Balance in Blended: Reflections on Teaching Hybrid Lecture Courses

At the 2014 Broadcast Education Association convention, I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel entitled “Flipped, Blended or Hybrid: The Use of Emerging Technologies in Large and Small Classes.”  Below are the slides from my presentation, and my prepared remarks.

Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be on this panel on what I like to call hybrid learning. Of course, not everyone calls it that, which is reflected in the title of this panel. Some call it flipped learning, and others like the term blended. But I think a good case can be made that the term hybrid more accurately describes the kind of approach I’m discussing today.

[next slide]

So I’d like to begin by taking a few moments to make the case for the term hybrid. Then I’ll present a very simple model for thinking about how to achieve balance in a hybrid course. I’ll briefly describe my experiences in hybrid course development, and provide some specific examples. And finally, offer some suggestions for making the most of a hybrid course.

[next slide]

At first glance, the terms flipped, blended and hybrid may seem interchangeable. But I think there are some subtle yet important differences. When I think of the term blended…

[next slide]

I think of a blender, which is a great device for creating smooth refreshing beverages. But when we combine in-class instruction with online learning, I hope we’re doing more than just creating an homogenous cocktail of instruction.

[next slide]

When I hear the term flip, I think of a very easy to use video camera that unfortunately is no longer being made. Or I think of one of those waffle machines you might see at the breakfast bar at a motel. Of course, the term flipped has become popular, in part because of the Khan Academy model of doing homework in class, a flipping of the more traditional model.

But I believe that, especially in higher education, we’re doing more than just flipping or blending. We’re creating something new that combines the best of both online learning with classroom instruction. We’re creating a hybrid.

[next slide]

I’ve been driving a hybrid car for many years, and it combines a gasoline engine with a battery powered motor, a combination that helps me get better gas mileage. But the real beauty of my hybrid isn’t just that it blends both of these modes of propulsion, and I hope it never flips over on me. No, what makes it a hybrid is the logic behind the combination. When I need to accelerate, the gas engine kicks in. When I’m scoping out a parking lot, I’m on battery power. When I’m pushing 65 down the highway, my car can draw from both gas and battery as needed. My hybrid car knows when to use the gas, when to use the battery, and when to use both.

[next slide]

In a similar way, a hybrid course does more than just blend classroom instruction with online learning. It does more than just flip what used to be done in class with traditional out of class work. It draws from the strengths of both teaching modalities to move students toward their learning goals. And it’s that deliberate and thoughtful balance between the two modes that makes a hybrid course something more than just the sum of its parts.

Of course, there are different approaches to achieving that balance. We all have different experiences in the hybrid mode, and we all offer unique insights. So let me just briefly discuss my experience with the hybrid mode, and some of the insights I’ve gained.

[next slide]

Over the past three years, I’ve been involved in three hybrid projects. First I was part of the team that converted a large lecture course in intercultural communication into a hybrid course. That experience led me to convert the lecture course in mass communication that I regularly teach into a hybrid. And this past year, I’ve been part of the public speaking hybrid course team.

In each of these hybrid efforts, a first step was to clearly identify the learning outcomes, and decide whether those outcomes would be best achieved using class time, or online learning, or some other approach, or a combination of methods. In other words, we considered the logic behind the balance of these teaching modalities. Let me illustrate this with a simple model.

[next slide]

I think it’s helpful to divide the instructional components of a course – the things we do to advance learning – into three somewhat overlapping areas: those that seem to belong in the classroom environment, those that lend themselves to the online environment, and those that lie outside of both environments. For example, I often put major exams in the classroom, where I can more carefully monitor the testing environment. But shorter and less consequential quizzes are fine in the online environment. And I often have students read a textbook, so I would put that in the third category – neither in class nor online.

Note there is some overlap in the circles in my model. Some things can combine modalities to advance learning goals. For example, most of the hybrid courses I have taught are large lecture hybrid classes, so I devote some class time to lecture. After all, the class meets in a lecture hall. But at the same time I try to provide online content that complements and extends the in-class lecture mode. And I do that by creating short online videos that in many respects serve as the online equivalent to lectures.

[next slide]

Let me give you an example. Here’s a brief clip from one of the first online videos students see in my mass communication class.

Now of course that’s just a brief sample to give you an idea of what I do. In this particular course, students watch about 80 of these videos.

[next slide]

I’ve found that these online videos work best when they are presented in what I call an “online learning module.” Each module consists of a series of 6 to 8 short videos, and each of the videos are around 5 to 10 minutes in length. So it takes students about an hour or so to complete each module – about the equivalent of a class period. By breaking up the modules into shorter videos, it more closely reflects what I do when I lecture in the classroom. I don’t drone on for an hour. I try to stop every few minutes, ask if there are any questions, or ask students to discuss something, or ask some clicker questions. And I try to replicate this experience online.

[next slide]

For example, I present the videos using a quiz format. That is, each video is on a separate web page with a few questions below the video. Students watch the video, answer the questions, and click the button to go to the next page in the sequence. This not only insures that the students watch the videos in sequence, but it also generates a score, which I can use as part of their grade. And just as I do at the end of most class lectures, at the end of each online learning module, I review the key concepts, and pose a discussion question for an online discussion forum.

[next slide]

One advantage of online learning is the time flexibility offered by asynchronous content, so I think it makes sense to embrace that advantage. In my hybrid courses, I tend to avoid strict synchronous “appointment learning” in the online environment. Instead, I practice what I call disciplined asynchronous delivery. By that I mean that students must complete the online work during a clearly defined window of availability, typically a week. But students are free to spend as much or as little time as they want to complete their online work. Now of course, some students are going to spend the absolute minimum amount of time. But I’ve found that you can encourage them to spend more time if you make it worth their while. For example, I allow students to attempt each of the online learning modules as many times as they wish, with their score being the average of all of their attempts. I think this fosters mastering of the material. Further, our learning management system keeps careful records of the time students spend on task, so I can keep tabs on how much time students spend with online content.

[next slide]

Speaking of time, I know I’m likely running low at this point. So in my remaining time today, let me just offer a few suggestions on how to make the most of a hybrid course.

First, try to create content that is both flexible and reusable. If you’re going to spend hours recording online videos, you might as well try to make videos that can go a few rounds. That’s one reason behind the logic of creating shorter online videos rather than longer videos. It’s a lot easier to update a five minute video than it is to redo a fifty minute video lecture. Shorter videos also enable the redeploying of content in different contexts. For example, we’ve been able to use some of the hybrid content we created in the intercultural communication course to create a Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC.

I think it’s also important to provide good audio in online content. You might have noticed that I used a bit of music at the start of the sample clip I showed earlier. I use a lot of music, both in class and online, because I want to try to engage the students both through what they see and what they hear. I use high quality microphones to capture my voice, and add audio processing as appropriate. I encourage my students to use headphones when listening to the online videos, so I want to make sure that the audio I create is “earphone worthy.” Perhaps it’s my professional background in radio that makes me more sensitive to this sort of thing, but from my experience, there’s much to be gained from paying attention to audio.

I think it’s also important to design online components that work well on small screens. As instructors, we often view our content on laptops or desktop computer monitors. But students are increasingly consuming online content on tablets and smart phones. So I try to keep these smaller screens in mind when I design online content. At the very least, that means bigger fonts, centering content in “screen safe” regions appropriate for a variety of possible aspect ratios, and testing content with a wide variety of hardware and software scenarios before deployment.

Finally, I’ve found that it’s a good idea to devote some class time to keeping students on track in the online environment. Let’s face it, students have a tendency to focus on the minimum requirements to achieve the grade they want. While it’s a good idea to convey those requirements through online communication, it’s even more important to take advantage of their attention during class time to reinforce what they need to do to succeed. One way I do this is by including a checklist as my very first clicker question in each class. The checklist identifies the specific things a student should have completed by that point, and I ask students to click A if they’ve done all of those things, B if they’ve done most, etc. Of course I don’t know if they are telling me the truth or not, but that’s not really the point. I’m trying to encourage them to engage in some self-assessment of their online efforts. I follow this up with a few additional reminders during class, including an end-of-class checklist – spelling out what I want them to do before our next class. I think these frequent reminders help students stay on track, and encourage them to maintain the discipline needed to be successful with online learning.

[next slide]

I hope my comments today about achieving balance in the hybrid environment has been helpful, and I look forward to some discussion later on in the hour. If you would like to continue the conversation beyond today, here is my contact information. Thanks again for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you today.

Shawnee Mission North Panoramas

I enjoy taking panoramic photos from time to time. They are especially useful for capturing wide angle images that are difficult to view in a traditional photo. I’ve also experimented with various methods for presenting panoramic photos, including QuickTime VR, which is an excellent tool for navigating panoramas.

Another excellent piece of panoramic photography software is DoubleTake, which has recently been updated to version 2.2. I like DoubleTake because it is one of the easiest and quickest ways to create a panorama from “stitching” a series of images together. While there are more sophisticated tools available, DoubleTake provides a great combination of ease-of-use and quality results.

Presenting panoramic images online is another issue. Panoramic images can be huge, and most online services that offer panoramic photo viewers place limits on how large a file one can upload. One popular site for panoramic images that I’ve recently posted images to is Panoguide. This service provides a fairly good java-based viewer for viewing panoramic images, but it limits uploaded images to a maximum resolution of 8 megapixels. One of the panoramas I recently took at my godson’s graduation at Shawnee Mission North High School was 48 megapixels, so I had to drop down the resolution quite a bit to upload it to panoguide.

But for what it’s worth, below are links to the two panoramas I took at Trevor’s graduation. The first one is a 180 degree cylindrical panorama of the football stadium just prior to the graduation ceremonies. The second is a tighter close-up cylindrical panorama of the graduating class just prior to receiving their diplomas.

Shawnee Mission North High School
Shawnee Mission North High School
Shawnee Mission North Class of 2009
Shawnee Mission North Class of 2009

If you’ve never used a panoramic viewer before, try clicking on the image in the viewer and moving the mouse around to navigate. You can zoom in and out by using a scroll wheel or using the two-finger gesture on modern Mac trackpads.

Another Vivian Boo-Boo…and a bit of history

No textbook is perfect, but a good text should at least get people’s names right. I have earlier complained about John Vivian perpetuating mistakes in his text, The Media of Mass Communication, which I use in the large lecture course in mass communication I teach at West Chester University. I like the book, and I will likely continue to use it, but the careless mistakes in it are annoying.

So I wasn’t surprised when one of my students pointed out another mistake to me today (thanks, Laura!). Near the end of chapter 13, in a “Media People” pullout box, is a brief bio of hip-hop star Nelly. The textbook states that Nelly “was christened Cornell Hayes, Jr.” Nelly’s last name is Haynes, not Hayes. My student wrote that this mistake is significant “because he even refers to his name in one of his top songs, Number One, where he plays off the relationship between the underwear brand Haines and his last name Haynes.” (Actually, I believe the correct way to identify this song is #1, with a pound sign and a numeral, but that’s beside the point.)

I might add that while I was looking over this part of the text, I found another mistake in the same section. In the caption below the picture of Nelly with Christina Aguilera, a reference is made to the “MTV Music Video Awards.” Ooops. It’s the “MTV Video Music Awards,” not the “MTV Music Video Awards.” It’s been that way since they were started in 1984, and they are often referred to as simply the VMAs or VMA Awards (although technically the second is rather redundant, since the “A” in VMA stands for Awards).

Many people might wonder why it’s called the “MTV Video Music Awards” when the term “music video” is more widely used today than the term “video music.” So let me just share a bit of history…

In the very early days of MTV, the term “video music” was commonly used to describe this kind of television programming. I even used it in the title of the thesis I wrote for my master’s degree back in 1983 (Future Radio: Video Music and its Effects on Radio Listening.) Keep in mind that this was at a time when the genre was just coming together, so people weren’t sure what to call what MTV was doing.

Music was a popular form of televised entertainment long before MTV came on the scene. The Ed Sullivan Show regularly featured musical performances, and helped propel Elvis Presley and The Beatles to stardom. A number of TV shows were built around music performances, including My Hit Parade and American Bandstand. But most musical performance during TV’s early years emphasized the music, and rarely attempted to visually illustrate a story. They were essentially the video equivalent of a concert performance.

Monkees_season2.jpgOne of the first successful TV shows to integrate music into a visually-supported storyline was The Monkees, launched in 1966 on NBC. Although many critics at the time panned The Monkees as a cheap knockoff of The Beatles, the program quickly became a smash hit, and even won two Emmy Awards. A typical episode of The Monkees featured a simple and often campy comedic story that would culminate in a musical performance which was integrated into the storyline. These performances were not simply shots of the band singing and playing guitars; the musical performances were a key part of the plot of each episode. The technique was similar to the narrative approach used in filmed musicals, like Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, as well as the approach used in presenting The Beatles in the films A Hard Day’s Night and Help! But while The Monkees was built on these traditions, it was a pioneering adaptation of this storytelling approach to fit the constraints of television. It would also spawn other pop-music based TV shows, including The Partridge Family and The Archies.

Then in 1977, one of the original Monkees, Michael Nesmith, produced a “conceptual” video clip to help promote his song Rio. Although Rio was not a major pop hit in America, it was a modest success in Britain, and inspired many musicians to experiment with video as an art form itself, and not simply as a visual recording of a musical performance. Rio would later be incorporated into Nesmith’s hour-long video masterpiece called Elephant Pants, which won the very first Grammy award in the “Video of the Year” category in 1981. It wasn’t until 1985 that the Grammys started calling this category “Best Music Video,” since the term “music video” didn’t come into wide use until well after MTV was launched in 1981.

Nesmith also created Popclips, a program which many historians identify as the most direct predecessor of MTV. Popclips aired on the Nickelodeon cable channel (which today is one of the “sister networks” of MTV). The program featured videos of mostly pop music performances, hosted by on-camera “Vee Jays” (including the relatively unknown Canadian comic Howie Mandell). Nesmith would eventually sell the Popclips idea to Warner-Amex, which developed it into the Music Television cable channel (which would soon be known simply as MTV).

So when MTV started the VMAs in 1984, it was at a time when many people still thought it more appropriate to use “video” as an adjective for this kind of music, rather than use “music” as an adjective to describe this kind of video. Some people still prefer the term “Video Music,” and I for one am glad MTV has stuck with it in the name of their award program.

Now if only we can get Vivian to get the name right in his textbook…

A GameBoy for learning?

The GameBoy has been a big hit for youngsters (and oldsters, too), so I’m not surprised that Innovations For Learning’s new Teachermate handheld computer looks a lot like a Nintendo GameBoy. The size, button layout, and color scheme all give the impression that this is a fun gadget that Mario or Sonic would be pleased to call home. But upon closer inspection, the Teachermate looks like it could be an intriguing educational tool.Teachermate

At the moment, the device is designed for elementary reading and math applications, but the SD card slot suggests that it could be used for much more than that down the road. If Innovations for Learning releases an SDK for it, I for one would be very tempted to get one just to try it out. They only cost $50, which is considerably cheaper than a GameBoy (although as I write this, they are listed as “out of stock” at Amazon).

In addition to the SD slot, the Teachermate has a 200 MHz ARM processor, half a gig of RAM, built-in speaker, headphone jack, and built-in microphone. Its battery can be charged up via an AC adapter, a USB connection to a computer, or using the optional “Synch and Store” device that can recharge and synchronize a classroom’s worth of Teachermates.

While I got the impression that this is a product still under development, it does look promising. Of particular interest to me were two research studies (funded by grants from the Spencer Foundation) showing positive results in early trials of the device. This is certainly a technology to keep an eye on. Read more about it at

NERCOMP – Wikis for collaborative work

The last session I attended at NERCOMP was a presentation on the use of wikis at Bridgewater State College. Eric LePage and Timothy Wenson showed off their “BSCwiki” to a rather large audience (perhaps owing to the fact that the last time slot of the day only offered three breakout sessions).

The BSCwiki was built using MediaWiki, the same open source wiki software that runs Wikipedia, as well as, the wiki I set up for our department’s use back in the summer of 2006. The BSCwiki appears to have the familiar MediaWiki interface with only modest modifications.

One of the first classes to use the wiki was a computer science course in networking. Students were assigned to groups that then collaboratively authored wiki pages on course topics. The instructor maintained a “to do list” as a wiki page, and students could refer to the list and update it as the work progressed.

The BSCwiki was also used beyond the classroom. For example, it was used for project planning for a trial of moodle ( at Bridgewater State. BSCwiki was integrated into LDAP for user authentication. While only authenticated users were allowed to create and edit pages, anyone could view the wiki. The wiki is also deployed on a secure server (

While Eric demonstrated how to create a wiki page, I spent some time examining the BSCwiki at the link above. I went to the “all pages” page by going to, and noticed that they only have about 100 pages in the wiki. That’s not bad, I guess, but then I noticed that quite a few of the pages were either empty or skimpy “stub” pages. As a former broadcaster, I noticed a wiki page for “Writing for radio and TV” that was actually a brief plug for a program on WRAP, 106.9 FM (which sounds like it is probably a student-operated radio station).

The demo of the features of MediaWiki was a bit boring for me, but it was nevertheless interesting to hear how wikis are being used in higher education. I was particularly encouraged by the number of people in attendance.

After Eric had completed his demo, Timothy talked a bit about the technical aspects of installing and configuring MediaWiki. The software is open source, and can be freely downloaded from There are also a variety of extensions on that site that are available to extend the functionality of MediaWiki. One of the extensions added to the BSCwiki installation enabled LDAP authentication.

At this point I raised my hand and asked a question: “Is this why you have your wiki on a secure server?” The answer was yes, that running it on a secure server kept LDAP passwords encrypted so they wouldn’t be sent as clear text. I was curious as to whether SSL was essential, and found this blog post on Library Web Chic that suggests that recommends it (

This session confirmed for me that wikis have great potential for fostering collaborative work in higher education. Still, getting people interested in using wikis more broadly takes some effort. My experience has been that most wikis have a relatively small number of active contributers.

NERCOMP – Student retention through tech

Northeastern University (Boston) has developed a CRM (customer resource management) application to help increase student retention, by improving communication with faculty, students and advisors. This session was a demonstration of this application and a discussion of its impact. Kostia Bergman, Director of Undergraduate Education in Biology at Northeastern, began the presentation by presenting some background on the project.

The university wanted a more effective system for communicating information. Supported by a grant from the Davis Educational Foundation, the university adopted the platform behind This platform is web-based, user-friendly, and integrated well with existing technology. It provided the ability to track and view student interactions, trigger automatic e-mail alerts, and automate reporting.

The system was phased in over last summer, and was fully online by the Fall semester. A user task force was charged with monitoring the progress and offer suggestions for refining the interface. The name adopted for the system was FACT, an acronym for Faculty Advisor Communication Tool. It is built on two applications: a faculty J2EE web application for submission of cases, and the front-end for advisors and administrators. is a per-user license-fee hosted product, while the J2EE was developed in house.

Vanessa Ritz then demonstrated the Northeaster CRM system. As I watched the demo, my impression was that the interface was a bit cludgy. Lots of web form elements (buttons, checkboxes, pop-up menus), extensive use of tables, and rather plain data display. This may just reflect the limitations of the web interface, as the data itself is stored on Much of that data is in turn drawn from the student information database at Northeastern.

A demo of the web interface followed. This was a more polished interface, although there was still quite a few web form elements, and not a lot of “Web 2.0” flavor (no noticeable use of Ajax, for example, although I suspect I only saw a small subset of the interface).

There did seem to be a rich data store available for advisors. The interface provided a mechanism for communication between advisors and faculty. I take it that faculty don’t serve as advisors at Northeastern, or at least there is some degree of separation of advising and teaching functions.

So far there has been positive response to the new system among faculty and advisors. The university hopes to expand the use of this technology among more faculty in the coming year.

This seems like an interesting effort to improve communication on campus, but it appears to me that it is still in a rough state. Also, it wasn’t clear to me the specific advantage of using over an in-house CRM solution. Finally, the extensive use of web-based form elements seems a bit dated compared to more modern user interfaces.