Seven reasons why online and hybrid classes are better (and more rigorous) than the traditional classroom

"Girl Browsing The Internet" by Stuart Miles at
“Girl Browsing The Internet” by Stuart Miles at

I’ve been teaching hybrid classes this entire year, and I’m looking forward to also teaching my Modern Brazil class as a hybrid next year. In the long term, I will probably move to teaching mostly hybrid classes.  I’ve been struck by how different these classes are from traditional format classes, mostly in positive ways. But I too often hear some of my colleagues (whom I respect and like- it’s a great department) denounce the move towards hybrid and on-line classes with comments such as “There is no concern for quality!” Or “They want us to be a vocational school!” I’ve spent a lot of time patiently trying to describe the advantages of classes in this format, and how they can be just as transformative and creative as any other class. But I don’t think that I’ve had much success. I have two awards for teaching excellence, and wouldn’t teach this way if it wasn’t good for students. And now I’m tired of this. So here are seven reasons why hybrid and on-line classes are not just as good as other classes, they are better. And more rigorous.

Everyone has to participate. In a regular class you may only hear from four or five students during a class discussion. With an on-line discussion, everyone has to participate.

The discussions are better. In my hybrid class students have to do a quiz on the reading before coming to class. This means that I always know that they’ve done the reading. I’ve also scanned their responses before class, so I know what issues matter to them.

There is frequent writing. My students write a two to three paragraph quiz response every week, in addition to two discussion posts. This means that students are writing every week throughout the course, and getting feedback on their work. While students may write as much during a traditional format class, they typically don’t have as many opportunities for feedback.

Expectations are clearer. More materials are on-line such as key terms, lecture outlines, etc. In addition, because they have more frequent feedback, they more quickly come to understand the faculty member’s expectations. Students are also able to track their grades on-line, which means that they have a better idea of how they are progressing in the class.

They draw a greater diversity of students. Because of family and work commitments it is much easier to take a hybrid or fully-online course. These classes therefore tend to be more diverse, which I believe enriches discussion.

You are more accountable when you teach on-line. In a traditional format class, they only way to really judge the class is through the course evaluations. But if I share access to my course shell with a colleague, they are able to view a vast amount of information in the course, including my grading and feedback.

Students have more opportunity to review material and can learn at their own pace. Students can go back over material as many times as they wish, and study when it makes sense for them.

I’m tired of trying to justify why I teach hybrid classes. I’m also frustrated when people say that only lower division courses should be taught on-line or as hybrids, because upper-division courses develop different skills, which can’t be taught in this format. I think that many students prefer traditional format classes. Classes will always be taught in a diversity of formats, and the traditional seminar will never disappear. But a great hybrid class or on-line course can also have a lot of advantages. They are not inherently lesser. Yes, some on-line classes rely on multiple choice quizzes, and entail little creativity. But there are bad classes in the traditional format too. For everyone who fears the trend to on-line education I say, “Come try teaching a hybrid class just once. See the ways in which it challenges you to be creative.” You probably won’t choose to go back.

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

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