A Case for Why Hybrid Learning Should Be the New Standard for Higher Education (at least for STEM labs)…
Instructors and schools made massive changes and investments to ensure courses were delivered safely during the pandemic. Like most first and rushed attempts, some of it worked and some of it didn’t, and while schools recalibrate and plan for the fall, they find themselves still facing difficult decisions. However they proceed, what appears to be true is that classes, even with a vaccinated population, will not be a replica of their pre-COVID courses, and there might be some advantages to the changes.
Basic Assumptions for Teaching Post Covid-19
- Budget Crises – With key traditional revenue streams lagging, numerous schools are faced with budget crises. Two basic levers control their resolution: increase revenues or decrease costs. Most schools might be forced to apply both strategies. Schools that invested in their digital infrastructure will attempt to maximize their return.
- Contingency Plans for Course Delivery – In the aftermath of any catastrophic event, contingency plans are developed. For fall course delivery, those plans require several elements, perhaps chief among them being the ability to pivot and change content distribution. Even if fall classes return to some form of face-to-face there is no guarantee they will end the term that way.
These two points need to work together, especially with the backdrop from recent studies finding that most undergraduate students don’t favor full digital delivery and will pay less for it
Hybrid Learning May Be the Answer to Balancing Budget Crises with Course Delivery Contingency Plans
In May of 2020, Inside Higher education ran a piece (https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2020/05/13/one-option-delivering-instruction-if-campuses-open-fall-hyflex) by Doug Lederman on HyFlex. For many instructors it may have been a little late to pull this course delivery mode off for the fall of 2020, but we are seeing more give it a try with spring classes and anticipate it will be even more prevalent in the fall of 2021. Not necessarily a novel concept – most courses pre-pandemic had a digital and a face-to-face component – but HyFlex is a little different and requires thoughtful course coordination. A less complicated option than HyFlex is Hybrid Learning, which checks many of the same important boxes such as:
- It can be delivered more efficiently
- Can still engage students
- Allows for more students to take the course
- Leverages existing infrastructure
- Is versatile enough to pivot delivery methods in changing environments
In a Hybrid Learning Environment, Pre-Labs Take on More Importance
How do you pull off a win (administrators) – win (instructors) – win (student) scenario? By way of example, let’s look at one of the most complicated and expensive courses to run at a college, STEM labs. It’s hard to imagine an undergraduate course of this magnitude more dependent on face-to- face interaction than labs. Let’s explore how with a few natural changes, a course can be constructed to meet the five goals above for the fall and beyond, even with fewer resources and more students. Most labs require critical context, and context usually takes two forms…
- Context to the Overall Course Material – How does the execution of the lab relate to the materials in lecture? Synching the two has always been a challenge lab coordinators and course instructors.
- What Students Do in the Lab / Expectations After the Lab – What they are undertaking in the lab can require a heavy dose of safety training.
A digitally robust pre-lab saves everyone lab time by actively preparing students for a safe and focused lab experience.
Tips for Setting Up Pre-Labs
- VIDEO IS KEY – Don’t be shy. Videos of the materials (linking lecture to lab), working through problems, explaining safety protocol, are important on several levels. But instructors can’t just post and expect students will watch them. To drive compliance, ask questions related to the video. Other tips…
- Make Videos of Your Lab – Where is the eyewash? shower? Test on these points and make them part of your online safety contract.
- Video Parts of the Experiment – Video key parts of the experiment to emphasize key points.
- Not All Videos Need to be Your Own – Companies like Jove (https://www.jove.com/) and open resources on YouTube can be excellent resources.
- Auto-graded Pre-lab Questions – Manual grading takes time and grading with helpful feedback takes more time. Consistent grading across all sections is a constant struggle. However, if set up properly, pre-lab questions can be:
- Developed to be algorithmically delivered, which reduces cheating
- Graded automatically with results compiled ahead of the lab for the instructor
- Used to assess whether students are understanding the material. Instructors can address any comprehension problems before lab starts.
- A wide variety of question types, far beyond multiple choice and fill in the blank.
The bottom line is with lab time and space a premium, it’s critical that the lab remains focused on completing the lab, and with pre-labs that prepare students and teachers before they walk into the lab, lab times can be reduced, and reducing lab times translates into more labs being offered. There are other logical advantages. Automatically graded questions reduce grading time and the need for more graders without sacrificing quality.
Not All Labs Need To Be In Person
If you move labs, like significant figures or molecular structures to a proper online environment, complete with quizzing and calculations, graphing, etc. you can free up more lab space. With additional lab space you again have the possibility of offering more labs. Constructing flexible labs is a skill requiring foresight and planning but well worth the effort. How can a lab that requires hands-on time suddenly move online? There must be some give here for obvious reasons; you don’t want your students handling potentially hazardous chemicals at home. There are options here as well…
- Videos Plus – If possible, your own videos of the actual experiment (with questions) can demonstrate the student experience.
- Simulations – There are, for certain labs, some free or low-cost simulations (http://www.chemcollective.org/). If integrated into a proper online platform, students can “perform” the lab digitally.
- Auto-grading – Provide unique datasets for students to perform calculations, graphing and write-ups, that can be automatically graded.
Hybrid Labs Reduce Cheating
To help reduce cheating, several schools have students complete the entire lab in lab, including post-lab questions; however, this eats into valuable lab time. A well-conceived post lab with algorithmic questions, unique data, and open and close windows on when assignments can be worked on helps mitigate cheating. Furthermore, with auto-grading and specific feedback, you can reduce grading time and have consistent grading without the need for additional resources.
Other Benefits of Hybrid Labs
Other benefits of a hybrid ready-to-pivot lab include:
- Less printed resources – Elimination or the paring down of a printed manual. Use it for procedures and recording only.
- Less paper management – No collecting and handing back of paper
- On-demand learning – Well conceived asynchronous learning has advantages
- Can be integrated into an LMS – Providing an all-in-one resource for students and faculty reduces the need for additional platforms, coordination and additional student fees
An instructor may not be able to make all these changes at once, but when made, they are in the arsenal forever and don’t have to be re-created should the learning environment change.
So Where Do You Start? Is There a Platform that Can Help?
Before seeing what’s available, let’s revisit the three main players associated with the labs and how a hybrid lab is beneficial.
- Lead instructor/lab manager – This uniquely overburdened group can return to a new normal that is mostly in line with what they were doing prior to the pandemic. Requiring some changes, they aren’t radical, and when complete will save time, especially with grading.
- Administrators – With budget issues, labs that can be run more efficiently have the potential to lead to increased enrollments, save money not spent on new space or new hires, and leverage existing infrastructure.
- Students – Can return to labs – where engagement is highest – while supplementing their lab experience with consistent pre- and post-lab digital instruction
LabRight, an all-in-one seamless digital platform, is ideal because it is customizable and offers simple, lab-specific digital tools. We set it all up for you and provide training. LabRight turns the challenges you’re facing into new teaching and learning opportunities. LabRight is so flexible it can be used for face-to-face, virtual or hybrid labs, and is ideal for pre-, in- or post-lab work.
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