take this as an opportunity to play with a new style of teaching, and do extensive pilot testing before trying to create a whole course. If you are creating a new class, you can organize a small group of students (perhaps registered for some kind of “independent study”) to go through your materials as you’re creating them.

Change the Way You Think About Learning

The image to the right shows the way I used to think about teaching: The students open their heads, and we pour the knowledge in. HoweveYellIntoBrainr, as a cognitive psychologist, I should have realized that learning is an active process by which the learner constructs an understanding of the material. The role of the instructor is therefore to set up situations that maximize the ability of the learner to construct an accurate and complete understanding of the material. Sometimes this situation involves an oral presentation by an expert (i.e., a lecture by you, the professor). However, for this situation to lead to real learning, the learner needs to actively think about what the instructor is saying (which is one of the reasons why frequent online quizzes are valuable).

Make the Most of Face-to-Face Time

No matter how you organize a hybrid course, you’ll need to figure out what to do in the live portion of the course. For me, the lecture portion was relatively easy because it was a translation of something I had been doing for years into a new format. However, the discussion sections were difficult to plan because I had never really taught in small groups. The most important thing about the live component is: Don’t lecture!!! That can be done online, and it’s a waste of valuable face-to-face time to do this in discussion sections. Instead, figure out things for the students to do that will help them learn.

Apply Your Own Critical Thinking and Rigorous Evaluation Skills

Faculty tend to have completely different approaches to teaching and research. In research, we carefully edit everything, we present preliminary results at conferences to get feedback, we ask colleagues for comments on our papers and grant proposals, we think long and hard about alternative strategies, we test our hypotheses with careful data collection and statistical analyses, and we put our work through rigorous peer review. In teaching, we develop some PowerPoint slides and then “wing it” during lectures, we grudgingly get our teaching evaluated by other faculty when required for a promotion, we discount the value of student evaluations, we assume that students who do poorly are stupid or lazy, and we obtain little or no real evidence of the effectiveness of our courses. This is a caricature, of course, but it has quite a bit of truth (especially when it comes to a lack of rigorous, quantitative evidence of our teaching effectiveness). This is not because faculty are lazy or don’t care about students. Most universities do not provide significant incentives for careful, rigorous course development and evaluation, but they do provide incentives for publishing lots of papers in top-tier journals, so it’s no wonder that we take different approaches to teaching and research.

Enjoy the Process

It takes a ridiculous amount of time to create an effective hybrid course, and it’s only realistic if you enjoy the process. Are you generally someone who likes to create things for use by others? Do you enjoy writing talks for conferences, putting extra work into making them engaging as well as clear and informative? Do you enjoy writing papers and perhaps books for broad audiences, spending considerable effort to make them enjoyable as well as clear? If so, then you may enjoy the process of creating lecture videos. On the other hand, if you just want to get the information out there and don’t enjoy the process, you will not want to spend your nights and weekends writing, recording, and editing dozens of lecture videos, coming up with hundreds of quiz questions, putting together worksheets, etc.