Thorpe’s hybrid approach puts students in charge of learning

September 22, 2011
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Editor’s Note: This is the eighth in a series of occasional features provided by the Teaching and Learning Center to encourage faculty to share ideas about teaching strategies that engage students and enhance learning. Faculty members are encouraged to share their ideas by contacting the TLC at 255-4872 or tlc@uccs.edu.

This week’s subject, Janice Thorpe, will talk about her experiences in teaching a hybrid course from 10:50 a.m. to 12:05 p.m. Sept. 28 in Columbine Hall 105. To attend, please reserve a space at tlc@uccs.edu.

Q – Please introduce yourself. What is your name and department and share with us how long you’ve been at UCCS.

A – I am Janice Thorpe and I am instructor in the Communication Department. I have more than 20 years teaching experience with students from four to 60 years of age. I began at UCCS as a lecturer in 1992 and became a full-time instructor in 2007. I think I’ve taught nearly every undergraduate class in the department but for the past three years have focused on interpersonal communication, research methods, business and professional communication and digital communication technology.

Q – Please describe what you have called a hybrid approach to teaching.

A – My approach is designed to emulate the real workplace as closely as possible. In the real world, you’re given an assignment or project, offered resources, and given a deadline.  The employee is expected to “fill in the blanks” by asking questions regarding areas that were unclear or require clarification. I use six class meetings to define the content of the major assignments, clarify resources, and reiterate deadlines and evaluate presentations.  Everything else — writing samples, grading rubrics, discussion boards, etc.– is available from Blackboard and students are directed to it to look for the answers to many of their questions. This frees me to be available for the project specific questions, and student specific learning needs, that are better addressed individually.

Q – What inspired you to adopt this style of teaching?

A – My revision of a business and professional communication course came as a result of the rapid changes we’ve witnessed in how we gather information. Textbooks and lecture traditionally included most of the information a student would need to complete assignments and do well in a course.  Alternatively, businesses interact using any technology available to reach employees, customers, vendors or the general public. Students need to “experiment” with that interaction in a learning environment. They also need guidance in how to conduct research for a specific idea and then convert that passion into something persuasive to a specific audience. This is exactly how most companies sell their product or service.

Q – How have students responded to your approach?

A – Well, given that I usually teach at 8 a.m., they’re really happy not to have “show up” every week, so that’s a definite plus. Outside of the timing, I find they like the freedom to work on topics that interest them while they are learning more about managing their time and polishing writing or speaking skills. The key is that whatever they think is a weak area is where I come in to offer assistance. If the student is already a pretty good writer, but terrified of public speaking, we can spend our time together working on that, not sitting in a class room reviewing grammar structure. For the student who’s a weak writer, we can work together to polish his or her writing skills. It’s a much more individualized approach and so far students have been enthusiastic.

Q – Did using this approach change how to you teach or feel about teaching or student learning?

A – Yes. I’m more excited about teaching this class than I have been in the past. I see more growth in their writing as well as their ability to manage their own time. I’ve also come to realize that most students are pretty good at assessing their own weaknesses and when the assignments have a real-world correlation, they are motivated to improve themselves. Also, this approach gives me a much better opportunity to get to know my students as individuals because we immediately start working together on something they are interested in.

Q – Would you recommend this approach to your colleagues? What tips would you offer?

A – I think this approach works very well for an upper-division, project-based course, with a small class. That’s not to say this approach couldn’t be modified to include co-teachers or teaching assistants, thereby expanding the number of students. The more often I teach this as a hybrid, the more comfortable I feel with trying something new and the more imaginative I get, so it’s a creative cycle.

As for tips, I have two that I learned after some trial and error. First, be ready for lots of email the first time you try it. The first semester I offered this as a hybrid, I had more emails about Blackboard and how to find things than I did about class assignments. I tried to combat some of this by creating a FAQ section in Blackboard to address the most common questions. Recently,I have begun to use part of the first day of class to show them around Blackboard to make sure everyone knows how to locate and access the course content.  This has helped to reduce the number of emails significantly.

Second, I use the announcements tool in Blackboard weekly as a way to stay connected with them on a regular basis. During the second half of the semester, we don’t meet as a class for almost six weeks and sometimes students lose interest. This tool is like a post it note on their desk and might say: “How’s your project coming, you should be at this point by now. Let me know if you need me to help.” This reminds them that I’m available and offers a great way to reconnect.

 

– Sharon Stevens

One Response to Thorpe’s hybrid approach puts students in charge of learning

  1. marguerite cantu
    September 23, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    We are very fortunate to have Janice on our campus and in the Communication Department. She is an inspirational, innovative, hard worker.

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