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My Town: Teagle Foundation funds hybrid learning network of colleges including Hope
My Town: Teagle Foundation funds hybrid learning network of colleges including Hope

HOLLAND, Mich. – Hope College, in partnership with Albion College, DePauw University, Grinnell College, Lawrence University and Wabash College, has been awarded $335,000 from the Teagle Foundation to design and teach hybrid courses-- an approach to online learning designed to combine the best of classroom teaching and digital technology.

The six institutions are working together as the Midwest Hybrid Learning Consortium (MHLC). Through the project, titled “Hybrid Liberal Arts Network: High Touch Learning for the 21st Century,” they will share the courses that they develop and expand the range of liberal arts courses available to their students, all the while providing faculty development in the use of digital technology in teaching.

The Teagle Foundation  is a leader in knowledge-based philanthropy that promotes innovation within the liberal arts sector of higher education. The hybrid learning grant initiative through which the foundation made its award is designed to strengthen residential liberal arts colleges by leveraging technology and innovative practice in order to expand institutional capacity while retaining their traditional liberal educational values.

“Hybrid courses, sometimes termed blended courses, combine traditional classroom pedagogy with technology-mediated and activity-based instructional models,” said Barry Bandstra, who is director of academic computing and a professor of religion at Hope, and is leading the MHLC project in collaboration with faculty from the other campuses.

“In a hybrid model as employed within a liberal arts context, the student is the focus of the educational process, and the teacher’s role extends beyond content delivery to nurturing deep student learning,” he said.  “That’s a different approach than might be found in many other types of online courses, especially in the MOOC [Massive Open Online Course] model, in which the star professor, often presented solely in the form of captured lectures, is distant and inaccessible, and there is little to no personal interaction between the teacher and student.”

Because students in an online course can participate from any location, Bandstra noted that the program will serve well by providing courses that might not garner enough enrollment for the member institutions to offer alone.

 “By using hybrid models, schools will be able to aggregate students into classes across institutions,” he said.  “This model will be especially useful for specialized courses which might typically be under-enrolled or otherwise rarely taught, especially lesser-taught languages and upper-level departmental electives, but could include any course. This also gives faculty the opportunity to offer courses in their specific research areas, thus expanding opportunities for their major students.”

The Teagle support, which includes a 30-month, $310,000 grant awarded this spring and a $25,000 planning grant awarded in 2014, will enable faculty to design and develop courses collaboratively across institutions by working in faculty pairs.  The specific topics will be developed across the remainder of 2015, including through a workshop that will be held this summer.  The first courses in the program will debut in the spring of 2016, with more to follow in the fall of 2016 and the spring of 2017.  Bandstra explained that the vision is for the consortium to eventually expand beyond the original six institutional members.

He also noted that although the collaborative hybrid-learning project is new, the participating colleges and universities will be drawing on past experience.

“Effective use of digital technology is a crucial feature in delivering hybrid courses,” he said.  “All six institutions bring significant experience in using technology to the project.  For example, Hope College has been teaching summer courses online since 2006 and currently offers more than 40 summer courses online.”

In addition to Bandstra, the leadership team consists of John Woell, associate provost and professor of religion at Albion College; Donnie Sendelbach, director of instructional and learning services and director of the information technology associates program at DePauw University; David Lopatto, professor of psychology at Grinnell College; David Berk, director of instructional technology at Lawrence University; and James Brown, professor of physics at Wabash College.