9.5 mile marker post along highway

Celebrating milestones

Mile Marker CC-BY-NC-SA by Michael McCullough on Flickr

Mile Marker CC-BY-NC-SA by Michael McCullough on Flickr

According to a recent National Student Clearinghouse report, one in five students completes their college degree at a different institution than the one where they began. For many students the path to a college degree may be a long and circuitous route.

When deciding to run a marathon, we don’t get up one day and say “I think I’ll try to get in 26 miles this afternoon”. We set incremental goals – milestones – and then by building upon these smaller successes we eventually reach our objective. We start out working up to a mile, then maybe a 5 K, then a 10 K, at some point we go for the half marathon, and eventually we reach our goal.

I have on several occasions, heard students, parents and faculty say they aren’t interested in getting their associates degree – or a certificate in their program. Their focus is only on getting the bachelor’s degree. Unfortunately, according the the National Student Clearinghouse report, only about 54 percent of those starting out actually achieve their goal.

I wonder if this is a cultural norm. How is it we do not value the opportunities for smaller successes along the way? And if indeed, this is the case, how might we begin to think differently and start celebrating the milestones and thereby encourage completion?

Some thoughts on how learning technology might support such a shift…

Use online discussion forums, blogs, and rosters at the start of the course, asking students share something about themselves to the class. Instructors can model by providing a simple introduction: my pets, favorite sports, hobby, etc. This can be helpful in creating a sense of community, especially in the online course where students may feel isolated without the advantages of face-to-face interactions available with the classroom environment.

Social networks  like Google+ Communities can offer a means of connecting with other students moving along similar pathways. Google+ Communities may be particularly well suited for establishing strong cohorts across programs and disciplines. Our campus already uses Gmail as its student email solution, thereby providing every student with an account making joining the network practically transparent.

Second year students might serve as moderators or hosts in the community for newly admitted students. Such communities may also include program alumni who are employed in their field or continuing their program of study elsewhere at a four-year institution or graduate program.

To take the marathon analogy a step further (at the risk of overdoing it) the long run is achieved not only with the help of those running along with us in the event, but also with the help of others cheering us on along the way. Hopefully we can help to make the finish line seem all the more within their grasp.

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Hyflex: all things to all students?

I recently took an online statistical analysis course. Most people when I tell them that, respond with “why?”. In hindsight I must ask myself the same thing, but that’s beside the point.

Contortionist, CC-BY-NC-SA, Boston Public Library
CC-BY-NC-SA, Boston Public Library

One thing I really liked about the course was the instructor offered students a weekly live web-conferencing session to review the assignments. “Attendance” (logging in to the live session) was optional, which was a good thing since it was scheduled at a time that was not convenient for me to attend. However, the sessions were recorded and posted for review for those who were unable to attend. These recorded sessions were a life saver.

Although it wasn’t a true example of a Hyflex  course, it did include a common feature of the Hyflex format – the option to attend class either synchronously or asynchronously depending on the student’s personal preference or schedule.

The impetus for increasing enrollments in distance education, whether online or blended, mostly has to do with maximum flexibility and convenience in regards to time and place. The Hyflex course is no exception. In fact, Hyflex may be one of the most flexible delivery models to emerge in higher education.

So, what exactly is Hyflex?

Hyflex learning permits students to choose their preference in where and when they participate or access course instructional time.

“HyFlex is a course design model that presents the components of hybrid learning in a flexible course structure that gives students the option of attending sessions in the classroom, participating online, or doing both. Students can change their mode of attendance weekly or by topic, according to need or preference…” – Educause: Seven things you should know about the Hyflex course model.

Some students come to class physically or virtually, synchronously or asynchronously. A common design (e.g. OSU’s Hyflex Model) is to offer students the option of deciding which of  these modalities they intend to participate it on a weekly basis. Students, regardless of the modality they select, need to be engaged in substantive student-to-instructor, student-to-student, and student-to-content course interactivity.

“…the HyFlex instructor is newly challenged to make sure all of her students are engaged in interactive, generative learning activities no matter which participation mode they choose.” –Dr. Brian Beatty, Associate VPAA at San Francisco State University

Certainly design and delivery are fundamental to a quality educational experience for students, but campuses considering the Hyflex option will also need to assess the logistics of course sections, teaching load, technical support for faculty and students before embarking in this highly flexible emerging learning format.