Piloting a Networked Curriculum.

Author:Raymond, Chad


Over the last few decades the landscape of higher education in the United States has changed dramatically. As pointed out by Bowen (2012), costs and tuition at both public and private universities have risen faster than inflation. Students and their parents are forced to finance college education through greater and greater amounts of debt. Simultaneously the financial position of many universities has eroded. Despite this new environment, university curricula are still typically designed around a model in which courses are delivered to students with a single faculty member teaching all of the content for each course. Multiple faculty members within a department, or across several departments, frequently teach multiple sections of the same subject each semester, creating expensive redundancies in the use of faculty resources and campus classrooms.

Technology has made great strides in the classroom and researchers seek to find the optimal class format to benefit student learning and engagement. Hybrid, blended, online, active learning, as well as the flipped classroom models have been widely discussed and researched. The impact of technology on student learning and instructional costs continue to be important topics of discussion.

Hybrid classrooms, sometimes called blended classrooms, combine online learning with face-to-face learning. This model may supplement or replace some of the traditional face-to-face class time with online course requirements. Recent studies done at Carnegie Mellon University (Bowen, Chingos, Lack, & Nygren, 2012) and the University System of Maryland (Griffiths, Chingos, Mulhern, & Spies, 2014) have demonstrated that hybrid course formats can result in student learning outcomes that are equally as good as those achieved in traditional courses, but at a substantial cost savings. Re-organizing courses so that content is delivered to large groups of students either online or in person, coupled with smaller face-to-face classes reserved for high-impact pedagogical techniques, could dramatically lower the cost of instruction while preserving, or even improving, student learning.

A meta-analysis of research on online and hybrid, or blended, classrooms by SRI International for the U.S. Department of Education assessed research completed between 1996-2006 with mostly college and adult learners. This meta-analysis suggested that students in blended, or hybrid, classrooms perform better than students in fully online or fully in-class formats (Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2010). Further research on the hybrid classroom model supports the Department of Education study, but continues to better distinguish hybrid and online learning environments (Shea & Bidjerano, 2013) as well as define the optimal blending of online and face-to-face interaction, appropriateness by class level, and instructor roles (Arbaugh, 2014) . Sauers and Walker (2004) compared eight sections of business communications classes, three in the face-to-face format and the remainder in a hybrid half-time online format, and found that students in the hybrid half-time online format demonstrated increased active learning practices while all students benefited from improved writing skills.

There is a great deal of research on the flipped classroom. Although identified under different names, such as the inverted classroom (Lage, Platt, & Treglia, 2000) or peer instruction (Crouch & Mazur, 2001), this research has been critical in shaping the flipped classroom of today. Common themes of encouraging students to gain their first exposure to course content prior to attending class and using class time to apply this content are threaded throughout the research including in the book Effective Grading (Walvoord & Anderson, 1998).

Brame (2013) indicates that, "...'flipping the classroom' means that students gain first exposure to new material outside of class, usually via reading or lecture videos, and then use class time to do the harder work of assimilating that knowledge, perhaps through problem-solving, discussion, or debates." This differs from the traditional lecture model where first exposure is typically delivered via lecture and assimilation occurs outside of class. Brame (2013) also notes that the key elements of the flipped classroom include "1. Provide opportunities for students to gain first exposure prior to class....2. Provide an incentive for students to prepare for class...3. Provide a mechanism to assess student understanding...4. Provide in-class activities that focus on higher level cognitive activities."

Crouch and Mazur (2001) found that a modified version of the flipped classroom, peer instruction, supported an increase in student learning when compared to traditional lecture. Lage, Platt, and Treglia (2000) experimented with an inverted model in an economics classroom which also included exposure to content prior to class, and economics applications in the classroom.

Meyer (2013) compared the traditional lecture format with the flipped classroom...

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