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Online Class Model Combines Convenience Without Compromise
As the cost of higher education soars, online institutions offer a tempting alternative to higher-level courses designed to be equal parts flexible and educational. However, while strictly online courses are flexible, they may not be as effective.
Where online programs are lacking, Bentley University and other institutions have found a much more effective online “hybrid” model that allows students with difficult schedules to fully participate in class from a remote location — without compromising learning results.
“The hybrid courses at Bentley are great because you watch the class in real time,” says Meredith Mason PMBA ’18. “Students that chose to attend online have the same opportunities to ask questions and engage with classmates as those who attend class in person.”
The Hybrid Classroom Solution
Bentley has been using Saba Meeting — a remote technology provider used by 50 percent of Fortune 100 companies — since 1999 to give the classroom a modern-day overhaul. The hybrid classroom program provides in-person learning augmented by online services, allowing students to fully participate in class, no matter where they happen to be during the time block that week.
Remote students are actively involved in class discussions and projects with fellow classmates. This is a key benefit when compared to traditional online classes, because students are still able to benefit from the enhanced learning that comes from class content combined with context provided by professors and fellow classmates.
Hybrid classrooms are outfitted with video cameras, ceiling-mounted student microphones with digital processors, wireless microphones for professors and smartboards to deliver a highly effective interactive online experience to online participants. This option gives graduate students with jobs, families, or traveling responsibilities the ability to work education into their schedules. At the same time, students can — and are encouraged to — attend classes in-person whenever possible.
"I have had many professional working students pursuing their MBA who would not be able to continue their education if not for our hybrid course offering. Just recently I had an MBA student who had to go to China to work for three weeks," says Bill Starner, Bentley professor of management and director of the Professional MBA program. "She was able to continue her coursework in the hybrid classroom program and fully participate in the classes.
“If this is the world we live in and work in,” he adds, “shouldn’t it be the world we teach in?”
Any teaching materials that are being shown on-screen in the classroom will project to the online students. This includes MS Office documents, writing on the whiteboard, application sharing of web browsers, third-party applications such as SAS, financial calculators, and the like. After class, all students, whether they physically or remotely attended class, can playback a recording of the class session. This feature allows students to go back to any class during the semester to review material.
“Having the ability to go back and watch the recordings of different class sessions was extremely beneficial, especially when professors gave us tutorials on how to use software such as SAS or SPSS,” shares Mason. “Instead of having to waste class time to ask the professor repeat information that had already been covered, I knew that I could go back and watch the recording.”
Even during travel, the extended hybrid classroom has proven its effectiveness. "Another student actually participated in the class on an airplane to Australia,” says Starner. “The only problem he encountered was having to whisper because the man next to him was sleeping."
"98 percent of students want more hybrid classes."
Ensuring Quality Outcomes
The real achievement is the effectiveness of the program. Bentley University studies have found that overall hybrid course effectiveness rates are no different compared to those of on-campus learning. Student evaluations of teaching have scored the same in both formats as well. Whether a student participates in every single class remotely, or if he or she takes advantage of the online part of the hybrid only once or twice a semester, the attitudes are the same of the non-intrusive technology.
According to quality assessments, 80 percent of online students rate their experience (as equivalent to their in-class peers) an eight or higher on a 10-point scale. Even the students not enrolled in hybrid classroom courses are benefiting, too, as 90 percent of all students utilize the digital playbacks for learning reinforcement or to cover missed classes. The most telling part of the assessment: 98 percent of students want more hybrid classes.
“The best part of the hybrid model is that you can choose to utilize it whenever you want,” says Mason. “In all of my hybrid courses, I bounced back and forth between attending in person and online based on my schedule that week.”
Bentley University is working hard to offer additional opportunities. Bentley has had over 20,000 enrollments in just under 700 hybrid classes taught by 110 faculty. Certain programs like the master of human factors in information design, master of taxation and master of financial planning offer a plan to graduation with every single required class and many electives available in the optional hybrid format. The Professional MBA and master of accounting program also offer all core courses and many electives as hybrid.
The Yawkey Foundations have recognized Bentley University’s longstanding commitment to service-learning and awarded the university $500,000 to educate students to effectively lead nonprofit organizations and expand student efforts to help community groups.