Online, hybrid courses spur debate at Butler

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ROBYN JUTSUM
RJUTSUM@BUTLER.EDU
CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

In today’s world of higher education, the desire for online courses and the integration of new technology may clash with the tradition and quality institutions strive to maintain.
The situation is no different at Butler University, where more classes are now making their way into the digital realm.
Online courses are offered for at least nine subjects, and hybrid courses are offered for seven subjects, according to Butler’s website.
Hybrid learning provides a mix between classroom and online instruction in an attempt to give students the best of both sides.
Butler faculty has taken note of digital classes becoming more prevalent at Butler, and faculty members say they are aware of both benefits and drawbacks.
Allison O’Malley, assistant psychology professor, said she sees obvious benefits to online learning.
“There’s the flexibility,” O’Malley said. “Time is at such a premium for some of these students, and to progress through the material, (online courses) can be really desirable. If you have a really motivated student, potentially, they could do all the work for a class in much less time.”
O’Malley said, while flexibility is a selling point for online learning, putting together and developing a class for an online or hybrid platform is no small task. Institutions such as Butler need to be smart in how they approach it.
“Butler realizes it needs time to roll out the technology and maybe do a bit of a culture shift,” O’Malley said. “I think that, when you’re diverting your resources to the technology and where the money goes to hire new faculty, new expertise, that sort of thing, there’s some tension there that we must navigate carefully. We must maintain open tracks of communication.”
Collaboration among the students as well as instructor becomes more difficult in an online or hybrid class, O’Malley said.
“It certainly can be done, and when the expectations are clear and students know how to use the technology, you can simulate discussions and things like that,” O’Malley said. “But it’s not the same as in the classroom, and there’s not the immediate reinforcement for the instructor.”
Julianne Miranda, director of online learning in Butler’s Center for Academic Technology, said Butler has exhibited patience in the process of moving toward the availability of online classes.
“It can take up to six months to develop a course, and that is a lot of time to develop a new course,” Miranda said.
Part of the reason Butler is being careful about how it goes about developing an online curriculum is that those involved want to ensure they stay true to the quality of a traditional college experience, Miranda said.
“The institution and leadership is phenomenal, and the resources (Butler has) provided in my area to support this investigation have been wonderful,” Miranda said. “I also think we’re going at the right pace for Butler.”
Butler really began testing the online and hybrid course waters over the summer when it hosted an online pilot during the university’s summer classes.
Miranda said the data from the pilot shows students at Butler performed equally in the online and face-to-face environments, based on raw grade point average.
The findings also shed light on the appeal of hybrid classes, a happy medium between the traditional classroom and a fully online curriculum.
“Hybrid pedagogy is very strong pedagogy because, if you think about what hybrid learning is, it’s one day less of me talking to you, and one day more of investigation with yourself and your peers,” Miranda said.
“So what we’re finding is that hybrid pedagogy engages every aspect of how you could critically think. It’s multi-modal learning.”
Amanda Starkel, information commons and eLearning librarian at Butler, said she is also in support of the hybrid model.
“Data nationally and data on campus from student evaluations and from faculty feedback is pretty unanimously in support of hybrid classes,” Starkel said.
EDUCAUSE is a nonprofit organization that works to strengthen higher education through information technology and data. EDUCAUSE’s website said the organization believes the application of concepts through technology provides a more collaborative experience, which offers more of the social component a student and teacher get from the traditional classroom.
“There is a concomitant change in the role of students, many of whom are used to being cast as passive participants in the education process, where instruction is served to them,” according to EDUCAUSE’s website.
Starkel said online-only courses are more of a “maybe situation.”
“I think there are some things that are lost if we are dealing entirely in the electronic format,” Starkel said. “Sometimes if that’s all that is being utilized, it might miss a social component or the face-to-face component that you usually would get in the classroom.”
When it comes to technology, especially the incorporation of tablets and e-readers, Starkel said she sees distraction and the intention to be the biggest dangers.
“If you have a good teacher—someone who recognizes that technology has its place but doesn’t use technology for technology’s sake—if they use it with intention for learning outcomes, I think that can take away a lot of the dangers,” Starkel said.
Arthur Hochman, a professor in Butler’s College of Education, said, while technology and the application of an online platform is appealing and has its benefits, Butler should be careful to make sure it is used with legitimate intentions.
“Teachers often use technology to make their lives easier, but I always think about how the tool can be used to help the students learn,” Hochman said.
When it comes to Butler moving towards future options for eLearning, Hochman said it is important to look at how it may be defined.
“Butler is just now moving to that kind of instruction and is trying to create an architecture to do so,” Hochman said.
Technology and online learning are synonymous with one another, said Gary Edgerton, College of Communication dean.
“Most classes can be adapted online in different ways,” Edgerton said.
The College of Communication is in the process of developing a fully online graduate degree program in strategic communications.
Edgerton said he feels the field of communication lends itself to an online platform.
He added that he believes, as a whole, higher education is heading in the direction of eLearning.
“This is simply because society and culture is moving that way,” Edgerton said. “It’s also generational with the amount of time millennials spend online, how comfortable they are communicating in all sorts of ways, from texting to all social media. There isn’t an institution in American culture now that isn’t touched one way or another by technology.”
Miranda stressed the value of being open-minded no matter what one’s take on the role of online learning in higher education is.
“Online learning isn’t for everyone,” Miranda said. “It’s not for every Butler student, and it’s not for every Butler faculty member. So I think we have to be really careful to make sure that it’s not seen as ‘this is better.’ It’s also not worse. It’s just different.”
“It can take up to six months to develop a course, and that is a lot of time to develop a new course,” Miranda said.
Part of the reason Butler is being careful about how it goes about developing an online curriculum is that those involved want to ensure they stay true to the quality of a traditional college experience, Miranda said.
“The institution and leadership is phenomenal, and the resources (Butler has) provided in my area to support this investigation have been wonderful,” Miranda said. “I also think we’re going at the right pace for Butler.”
Butler really began testing the online and hybrid course waters over the summer when it hosted an online pilot during the university’s summer classes.
Miranda said the data from the pilot shows students at Butler performed equally in the online and face-to-face environments, based on raw grade point average.
The findings also shed light on the appeal of hybrid classes, a happy medium between the traditional classroom and a fully online curriculum.
“Hybrid pedagogy is very strong pedagogy because, if you think about what hybrid learning is, it’s one day less of me talking to you, and one day more of investigation with yourself and your peers,” Miranda said.
“So what we’re finding is that hybrid pedagogy engages every aspect of how you could critically think. It’s multi-modal learning.”
Amanda Starkel, information commons and eLearning librarian at Butler, said she is also in support of the hybrid model.
“Data nationally and data on campus from student evaluations and from faculty feedback is pretty unanimously in support of hybrid classes,” Starkel said.
EDUCAUSE is a nonprofit organization that works to strengthen higher education through information technology and data. EDUCAUSE’s website said the organization believes the application of concepts through technology provides a more collaborative experience, which offers more of the social component a student and teacher get from the traditional classroom.
“There is a concomitant change in the role of students, many of whom are used to being cast as passive participants in the education process, where instruction is served to them,” according to EDUCAUSE’s website.
Starkel said online-only courses are more of a “maybe situation.”
“I think there are some things that are lost if we are dealing entirely in the electronic format,” Starkel said. “Sometimes if that’s all that is being utilized, it might miss a social component or the face-to-face component that you usually would get in the classroom.”
When it comes to technology, especially the incorporation of tablets and e-readers, Starkel said she sees distraction and the intention to be the biggest dangers.
“If you have a good teacher—someone who recognizes that technology has its place but doesn’t use technology for technology’s sake—if they use it with intention for learning outcomes, I think that can take away a lot of the dangers.”

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