Remix: Use Hybrid Courses to Stimulate Online Learning

    by Mu Lin
    September 3, 2015
    Graphic by algogenius and used here with Creative Commons license.

    My experience teaching at West Virginia University tells me that a hybrid format works well for digital journalism courses. I want to share with fellow instructors how we structure a dual-instructor hybrid course and our experience teaching it.

    How we structure the dual-instructor hybrid course

    JRL225 Media Tools & Applications is required for all strategic communication and journalism students in the WVU Reed College of Media. It is a hybrid course, consisting of online and lab components. However, the majority of the content is taught online.

    "My experience has been that the lesson content needs to be concise to facilitate online reading and to make it easy for students to incorporate what they learned into the discussions and other assignments."



    Although there are separate instructors for the online and lab components, the online instructor is the lead instructor for the course and grades all assignments and provides feedback.

    The class is broken into five segments. The first three (photo, audio and video) are three weeks each. In each module, students study the lesson content, participate in weekly discussions and complete one exercise and one major project.

    Each week, students post one answer to the weekly questions and respond to four discussion posts by their classmates. The exercises are designed to be completed during the weekly lab sessions, while the projects will be completed primarily outside of lab.


    All completed student exercises and assignments in this class are published on a personal WordPress website the student creates for the course.

    For more details about this hybrid course, you can download the syllabus.

    My experience teaching hybrid digital journalism course

    This course does not use a textbook, and student learning is centered on lessons developed by WVU faculty. In each module, the lesson plays a central role — other activities such as discussions, exercises and projects are closely aligned with the lesson.

    For example, in the photo module, the lesson covers how to tell a story or evoke feelings through action, interaction, emotion or reaction. The lesson also discusses photography guidelines such as rule of thirds, lines, light, and the like.

    And this is what we ask students to do for the discussion assignment:

    View the following galleries

    Consider the concepts relating to photographic composition discussed in the lesson (rule of thirds, lines, point of view, light) as well as the storytelling moments to look for when photographing (action, reaction, interaction, emotion, mood).

    • Choose two photographs to discuss.
    • Provide links to each of the photos and be clear about which photo you are discussing.
    • Discuss how the elements of composition and storytelling apply to each photo. Refer to specific concepts discussed in the lesson.

    Students also need to follow these guidelines when working on their exercises and projects. For instance, the requirements for the photo module project are very specific:

    • Subject Matter (25%): Action, reaction, interaction or emotion is evident. Photos are successful in telling a complete story of the event
    • Composition (25%): Applications of principles of composition: Rule of thirds, filling the frame, lines, backgrounds. Use of different compositions (wide, medium, close up) and points of view (high, low, unique angles). Photos show thought and creativity.

    My experience has been that the lesson content needs to be concise to facilitate online reading and to make it easy for students to incorporate what they learned into the discussions and other assignments. To that end, we usually construct the lesson into a set of specific “guidelines,” similar to a dos-and-don’ts list with pertinent examples.

    Meeting with students via Google Hangouts. Photo by Scott Lituchy.

    Meeting with students via Google Hangouts. Photo by Scott Lituchy.

    But even with specific requirements and concise lessons, some students still wonder what caliber of discussion will receive an “A.” To help with that, I compile a brief tutorial, in the form of a blog post, that tells students what the requirements are, and what a sample “A” discussion post looks like.

    Comments from course coordinator

    My colleague, David Smith, who coordinates and teaches online courses at WVU Reed College of Media, shares some of his insights below:

    One of the strengths of the hybrid format is that it allows us to recruit great instructors from around the country with real-world experience in multimedia storytelling.

    This is very much a skills and tools class, and students are using software that they’ve never worked with before. That can lead to a lot of frustration, which is okay to a point. But even though this class places the (greater) responsibility for learning on their shoulders than a traditional class, they need to feel supported. So we make sure that we have plenty of faculty-staffed open labs for students to receive additional individual help.

    Just like any other course, we’re always thinking about the best ways to assess student learning. Of course, students submit the work they produce and it’s easy to set up a rubric with clear expectations for those assignments. But in this class it’s also extremely important that students show up to the labs prepared, having read the lesson. That’s one of the purposes of the discussion board. The prompts ask students to directly reference concepts from the lesson in their answer.

    Clear communication is extremely important. This includes communication between the online and lab instructor about expectations and communication between instructors and the class as a whole. Regardless of who the ‘lead’ instructor is, students see the instructor in the lab every week, so it works best if they’re an extension of the online instructor.

    Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey. Lin shares research and thoughts about digital and multimedia journalism with students, instructors and media professionals through MulinBlog, where this post originally appeared.

    Tagged: applications hybrid hybrid class media tools online learning syllabus wvu reed college of media

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