Technology has become an indispensable part of the modern world. There can be no surprise that it has been also implementing in the modern educational system. Nowadays many colleges, universities and even high schools offer not only face-to-face courses, but also online and hybrid / blended courses. The most effective method is proved to be hybrid / blended method when face-to-face classes are combined with online education.
This method enables students to benefit from the “academic quality” and flexibility of the schedule and many opportunities offered by online education (Betts et al., 2009, p.18). Betts et al. (2009) point out that apart from improving students’ academic performance hybrid / blended method will also contribute to the development of the student market on different levels (nationally and internationally).
Ozgen Korkmaz and Ufuk Karakus (2002) also explore the benefits of hybrid / blended learning and suggest that it contributed to “student critical dispositions and levels” and created positive attitude towards the course (Ozgen Korkmaz and Ufuk Karakus, 2002, p.51).
As mentioned above not only higher education can benefit from using such method. K-12 online education is being extensively increased nowadays (Horn, 2010). Admittedly, further investigation of this method and the development of techniques and strategies should be implemented. Thus, Swenson and Redmond (2009) point out that it is still necessary to explore various innovative techniques which will develop effective academic experiences.
Many researchers have already started creating such learning tools. For instance, Masson et al. (2008) suggest that the Hybrid Learning Model is a very effective technique which reveals very good results. However, there are still many gaps in the study. For instance, according to Colucci and Koppel (2010) it is still unclear the appropriate ratio of face-to-face classes and online course. Thor (2010) also depicts the technical and financial difficulties which many schools face while implementing hybrid / blended learning method.
Thus, it is necessary to continue exploring the issue in accordance with specific environments and other peculiarities of each school, each discipline. This will enable practitioners and students become aware of various possibilities offered by the hybrid / blended method.
II. Definition of the problem
A. Local context which prompts the present research
Being an employee of a university that provides alternative methods of classroom instruction designed to meet the needs of working adult students, I witness some problems which learners and practitioners face. Admittedly, working adult learners have different needs than traditional students which results in the following problem: the face-to-face only classes have provided several challenges with respect to increasing student enrollments and retention.
This decline has affected the enrollment and retention of the graduate non-traditional adult student population of those seeking a degree in public administration. Factors contributing to the problem consist of the adult students becoming less engaged in the method of instruction, adults students preferring one method of instruction over the other, and the over learning experience.
This study will explore the need of implementing hybrid / blended classes. The study will provide the best practices of using hybrid / blended learning classes and its impact the classroom face-to-face only model student enrollments and retention.
B. Hybrid / blended method in the larger context
While this study will contribute to solving the local problem, it will also fill in some gaps existing in the overall study. Thus, contemporary educational system is developing quite rapidly.
Technology is implemented worldwide and most schools started using distance education quite long ago. Nowadays the majority of schools worldwide have shifted from using pure face-to-face courses or only online course and start implement hybrid / blended learning method.
For instance, Chinese researchers explored the use of such techniques during engineering specialized courses and proved that this method is more effective than the use of purely face-to-face or online learning (Si et al., 2010). The key factor of the successful hybrid / blended method implementation was the appropriate balance between face-to-face classes and online classes.
Historically, pure online education proved to be less effective than full-time study. Online students fail to reveal the same academic performance since they often miss a lot of important information which is more available for full-time students. Moreover, the lack of interaction with the instructor and fellow students results in poor achievements of online students.
However, face-to-face classes also have many disadvantages. The most important problem which this method faces is decrease in enrollment since many people cannot start full-time study because of the inappropriate schedule. Moreover, students attending only face-to-face classes often have difficulties during their study.
Many students cannot catch the necessary amount of material which they are provided with during classes because of the time limitations. Moreover, the necessity to attend only face-to-face classes prevents students from receiving other learning opportunities (attending conferences, workshops). Admittedly, such problems can be solved with the help of implementing the hybrid / blended learning method which has gained popularity among schools all over the world.
III. Rationale for choosing the problem
A. Evidence of the Problem from the Professional Literature
A significant amount of the university’s course learning activity has shifted to online, reducing the face-to-face only instruction but not eliminating it. This shift has caused a significant decrease in the enrollments. Face-to-face only instruction should be replaced by hybrid / blended learning classes in order to solve the problem of decreased in house enrollments.
The hybrid / blended method combine face-to-face classes and online classes. The model would address the need of the adult learner who preferred method of instruction is face-to-face interaction and address the need of the student who is more technological savvy and prefers online learning (Kendall, 2008).
Studies have shown that many faculty and universities are experimenting with courses that use both fully online and face-to-face instruction. Faculty, students, and administrators are realizing a number of advantages in these blended courses, and many see them as offering the best of both instructional worlds.
Past cases have shown that students who attend face to face only classes do not perform as well as those who learn through hybrid model (Garrison & Kanuka, 2004). Hybrid model offers many opportunities which improve student academic performance.
Face-to-face only classes do not offer time flexibility like online classes. Students must attend class as per the time schedule. While in online model you go to class at your own time. Hybrid / blended type of classes are flexible as it allows students to complete part of the course work while at home through the internet.
Students have more time to reflect on the topic of discussion than when they are being tutored in classroom. Students have 24/7 access to online materials unlike classes which have limited time (Joosten, 2009). Thus, students have the possibility to improve their performance by additional hours on study online which enables many to grasp the necessary material comprehensively.
To maximize the benefit of individualizing instruction through blending, Schwartzman and Tuttle (2002) provided to the students in the form of audio, video, and textual versions of modules and increased the variety of ways students could engage the material. Without the bounds of in-class time, students can spend as much time as necessary to master the material.
An increase in student engagement in blended courses also occurs as students and faculty experience a level of comfort facilitated by student-to-student and faculty-to-student interactions. When students become comfortable with the instructor and their peers, they become more involved with the course material.
Booker (2005) wanted to find out the factors that cause low retention rates in e-learning and found that student’s perception of technology had an effect on retention, students’ perception of online flexibility had an effect on retention, however, their perception of online course value did not affect their retention rates, their demographics had an influence on their choice to complete an online course, level of material media richness affected retention rates and consistency and availability of technology had a positive effect on retention rates.
B. Evidence of the Problem at the Local Level
The increasing popularity of the hybrid / blended method is not supported only by numerous researches in this field. This method is already excessively used in many schools, colleges and universities. As Horn (2010) reports there are many schools which implement this effective method. For instance, in Indiana Hoosier Academy students have several days of face-to-face study, and the rest of the week they work at home using the Internet (Horn, 2010).
Another successful example of the hybrid method implementation is Foothill College where many students reveal positive response to it (Thor, 2010). The example of Chinese industrial engineering courses also proves that the effectiveness of this method has been recognized in different countries. Apart from the positive evaluation of the method by schools, the U.S. government has also revealed the attitude towards hybrid / blended method.
Thus, according to the U.S. Department of Education (2009) the hybrid method is proved to be more effective than face-to-face education due to more opportunities one of which is “additional learning time and materials” (U.S. Department of Education, 2009, p.51). Of course, many gaps in this field are still present and need to be solved, however, it is possible to continue implementing these innovative techniques.
IV. The significance of the problem
All theoretical investigations, empirical researches and practical implementations of hybrid method reveal the importance of this method and highlight the gaps still existing. The significance of the issue discussed cannot be overestimated. The creation of various techniques within the hybrid / blended method will contribute to the development of the educational system.
First of all, more students will be able to get the higher education due to the favorable schedule and the opportunity of accessing the necessary material via the Internet at any time. Thus, more people will be able to start their higher education.
It is necessary to add that the hybrid / blended method gives more freedom to students. In fact, hybrid / blended method is beneficial for students and practitioners who can use face-to-face class time more effectively. Practitioners can pay more attention to difficult topics and provide students with more valuable information.
Students may manage their time according to their specific needs which may also contribute to academic performance improvement. For instance, students may attend more classes and take part in more conferences, workshops, tutorials, etc. So, dedicated students will have the priceless opportunity to get more information and to gain more knowledge. This can be a very good opportunity for students who have to travel a lot.
Besides, hybrid method can be very effective for students who want to catch up with the rest of the group. All students have different learning capability so many students need more time to learn some topics than other students. Thus, those who need additional practice can access the online classes and get some additional instructions.
When attending only face-to-face classes, students are deprived of this opportunity and have to struggle with their difficulties by themselves. However, it is still important to admit that face-to-face classes cannot be completely substituted by online sessions since students will have no fruitful interaction with their instructors and peers which is very important for study. Admittedly, hybrid method implementation will improve academic performance in schools.
Thoughtful combination of face-to-face and online classes enhances students’ motivation. First of all, many researches depict that students are highly interested in courses using hybrid / blended learning method. Nowadays young people to great extent use technology in their everyday lives.
They are accustomed to the use of the Internet while learning, so they get interested in the course which enables them to feel at home. Those students who are not accustomed to technology learn to use it soon and eventually find it very effective. Thus, some researches show that students become more interested in the subject after launching hybrid learning method.
A good example is the research of Ozgen Korkmaz and Ufuk Karakus (2002) that explored the implementation of the hybrid / blended method in geography course and proved that academic performance improved and students became more interested in the course itself. Thus, this method also contributes to the development of students’ motivation.
However, it is necessary to stress that only thoughtful strategy can lead to positive results. Thus, if one type of classes will dominate or eliminate the other, the students’ performance will drop. Moreover, it is essential to work out specific techniques for every discipline in consideration of other peculiarities of this or that educational establishment and even cultural and social features.
It is necessary to think over when online classes should start (at the very beginning of the course or later), what kind of topics can be presented online, what techniques should be used (appropriate software, laboratories, etc.).
Of course, these issues should be considered by researches and supported by government. Admittedly, the implementation of hybrid / blended method requires quite considerable financial support. This necessity raises one more issue for consideration: wise distribution of finance. All these gaps require further investigation in the field which will contribute to the development of the educational system.
V. Problem statement
A theoretical framework of a problem can be offered by conducting experimental research on the graduate student in public administration data form student surveys and retention reports.
Reviewing related literature, as well as showing that engagement of students in class is enhanced with the introduction of technology of the hybrid/blended instruction model (Andersen, 2008). A series of interviews can be employed with the instructors and students on various instructional methods as it correlates to enrollment between face-to-face only and online classes.
Interviews will focus on the online students’ verses face-to-face student interactions with one another, the nature of course design (use and flexibility of technology and materials, and the instructor’s qualities (approachability, flexibility, clarity and communication). The framework of the problem focuses on learner to learner interactions, the second and third on learner to course interactions and learner-instructor interactions respectively.
The mixed method of research, combining both qualitative and quantitative techniques, would be the most effective for evaluating the impact of the hybrid course on the students’ achievements compared to the only online or face-to-face only instruction, based on the same material.
Choosing quantitative research as the primary method of analysis would foster an accurate assessment of the correlation between retention rates and public administration course content, retention rates and learners’ interactions and retention rates and instructors’ qualities.
Creswell (2009) noted that qualitative research takes place in the natural setting and by gathering information through surveys and questionnaires from the adult graduate students in the public administration program taking classes face-to-face only as well as online can prove to have produced valuable data. This will aide identifying the exact problems which are encountered by the adult learner public administration students.
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