Friday, October 11, 2013

Sloan-C Redefines Blended and Hybrid Courses ... Why???

Last updated: Friday 10/11/13 @ 2:07 pm
Earlier this week a colleague called my attention to the fact that The Sloan Consortium, a/k/a "Sloan-C", changed its definition of "blended" courses, a/k/a/ "hybrid" courses. Sloan-C's Website now provides the following definitions of "blended" or "hybrid" courses:

  • "Blended/Hybrid Course – Online course activity replaces at least 30 percent of required face-to-face meetings. When the technologies used for education and communication outside the classroom are used to supplant some of the classroom work, reducing the time actually spent in the classroom, the result is a blended or hybrid course."
The change is the inclusion of the specification in the second sentence that  class time should be reduced in a blended/hybrid course -- a specification that has never been included in the definitions provided by the annual surveys of online courses that have been conducted since 2002. These surveys were originally conducted by Sloan-C itself, but in recent years have been conducted by the Babson Survey Group and co-sponsored by Sloan-C and by Pearson LLC. 

These annual surveys have provided the most reliable, continuous, systematic, national measures of the extent to which U.S. colleges and universities have increased the number of online courses in their catalogs. As the patient reader will see in the long, tedious appendix at the bottom of this note, the definitions of blended or hybrid courses presented in these widely read and widely cited annual reports have never included any specification that blended/hybrid courses reduce the time that students spend in class. So what's the big deal?

Of course the Sloan Consortium can define blended and hybrid courses any way it chooses -- especially given its well-deserved status as the nation's preeminent pioneer in the promotion of online pedagogy, as a preeminent provider of training programs for online instructors, and as a preeminent provider of rubrics for assessing the effectiveness of online courses. But it is precisely because it is so preeminent that its changes in definitions must be given the most careful consideration. That's the big deal.

I don't know when Sloan-C changed its definitions of blended and hybrid, but prior to those changes Sloan-C implicitly recognized other benefits that could be gained by shifting at least 30 percent of the content of a course to the Internet. IMHO, the most important other benefit was "political." The less specific definitions provided a bigger tent under which a larger number of academic factions might come to consensus. 

As the annual Sloan-Babson-Pearson surveys have reported again and again, the faculty in the nation's more selective private colleges and universities have been less inclined to offer online courses. And the recent Babson/Inside Higher Education survey -- Conflicted: Faculty and Online Education, 2012 | Inside Higher Ed -- reported that most faculty in U.S. colleges and universities were still somewhat more fearful than excited about online education. Why?


Perhaps some faculty still place high value on well-prepared, in-person lectures as the preferred way to deliver course content. Others might place high value on the kinds of teacher-student and student-student interactions that can only occur in face-to-face course formats. In other words, some faculty might not support fully online courses, but might agree that the effectiveness of most courses could be increased by shifting some, but not all of their presentations to the Internet:
  • Traditionalists might want to use the Internet to leave more class time for well-prepared lectures about a course's more difficult topics.
     
  • Progressives might want to use the Internet to provide more class time for formative quizzes, Q&A sessions, short tutoring sessions with small groups of students, homework with immediate feedback from course instructors, demonstrations, and other activities that might increase their students' hands-on understanding of the course materials ==> flipping their courses
But neither of these factions would want to reduce the number of in-class hours for their courses. Whereas online courses are still a divisive concept in many colleges and departments, the classic definitions of blended or hybrid courses provide a "Big Tent" under many factions can assemble for different reasons. For example, the emerging consensus would enable schools and departments to purchase relatively expensive lecture capture equipment and other technical resources:
  • Faculty who want to go 100 percent online formats, i.e., eliminate their class hours, would use the resources to record all of their presentations
     
  • Faculty who merely want to reduce, but not eliminate their class hours would also use the resources to record some of their presentations. Fewer class hours would provide them with more time for research and other academic activities. And fewer class hours would also enable cost-conscious administrators to schedule more classes in the same classroom spaces in the same time frames.
     
  • Those who want to flip their courses would use the resources to record all of their presentations
     
  • And the most conservative who merely want to focus their class time on better prepared lectures on the most difficulty subjects would also use the  resources to record some of their presentations
Given the political "Big Tent" advantages of the classic definition of blended and hybrid courses, why would Sloan-C suddenly abandon the classic definition, created by Sloan-C itself, to switch to a definition supported by only one academic faction (and some cost-conscious administrators)? Why create more opportunities for academic squabbling?

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Related Notes:

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APPENDIX
  • Sloan-C's 2002/2003 report -- "Seizing the Opportunity"
    "An online course is defined as having at least 80% of the course content delivered online. Blended education courses are defined as having between 30% and 80% of the course content delivered online."

    Comment -- Please note that there is no mention of reducing the number of class hours in a course.
     
  •  Sloan-C's  2004 Report -- "Entering the Mainstream""An online course is defined as having at least 80% of the course content delivered online. Blended education courses are defined as having between
    30% and 80% of the course content delivered online."

    Comment -- Same definition as in 2003/2004
     
  • Sloan-C's 2005 Report -- "Growing by Degrees"
    "The primary focus of this report, online courses, are defined as having at least 80% of the course content delivered online. The combination of two of the classifications listed below (traditional and web facilitated) is used as the definition of “face-to-face” instruction (in other words, a course with zero to 29% of the content delivered online) The remaining alternative, blended courses (sometimes called hybrid courses) are defined as having between 30% and 80% of the course content delivered online."

    Comment -- This paragraph adds two categories: traditional and web facilitated; but its definitions of online and blended remains the same as in 2002 to 2004. Please note that the paragraph also asserts that "blended" is sometimes called "hybrid."
     
  • Sloan-C's 2006 Report -- "Making the Grade"
    "Online courses, the primary focus of this report, are those in which at least 80 percent of thecourse content is delivered online. “Face-to-face” instruction includes those courses in which zero to 29 percent of the content is delivered online; this category includes both traditional and Web facilitated courses. The remaining alternative, blended (sometimes called hybrid) instruction is defined as having between 30 percent and 80 percent of the course content delivered online."

    Comment -- These definitions repeat the extended set introduced in the 2006 report ... but note that there is still no mention of reducing the hours a class meets in a blended or hybrid course.
     
  • Sloan-C/Babson 2007 Report -- "Online Nation"
    "Online courses, the primary focus of this report, are those in which at least 80 percent of thecourse content is delivered online. Face-to-face instruction includes those courses in whichzero to 29 percent of the content is delivered online; this category includes both traditionaland Web facilitated courses. The remaining alternative, blended (sometimes called hybrid) instruction is defined as having between 30 percent and 80 percent of the course content delivered online."

    Comment -- Same definitions as in 2006, i.e., no reduction in class hours for blended/hybrid ... Babson Group now given status as co-sponsors
     
  • Sloan-C/Babson 2008 Report -- "Staying the Course"
    "Online courses, the primary focus of this report, are those in which at least 80 percent of the course content is delivered online. Face-to-face instruction includes those courses in which zero to 29 percent of the content is delivered online; this category includes both traditional and web facilitated courses. The remaining alternative, blended (sometimes called hybrid) instruction is defined as having between 30 percent and 80 percent of the course content delivered online."

    Comment -- Same definitions as in 2007
     
  • Sloan-C/Babson 2009 Report -- "Learning on Demand"
    "Online courses, the primary focus of this report, are those in which at least 80 percent of the course content is delivered online. Face-to-face instruction includes courses in which zero to 29 percent of the content is delivered online; this category includes both traditional and web facilitated courses. The remaining alternative, blended (sometimes called hybrid) instruction is defined as having between 30 percent and 80 percent of the
    course content delivered online."

    Comment -- Same definitions as in 2008
     
  • Sloan-C/Babson 2010 Report -- "Class Differences"
    "Online courses, the primary focus of this report, are defined as those in which at least 80 percent of the course content is delivered online. Face-to-face instruction includes courses in which zero to 29 percent of the content is delivered online; this category includes both traditional and web facilitated courses. The remaining alternative, blended (sometimes called hybrid) instruction is defined as having between 30 percent and 80 percent of the course content delivered online. "

    Comment
    -- Same definitions as in 2009
     
  • Babson 2011 Report -- "Going the Distance"
    "Online courses are those in which at least 80 percent of the course content is delivered online. Face-to-face instruction includes courses in which zero to 29 percent of the content is delivered online; this category includes both traditional and web facilitated courses. The remaining alternative, blended (sometimes called hybrid) instruction has between 30 and 80 percent of the course content delivered online."

    Comment -- Same definitions as in 2010 ... Note this is the first report that only lists Babson as the sponsor
     
  • Babson/Pearson/Sloan-C 2012 Report -- "Changing Course"
    "Online courses are those in which at least 80 percent of the course content is delivered online. Face-to-face instruction includes courses in which zero to 29 percent of the content is delivered online; this category includes both traditional and web facilitated courses. The remaining alternative, blended (sometimes called hybrid) instruction has between 30 and 80 percent of the course content delivered online."

    Comment -- Same definitions as in 2011 ... but report is now cosponsored by Babson, Pearson LLC ,and Sloan C