Thursday, June 4, 2015

Hybrid insteractions in education

“If teaching is largely about faculty-student interaction that we have to recognize that human interaction is changing. Our interactions with students are all hybrid. We will need an equally hybrid strategy for creating courses that leverage the best of each world.” (Bowen, 2012)

The availability of technology has changed the way how faculty and students interact. Questions often arise when we have choices of different ways to communicate and interact with each other. Which way is the better way?

I remember there are times that students complaining that the posted office hour doesn’t work for their schedule but they still prefer to face-to-face interaction instead of emails. Conversely, many students contribute more meaningfully and frequently in online forum, than in the actual classroom. Just like what’s being said in the quote, our interactions with the students are all hybrid now. Even in an online course, there are still opportunities that you may meet your students in a face-to-face setting (if the student is on campus) in cafeteria, in the hallway or even in social events. Despite the variety of teaching approaches, one of the enduring goals of faculty-student interaction is to create a learning environment where the student is comfortably yet intellectually challenged, at the same time, providing relevant content and fostering life-long learning. The question today is how we accomplish these goals with thoughtful choice of the communication “medium”.

Traditional faculty-student interaction includes face-to-face lecture, discussion, case studies, and team projects. Good learning occurs in a collaborative and social environment. It is also widely accepted that sharing ideas and responding to others’ reactions deepens understanding and improves critical thinking (Chickering & Gamson, 1991). Chickering and Gamson (1991) also identifies seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education – contact between faculty and student, cooperation among students, active learning, prompt feedback, time on tasks, high expectations of students, and respect for diverse student learning styles. Almost half of these principles involve effective faculty-student and student-student interaction. From my experience, in a small class, it is much more effective to motivate each student on an individual basis. Therefore, the essence of human interaction leads to the very common concern that online learning cannot as effectively deliver content as traditional learning environment.

It is us who teach, not the magic of technology. Technology along cannot cannot create a learning community without sophisticated practice and reflective adjustment to suit actual learning needs (Babb, Stewart, & Johnson, 2010). Sense of community is measured by students’ perception of connectedness. It is composed of four elements: membership, influence, integration and fulfillment of needs, and shared emotional connections (McMillan & Chavis, 1986). Effective interactions in instructional process should therefore aim at building membership, encouraging influence, fulfilling needs, and sharing emotional connections. In online interaction these reduced social cues such as tones of voice, facial expression, can be conveniently (although partially) made up through video conferencing and individual video chat.

Understanding types of communication also helps instructor to decide what kind of interaction mode is the most appropriate for particular purpose. There are three types of communication (Haythornthwaite, 2002):

· Content-related: e.g. asking and answering a content-related question, sharing information or ideas

· Planning and Collaboration: e.g. planning work, allocating tasks, coordinated joint effort, negotiating and resolving conflicts

· Social support: expression companionship, emotional support, providing advice

These three categories are not necessarily exclusive. They all play a significant role in learning. Content-related communication is essential for learning; planning and collaborating-related communication is important to foster learning skills; and finally social support-related communication works towards cultivating relationships and creating positive learning environment.

I come to realize the determination of interaction mode (traditional or online) rests on the question of how well it enhances student’s learning experience. I will also keep in mind what the learning objective is, and particular learning goal is on certain learning stages.

When in-depth reflection on complex issues is needed for both instructor and learners, an asynchronous online interaction will be more appropriate. Emails may be the easiest way for individual content-based communication. Discussion board is useful for collaboration-related communication. If students are expected to reflect individually on course topics, they may be asked to maintain a blog. If students are expected to share reflections or critically assess their peers, I should establish an online discussion board. Traditional interaction is useful when a less complex issue is discussed or an immediate reply is needed. It is also a more effective way to get acquainted and create community. If possible, organizing a non-mandatory face-to-face meeting with online students, or coordinating a group conference call with off-site students are both effective ways in an online course to build social support.

For my teaching practice in the future, I’ve also come to a few thoughts of how I can bridge from virtual interaction to the real, especially when a physical presence is due to time and geographic restrains. In the very first class of the semester, I will let the students know the expected response time of emails, and let them know options of communication paths, and how quickly they will be responded. I will also make effort to reduce virtual proximity by responding to emails quickly, and setting up virtual office hours, and providing prompt and effective feedback. I believe the more accessible the instructors are, the more likely the students would interact with us. I am also planning to try audio/video feedback to compensate the lack of social cues in written feedback.

Creating a sense of community can also be achieved in a hybrid manner. In an on-site or hybrid course, collaboration related and social support based communications should be done in the classroom where my students and I get to know each other. I am also going to establish discussion forum topics online that require participation and engagement. So that the student-student interaction and faculty-student interaction can still continue when the class time ends. I will also participate in the online discussion more frequently to increase my own online presence. The sense of influence and fulfillment are indispensable elements for creating community. To increase the senses of influence and fulfillment, I also plan to let students be forum facilitators and allow them to construct learning more flexibly.

Overall, how to interact and communicate with students is all about the balance of humanity and technology. A hybrid interaction mode allows us to make the best use of tradition/synchronous, and online/asynchronous interactions to suit particular goals in teaching and learning.


Babb, S., Stewart, C., & Johnson, R. (2010). Constructing Communication in Blended Learning Environment: Students' Perceptions of Good Practices in Hybrid Course. MERLOT Journal of Onlien Learning and Teaching, 6(4), 735.

Bowen, J. A. (2012). Teaching Naked: Howe Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom will Improve Student Learning (1st Edition ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1991). Applying the Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Educaiton. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 47.

Haythornthwaite, C. (2002). Building social networks via computer networks: Creating and sustaining distributed learning Community. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

McMillan, D. W., & Chavis, D. W. (1986). Sense of community: A definition and theory. Journal of Community Psychology, 14(1), 6-23.

Friday, May 29, 2015

There may not be standardized golden rules in teaching....

p.19 “…there will be very few standardized practices that help students across the board learn essential skills and knowledge. An approach that one students finds particularly useful or congenial may well be profoundly unsettling and confusing to the student sitting next to her.” (Brookfield, 2006)
            In the second chapter of The Skillful Teacher, Brookfield introduces three core assumptions of skillful teaching. They are “(1) skillful teaching is whatever helps student learn. (2) Skillful teachers adopt a critically reflective stance towards their practice (3) the most important knowledge skillful teachers need to do good work is a constant awareness of how students are experiencing their learning and perceiving teachers’ actions”. The first assumption is self-explanatory. In reality teacher’s choice that helps one student learn does not necessarily help the other. To some degrees, our teaching styles are shaped by our learning experience, advice from colleagues, professional standards and models that guide us “what should work”. Brookfield (2006) then states that when many colleges nowadays have adopted a virtual “open admission” policy, our students are likely very diverse in their learning styles, learning abilities and their readiness to learn. Standardized and replicable approaches rarely work as ideals. All we can do is to extract useful information from these gold rules, and apply them situationally in our classroom. This also asks for accurate interpretation of the nature of diversity we face in the classroom.
            When I started my current job, I intended to follow what the former instructor did and mimic their approaches because of the fact that “it worked well”. Unfortunately it wasn’t always successful. Some of the students are able to grasp the concept from listening while the others are not linguistic learners who need visual aids to illustrate. We have self-directed learners who will preview course materials while others may come unprepared with little knowledge or interest of what the lesson is for. I started to be skeptical that “they should all work” could have been too optimistic. This quote answered my question – if any, there will be very few universally effective practices that will help all students learn. Every learner has their own learning style that should be considered at least in some of the classroom activities. Besides the diversity in learners, teachers have their own strengths and weakness, competencies and skill set. Blind adoption of someone else’s instructional approach may not work in every classroom.
            Not all students learn the same way. Gardner (1993)identified eight intelligences: verbal-linguistic, logical mathematical, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical-rhythmic, intrapersonal, interpersonal and environmental-naturalist. In reality a large class could consist of even more than these eight learning styles. Hence teachers are always faced with the challenge of adapting their teaching styles to accommodate the variety of learning styles. While the net generation “Millennials” are coming to college and universities, they have added digital learning style to the already diverse learning style inventory. These digital natives grew up with technology and then lived in a digital world. They often have a short attention span for learning (Oblinger, 2005). They were described as "assertive, self-reliant, and curious person who is enmeshed in an interactive culture" (Tapscott, 1998). The awareness of the diversity of learning styles in our classroom is our most prominent consideration before implementing the right teaching strategies.
            As interpreted from the quote, there are very few practices that we can directly use to solve all the problems. However we can always adapt effective approaches to the suitable situation or modify an approach to fit into our teaching styles. While learning styles provide insight of how learners perceive, interact and respond to learning, teaching styles reflect the beliefs and values that teachers hold about teaching – that do not often change in short time being. After all we are the best of ourselves. We need to remind ourselves not to teach in a way that we were taught before which is very likely with a content-oriented approach with little student involvement but structured activities (Brown, 2015). We shall find a balance point where students’ learning preference matches optimally with our teaching styles in order to maximize student’s motivation and learning achievement. On the other hand learners are informed that it is almost impossible to have the teacher teach exactly to their “taste”. Learners need to become all-around learners by adapting their own learning styles and learn to perceive knowledge in multiple ways.
            Teaching is highly situational by its nature. It depends on accurate classroom observation, thoughtful consideration of leaner’s learning styles, learning progress and regular evaluation of teaching and learning. In my future practice, it is important to develop learning activities with different learning styles and expectations. I will start from the learning outcomes that need to be achieved, then take full consideration of the learning outcomes, learning styles and my teaching styles in lesson plan. I will begin from asking myself several questions: 1) do I know my students, their learning styles, their preference, and their expectations? If not, design a pre-formative questionnaire to acquire knowledge of the learners 2) How will I adapt and accommodate their learning needs without compromising the learning outcomes?
            Teaching adaptively is both intellectual and technical (Corno, 2008). In my future practice, as I respond to learners I should also read student’s verbal and non-verbal signals to diagnose needs on the fly. It is important to quickly assimilate any past experiences to seek ideas of adaption and fine adjustment. I understand that not every attempt of accommodating multiple learning styles can be successful. However thoughtful reflections upon teaching practice will lead us closer to real skillful teaching in the future.


Brookfield, S. (2006). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Brown, B. (2015). Teaching style vs learning style, myth and realities. Retrieved from
Corno, L. (2008). On teaching adaptively. Educational Psychologist, 43(3).
Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple intelligence: the theory in practice. Basic Books.
Oblinger, D. (2005). Educating the net generation. Retrieved from Educause:
Tapscott, D. (1998). Growing up digital: the rise of the net generation. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Take-away" from PIDP3260

PIDP 3260 has strengthened my perception in immeasurable aspects. One of the most important “take away” is integrating reflection in everyday teaching practice and the effectiveness of reflecting on my own learning. I increased the emphasis of reflective learning in the lesson plan and grading rubric. In the last formative feedback many of my students expressed their appreciation of the learning reflection component. They’ve found it very helpful in their personal and academic growth.
             On the other hand, I particularly enjoyed the topics that are highly relevant in instructor’s professional practice but rarely discussed before. In the first four weeks I learned the importance of evaluation and how to design an effective evaluation. It is also advantageous to conduct case studies of program evaluations to prepare for future elevated responsibilities. Week five “Values, Ethics and Perspectives” is thought-provoking. The reading materials significantly increased my self-awareness in ethical issues and personal values. The discussion on professional boundaries allowed me to join the PIDP community. Additionally I started thinking the best way to maintain a cultivating relationship at a professional distance with students. This also initiated more thoughtful considerations of social media use in the classroom. Week 7 provides insightful advice towards how to begin a professional teaching career, how to keep involved, and how to plan for the future career move. It is worthwhile to examine our visions and values to pursuit what exactly we want to be in the future.
            Overall PIDP3260 has been the most memorable learning journey so far for me. Unlike other classes I took before, I am more confident to readily apply what I learned for the course in my current practice. The impact it immediately brought me motivated me– in both teaching and learning. I truly appreciate our dedicated instructor for preparing all course materials, giving prompt and constructive feedback, and demonstrating an excellent example for my future course development.