Hybrid course: A viable form of online learning for digital journalism majors

My experience teaching at West Virginia University tells me that hybrid format works well for digital journalism courses. I want to share with fellow instructors how we structure a dual-instructor hybrid course and our experience teaching it.

How we structure the dual-instructor hybrid course

JRL225 Media Tools & Applications is required for all strategic communications and journalism students in the WVU Reed College of Media. It is a hybrid course, consisting of online and lab components. However, the majority of the content is taught online.

hybrid digital journalism course

Although there are separate instructors for the online and lab components, the online instructor is the lead instructor for the course and grades all assignments and provides feedback.

The class is broken into five segments. The first three (photo, audio and video) are three weeks each. In each module, students need to study the lesson contents, participate in weekly discussions, and complete one exercise and one major project.

For each week, students need to post one answer to the weekly questions, and respond to four classmates’ discussion postings. The exercises are designed to be completed during the weekly lab sessions, while the projects will be completed primarily outside of lab.

All of the exercises and assignments a student completes in this class will be published on a personal WordPress website the student creates for this course.

For details about this hybrid course, you can download the syllabus or view the embedded copy below.

[gview file=”http://www.mulinblog.com/misc/JRL225.docx” save=”0″]

My experience teaching hybrid digital journalism course

This course does not use a textbook, and student learning is centered around lessons developed by WVU faculty. In each module, the lesson plays a central role – other activities such as discussions, exercises and projects are closely aligned with the lesson.

As an example, in the photo module, the lesson talks about how to tell a story or evoke feelings in ways such as action, interaction, emotion or reaction, as well as photography guidelines such as rule of thirds, lines, light, etc.

And this is what we ask students to do for the discussion assignment:

View the following galleries

Consider the concepts relating to photographic composition discussed in the lesson (rule of thirds, lines, point of view, light) as well as the storytelling moments to look for when photographing (action, reaction, interaction, emotion, mood).

  • Choose two photographs to discuss.
  • Provide links to each of the photos and be clear about which photo you are discussing.
  • Discuss how the elements of composition and storytelling apply to each photo. Refer to specific concepts discussed in the lesson.

Students also need to follow these guidelines in working on their exercises and projects. For instance, the requirements for the photo module project are very specific:

  • Subject Matter (25%): Action, reaction, interaction or emotion is evident. Photos are successful in telling a complete story of the event
  • Composition (25%): Applications of principles of composition: Rule of thirds, filling the frame, lines, backgrounds. Use of different compositions (wide, medium, close up) and points of view (high, low, unique angles). Photos shot thought and creativity.

My experience has been that the lesson contents need to be concise, so as to facilitate online reading, and to make it easy for students to incorporate what they learned into the discussions and other assignments. To that end, we usually construct the lesson into a set of specific “guidelines,” similar to a dos and don’ts list, and with pertinent examples.

But even with specific requirements and concise lessons, some students still feel at a loss as to what is the type of discussion that will receive an “A.” To help with that, I would compile a brief tutorial, in the form of a blog post, that tells students what the requirements are, and what a sample “A” discussion post looks like.

Comments from course coordinator

My colleague, David Smith, who coordinates and teaches online courses at WVU Reed College of Media, learned about my idea for this post and also wanted to share some insights; I’m copying his comments below:

One of the strengths of the hybrid format is that it allows us to recruit great instructors from around the country with real-world experience in multimedia storytelling.

This is very much a skills and tools class, and students are using software that they’ve never worked with before. That can lead to a lot of frustration, which is okay to a point. But even though this class places the more responsibility for learning on their shoulders than a traditional class, they need to feel supported. So we make sure that we have plenty of faculty-staffed open labs for students to receive additional individual help.

Just like any other course, we’re always thinking about the best ways to assess student learning. Of course, students submit the work they produce and it’s easy to set up a rubric with clear expectations for those assignments. But in this class it’s also extremely important that students show up to the labs prepared, having read the lesson. That’s one of the purposes of the discussion board. The prompts ask students to directly reference concepts from the lesson in their answer.

Clear communication is extremely important. This includes communication between the online and lab instructor about expectations and communication between instructors and the class as a whole. Regardless of who the “lead” instructor is, students see the instructor in the lab every week, so it works best if they’re an extension of the online instructor.

teaching digital journalismMeeting with students via Google Hangouts. Photo by Scott Lituchy.

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About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (www.mulinblog.com/mooc), a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
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