Tuesday, August 14, 2012
By Kyla Calvert

SAN DIEGO — Increasing the number of online classes is just one way California’s public universities have been trying to serve students despite years of budget cuts. That has spawned a debate about whether students can get the same quality of education online. At San Diego State University a middle-of-the-road approach is gaining ground.

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At 8 a.m. on a recent Thursday students were having one of their final summer session classes.

But the students only spend half their time with Noble in that classroom. The rest of the time they log in online for lectures. They can watch them live and type questions into a chat box for her to answer during the scheduled class time, or watch the lecture archives. There’s one main reason Noble offers the class in this hybrid format.

“To give them more flexibility in time spent working on the course,” she said. “That way they can have some time in class with me but at the same time do some of their lecture work at their own pace, at their own location and when it’s convenient for them.”

She also thinks this way of teaching frees up the time she has with the students face to face.

“The actual lecture material I try to present in the hybrid, you know, online,” she said. “So they go through a lot of the material online and then in the classroom I try to present more of the practice problems. That way I’ve got the time to do more practice problems rather than just presenting the material.”

This morning, Noble’s students were taking an in-person quiz. On his way out of class junior Christopher Willis said he thinks having face time with his instructors is important. But like many students and faculty who like the hybrid format, he thinks having an archive of Noble’s lectures makes a big difference.

“I’d say it’s really helpful,” he said. “I’ll start doing my homework and when I find something and maybe the textbook doesn’t fully explain it then I can go back and watch the lecture that she did where she breaks it down really simple and I can draw from that it makes it a lot easier for me.”

This fall, more than 60 SDSU courses will use this mix of in-person and online meetings according to the course catalogue. That’s almost twice as many as were offered in any semester during the last two school years. More courses are offered entirely online, especially during the summer when some students try to fit in some of the gateway classes they can’t get into during the regular school year. In fact, it’s these gateway courses that SDSU has focused on turning into hybrid and online courses to try to meet the demand from students.

Scott Mcavoy is getting his master’s in educational technology at State. He said more of his classes have become hybrids recently.

“When we did furloughs around here a lot of my large lecture and normal traditional classes switched hybrid, just because they lost 10 percent of their days,” he said. “And I found that doing those online things I had more access to the professor than I would have normally.”

The online class environment opened up more points of contact – like email, class discussion forums and chat session, Mcavoy said.

But as with any kind of class, Mcavoy thinks some professors are better at engaging students than others.

“It really depends on how they set it up,” he said. “If they just have it recorded online… But a lot of people are switching to kind of the interactive tests where you’re moving around a lot more, you’re actively searching for things, you’re drawing connections and I think that’s a lot better.”

Helping SDSU faculty use technology’s interactive potential is part of Mark Laumakis’ job. He’s a psychology lecturer, but also the faculty member in residence in the school’s instructional technology department. Students in his hybrid courses use something called adaptive quizzing in their online work. Students don’t advance to harder questions until they start getting easier questions right. He says it’s like practicing anything else.

“If you go to the batting cages and you can’t hit very well, you’re going to spend more time in there hitting,” he said. “Well, you’re going to take more quiz questions if you don’t know anything about the biological basis of behavior.”

Laumakis said he conducted a nonscientific experiment of his own – giving students in one course section normal quizzes and students in another section the adaptive quizzes. Those who used adaptive quizzes scored 3 or 4 percentage points higher in the courses overall, or about half a letter grade, he said. He attributes the bump to students getting an experience that’s more tailored to their own needs.

But there are students like multimedia design major Kristen Duncan who still feel like their needs are best met in person.

“I think just being in class and having everybody hear you out, because online you don’t know who is listening and who isn’t,” she said. “I feel like it’s better because you get that face to face with the professor and they’re able to a better understanding of your question and what you’re trying to get from the lecture.”

Even so, Duncan said sometimes the hybrid courses are what’s best for her schedule.

“It’s a lot better for me because I take a minimum of 15 units I have that extra course it’s not – I don’t have to be there. So it’s easier for me to just kind of catch up online or if they have it archived I do it on Saturday morning or things like that.”

As Helen Noble was wrapping up her last in-person session with her statistics students, she asked whether students want a final in-person review session before their final. Several hands went up.

She would be there Monday morning for anyone that wanted an optional in-person study session, but the materials were also online for anyone who didn’t want to come to campus at 8 a.m., she said.

“The difference five years ago to now – a lot of students have done online classes, the students are online all the time,” Noble said. “So they pick it up really easily they’re really comfortable watching lectures online and doing homework online and even doing quizzes online. More and more the sense is that students want a lot of it online.”

But, maybe not all of it online.

 

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