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Spotlight on Spanish Hybrid Courses

This is a continuation of a series of articles on hybrid courses. The series began with an interview with Dan Soneson, who coordinates the Hybrid Working Group.

Spanish hybrid courses first launched in academic year 1999-2000, when the Spanish and Portuguese Studies department and the Language Center received a CLA-OIT Technology Fees Grant to create a hybrid version of 1022. At that time, the format was known as "technology enhanced," and was one option for students taking the intensive first-year Spanish course.

Today all sections of SPAN 1022 are technology enhanced. In this 5-credit class students meet face-to-face three days each week and do online and computer mediated activities instead of meeting physically two days each week.

spanishTimeline.jpgClick to View Larger

Frances Matos-Schultz, the 1022 Level Coordinator, has managed and adapted the course since its debut. The course has changed considerably over time, as Frances and her fellow instructors learned from experience, and as technology tools have changed.

Spanish is unique among languages at the University of Minnesota in that it offers hybrid courses for introductory students at the 1022 level. Until recently, the hybrid format was restricted to SPAN 1022. While individual instructors in Spanish have experimented with modified hybrid formats in SPAN 1003 and 1004, replacing one day each week with online activities, a concerted effort to create hybrid versions of 1003 and 1004 along the lines SPAN 1022 was undertaken in the summer of 2011. Spanish piloted 1003 and 1004 as hybrid with three physical meetings and two days of online activities each week in Fall 2011.

Adjusting to Hybrid Spanish Courses

The introduction of new Spanish 1003 and 1004 levels of hybrid has been generally painless for learners. Students who had taken SPAN 1022 were already familiar with the format. However, for students who tested into 1003 or 1004 hybrid courses or transfer students, it may have required some adjustment.

Only half of the 1003 and 1004 hybrid instructors had previously taught 1022 courses, Matos-Schultz said, so the move to hybrid for these instructors was more involved and may have been challenging:

"The move from a fully F2F environment to a hybrid (3+2) format was more involved and perhaps a bit more challenging for the instructors that were completely new to hybrid teaching, even though they were experienced and very successful 1003 and 1004 instructors. It required a repositioning of the instructor/learner roles, redesigning lesson plans, rethinking feedback techniques and strategies online and extending the teaching presence online. It was certainly hard work." - Frances Matos-Schultz

Sara Mack, the new Spanish 1004 coordinator, described a smooth implementation of the hybrid format as a goal to serve students. "One of the challenges going forward is to find the best way to provide support so that everyone, regardless of their comfort level with the Hybrid model or with technology in general, can achieve his or her language learning goals and be successful in the Hybrid 1004 class."

One of the possible adjustments students should make when taking the hybrid class is to make sure they treat the online portion of the course as seriously as the face-to-face meeting so that they are fully prepared and can perform well in class.

For the most part, online aspects seem to have helped students. "Students come better prepared to class. Research shows that students who engage with materials online come better prepared to the classroom, thus making better use of the face-to-face time," said Pablo Viedma, Spanish and Portuguese liaison.

What Makes Spanish Hybrid Unique?

Some unique advantages of the Spanish hybrid courses in lieu of traditional face-to-face format include online activities such as group writing exchanges, Moodle homework, Wimba Voice Board, and the Tertulias designed by France Matos Schultz and Megan Corbin. These activities allow students to interact more fully with the course content.

"They engage with this format, see relevant videos about it, converse in forum groups, create voice recordings and write short compositions about topics related to each chapter," said Angela Carlson-Lombardi, Spanish 1003 coordinator.

In hybrid versions of Spanish courses, writing exchanges and feedback occur online, where students can practice grammar, conversation, reading, and writing.

The hybrid format also allows Spanish students flexibility and can accommodate different types of learners. "Students engage with the materials when they are alert, which might be at different times than class times," Viedma noted. "Also, hybrid classes are known to engage diverse learners (introverted learners, for instance). We teach the students the same way that they interact with each other and with the media: through the computer, smartphone or tablet."

Advice for Students, Instructors and Developers

Students who are self-motivated learners and have sufficient time management skills are most likely to perform well in a hybrid course.

Matos-Schultz emphasized the importance of community, patience, and humor when adjusting to hybrid.

"[It's important] to be patient and adventurous with the technology. A good sense of humor is essential. Keep in mind that "going hybrid" is a process that takes time. Trial and error are part of it. Engage your community in the process, particularly your learners. Remember that instructors need support too. Make sure to include a space for learners to create community. An instructor's community of practitioners (and supporters!) is crucial as well." - Frances Matos-Schultz

Goals for Spanish Hybrid Going Forward

In the future, instructors are trying to ensure equality among the different formats of hybrid courses and access to materials. "The online modules also ensure students come prepared for the class, which is what we would like to ensure via online assignment for all of our classes," Carlson-Lombardi said.

At the 1022 level, three online learning modules are currently being updated. "In my sections I have been using additional modules connected to other disciplines," Matos-Schultz said. "I am currently working on them with my students (they provide valuable feedback and are amazing sources of creativity)."

Mack highlighted some core goals that are maintained for all language courses: "As we move forward, I think our goals remain the same as they always have been: to give our students the best language learning experience possible regardless of the format of the class, and to help students understand language and culture as a core part of a liberal arts education."


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