A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

New Courses Combine Live Learning, Online Enhancements

March 12, 2015

For the past two semesters, Introduction to Earth Systems Science — a large lecture and lab course at UC Merced — has been morphing into a hybrid of live lab and online “lecture.”

The course is a popular choice for undergrads from all disciplines, because it fulfills a general education science requirement. Professors Mike Beman and Peggy O’Day saw it as a good test case for UC Online Education, a systemwide effort to encourage faculty members to incorporate online learning into their curricula.

Using grant funds from UC’s Innovative Learning Technology Initiative (ILTI), the professors from the School of Natural Sciences are developing and implementing their hybrid-online approach.

“I thought this would be the right course because the class just kept getting bigger and bigger,” Beman said. “That’s great, but you can’t do the same things in a big class that you can in a smaller one.”

In Introduction to Earth Systems Science, students don’t go online and watch recorded lectures. Instead, they get an e-book divided into modules with short readings, links to more reading and enhancements such as video clips and animations that illustrate the lessons.

Each lesson has a self-test so students can make sure they are learning the material. If not, they can go back and review any or all of the material as many times as they need to.

Students also attend two hours of lab each week, where they take part in a variety of activities that can include field trips.

“Because we can offer lots of lab sessions each week, we can actually teach more students,” Beman said. “Each lab has smaller groups and is a more interactive and intensive experience than before.”

The course is a work in progress, O’Day said. For example, a capture tablet the professors can use to draw equations or models and add them as videos to the online portion is now being tested and will likely be incorporated later this year.

“This is very different from a traditional university model,” she said. “The first semester was a steep learning curve.”

There are few such hybrid courses on campus right now. UC Merced Professor Paul Maglio, with the School of Engineering, and Professor Vish Krishnan, with the Rady School of Management at UC San Diego, created a hybrid course in New Service Innovation using funding from an ILTI grant to develop the curriculum and implement the course on two campuses. The class is offered now at UC Merced and will be offered in spring UC San Diego.

“Recorded lectures enable students to review and re-review the materials online,” Maglio said, who has been posting audio recordings of live lectures in other courses for several years. “Many students find the audio helpful, and I expect that more will make use of the broader set of online materials, including video lectures, especially to prepare for weekly in-class discussions.”

While some students enjoy and absorb straight lectures, the professors recognize that different people learn in different ways.

Beman and O’Day track how much time each student spends on lessons and when lessons are completed, and are working on a survey to evaluate students’ experiences with the new format.

Online hybrid courses wouldn’t work for every class, O’Day said, and the goal isn’t to convert everyone. However, professors might explore whether any online components or technologies could complement their courses.

“It’s really all about the content, and not so much the delivery system,” O’Day said.