Hybrid, Online Classes Bring Different Styles, Same Educational Experiences

Friday, October 16, 2020
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Summer training workshops and collaborative sessions helped professors develop high-quality courses and materials for this fall, when 41% of class sections are being taught through hybrid modes, while 29% are totally online.

Rose-Hulman professors have earned national acclaim for their abilities to teach engineering, science, and management students how to identify and isolate the constraints within every problem in manufacturing, research, or business.

After all, finding those constraints is the first step in the problem-solving process.

So, it seems only natural that the institute’s faculty would come up with appropriate solutions to teach their science, engineering, and mathematics courses in an academic environment filled with online and hybrid classes and lab sessions, classrooms with social distancing measures, and adhering to health and safety protocols behind face masks, face shields, and plexiglass.

“If a college full of professors who teach about problem-solving can’t develop the appropriate solutions to teach in an era of constraints caused by a pandemic, then who else could?” asks Jameel Ahmed, head of the Department of Biology and Biomedical Engineering.

Kay C Dee, associate dean of learning and technology and professor of biology and biomedical engineering, adds, “As they say, ‘Necessity is the Mother of Invention.’ In many ways, that’s what has happened here. We did this out of a strong desire as educators to teach and connect with our students in different and creative ways—much different than normal at Rose-Hulman.”

Only 39% of course sections (225) are being taught this fall quarter in traditional face-to-face classroom situations. That’s a major shift from a year ago when 99.5% of sections (642) were totally in-class. The Office of Academic Affairs reports that 41% of fall class sections (274) are now being taught through hybrid modes (part in-class, part online), with another 29% being totally online (133).

“The faculty and our students have done an amazing job of adapting to the new modes of delivery,” said Rick Stamper, provost and vice president for academic affairs. His office worked with academic departments, faculty governance groups, and the Office of Facilities Operations to add course sections and modify classrooms arrangements for this fall. “The faculty have demonstrated that they can provide great student learning experiences in a variety of delivery modes. Now that we have been forced by the pandemic to become more proficient with these new tools, I look forward to seeing how faculty deploy them in the future,” he says.

While there was an abrupt one-week about-face from in-class to entirely online instruction during the 2020 spring academic quarter, faculty took full advantage of an entire summer to modify classes for this fall. The Office of Learning & Technology’s Creative Adaptable Courses workshops helped professors develop high-quality courses and materials for face-to-face, hybrid or online classes. A total of 128 faculty interacted in some way, and materials from these sessions were introduced to 15 new faculty for the 2020-21 academic year—accounting for just over 70% of the faculty. The resources remain online and available for all Rose-Hulman instructors, according to Dee.

Then, 52 professors teaching course sections and lab sections for first-year students this fall took additional time and care this summer to develop courses that met quality standards for accessibility, introduced Learning Management System technology and Universal Design for Learning concepts, and offered regular instructor-student and student-student interactions. These sessions were supported by a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc.’s Charting the Future for Indiana’s Colleges and Universities initiative.

“The experience of seeing my colleagues learning from each other was humbling to watch,” said Dee. “These talented and experienced instructors weren’t afraid to step back and take time to learn new things. They wanted to get even better to help the learning process for their students.”

Associate Professor of Chemistry Stephanie Poland adapted a section of this fall’s Honors Chemistry course to be taught totally online for the first time, with students receiving instruction at an accelerated pace from off-campus as far away as Taiwan, China, and India. Lab experiments were adapted to include common household items and, on occasion, special arrangements for items that were available in foreign countries.

“While it may be a MacGyver-like approach to teaching, the students are getting the same hands-on skills and concepts they would in a campus lab,” Poland said. “It has been really interesting to see how adjustable the students have been to try new things. Really, we’re all learning together in this new educational environment. It has been a labor of love for me, and I’m sure that’s true for my faculty colleagues. I love teaching and helping students explore new areas.”

Ahmed, who is introducing first-year biomedical engineering students to basic design elements, adds, “We’re using technology, such as (Microsoft) Teams, to create interpersonal interactions that replicate the conventional classroom. In many ways, remote learning is better. This is a great opportunity for us to become even better teachers while taking a critical look at what we’re trying to accomplish in our courses.”

A product development studio for second-year engineering design students and a Lean Manufacturing course for upper-class mechanical engineering students have incorporated online tools to allow students to share ideas, work together and provide oral defenses for design projects—many times while being in the same classroom.

“Instead of spreading Post-It Notes across easels set up throughout class, students are sharing their laptop screens to exchange ideas and comments with classmates that are maybe six feet away or off-campus. We’re getting to the same educational environment, just through different and modern ways,” said Jay McCormack, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

His students are using in-class sessions, after-class readings, and online videos to learn valuable lessons about injection molding, machining, and best manufacturing practices, and applying those concepts to design a variety of products. In one case, student teams worked with professional machinists at Minnesota-based Protolabs to check if their project could be manufactured within cost requirements and technology capabilities.

McCormack marvels at how his classroom climate has remained collaborative and productive in the new hybrid/online models. He points out, “Our academic adaptability will serve students well into their future careers.”

Associate Professor of English Sarah Summers agrees. She is teaching 42 first-year students this fall in a Rhetoric and Composition course through four hybrid classes. Students come together twice each week to discuss assigned readings and have two other online sessions weekly. They can also meet online with Summers, if needed, to go over classroom assignments.

“The hybrid classes build on students’ existing digital skills, while also helping them develop new skills to succeed as students and team members in virtual environments. This is the world in which they are and will be living and working in the future,” she said.