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German Hybrid Development: The Digital Story So Far

This is the last of a series of articles on hybrid courses. The series began with an interview with Dan Soneson, who coordinates the Hybrid Working Group, followed by a Spotlight on Spanish Hybrid Courses and La Vie Branchée: French Hybrid Classes.

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Screenshot from a student's digital story.

German hybrid, first offered in Fall 2012 for German 1003, is the newest of the hybrid courses currently offered at the University of Minnesota. German hybrid is unique in that it integrates new technology such as Avenue, a video recording tool, VoiceThread for digital storytelling, special Moodle tools, and Wimba Voice Board.

In the summer of 2011, Beth Kautz, a German 1003 coordinator, participated in a hybrid course in Munich about teaching hybrid language courses. "This was a transformative experience for me, which led to a year of planning before actually developing the course in the summer of 2012," Kautz said.

A small team of graduates and coordinators received a "Tools for Discovery Grant" and funding from CLA, which allowed them to create new hybrid course materials.

Kautz said German hybrid developers created their own course materials based on reading texts, podcasts, and video clips from the internet. This development allowed the German department to offer two sections of hybrid 1003 in Fall 2012, and one section of hybrid 1003 and two sections of hybrid 1004 in Spring 2013. These hybrid courses met face-to-face three days a week and online two days.

New Technology

Developers experimented with different technology, including a video-recording tool developed at the University of Minnesota, called Avenue. Classrooms also integrated Moodle tools such as discussion forums, databases, glossaries, and polls, as well as the Wimba Voice Board.

Kautz said the highlight of the semester was using a tool called VoiceThread for digital storytelling. Students received instructions on using the technology. She described the project as an autobiographical essay about their youth experiences that have shaped their current educational and career goals. The student used personal photos and voice recordings to present their stories visually.

"Students focused on presentational speaking skills to make their stories engaging and easy to understand. All the digital stories were linked in a Moodle forum, where classmates could view and comment on each other's creative work... Students were able to complete the project on their own and we were all thrilled with the results! They took great pride in their stories and the sense of community was really strengthened by sharing them with each other."
    - Beth Kautz, German 1003 Coordinator

Instructor Feedback and Outcomes

Ginny Steinhagen, German 1004 coordinator, noted that hybrid instructors are learning the benefits of spreading out deadlines for student's feedback in forums, by allowing adequate time for students to respond to each other's posts.

Steinhagen emphasized the importance of instructor feedback for online activities in hybrid courses.

"In 1004, [Meagan Tripp, 1004 German instructor] has created some nice, quick Moodle quizzes that show us whether the students are understanding the reading or the grammar. As teachers, it is important for us to follow up on these quizzes (even if they are self-correcting) and comment on them in class. Integrating the hybrid day activities into face to face discussions continues to be a challenge."
   - Ginny Steinhagen, German 1004 Coordinator

Kautz added that there is great variation in how instructor feedback occurs and how students' assignments are submitted. "There are many possibilities and we are still figuring out what works best in which situation," she said.

At the moment, developers do not have specific data on student's performance comparing German hybrid and traditional face-to-face courses. Kautz noted that there are many variables to consider and considerations in terms of how to define performance. However, Kautz said, "I anticipate that students in hybrid sections will become more fluent writers through increased writing practice in online discussion boards, but that's a research project for the future."

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