Introducing a Hybrid ESL Class

Sep 12th, 2017 | By | Category: Featuring: In the Classroom, In the Classroom
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Paulette
Koubek-Yao

By PAULETTE KOUBEK-YAO

—Our Hybrid ESL 33B, which is an advanced reading and writing class, has one face-to-face class per week and one asynchronous online class per week focusing on academic language. The ESL Department at Pasadena City College began offering the Hybrid ESL 33B in the fall semester of 2015. I have taught it for four semesters so far and would like to share my observations about the advantages and some of the problems with this new type of online class.

Before teaching any online classes at Pasadena City College, instructors are required to take online training, which involves a minimum of four intensive courses through an organization called @One Training. The @One online courses cover accessibility, course management, social media, and assessment. The courses are very useful in introducing instructors, who already have some computer know-how, to the most important basics of online teaching. With my online training from @One and my teaching experience with ESL 33B (about 12 years), I began to teach the hybrid version of the class.

Some advantages of hybrid classes include flexibility in scheduling, grading, and assignments for the students and instructor. Students have extensive writing practice and more time to compose their assignments and posts for discussions. After the discussion posts are written, students read and reply to each other’s posts. Thus, there is more reading and writing practice. In addition, students share more information about themselves in the online environment and shy students have to participate, whereas in the face-to-face class, students can avoid participation or talk to only one or two other students in discussion activities. Online students can read their classmates’ posts through discussions and other paired or group assignments. In a regular face-to-face class, they have fewer chances to read what other students are writing. These examples of student writing offer a major advantage in the hybrid class. Also in the hybrid class, students improve their computer skills. Some students who have very weak computer skills can narrow the gap in the digital divide through taking the hybrid class. Assignments such as an ePortfolio can be a major accomplishment and a tool that students can add to in future classes.

Another advantage is that the online environment encourages students to be independent and active learners. Weekly participation is required. If students do not participate in the online exercises for two weeks, the college policy is to drop those nonparticipating students from the class, just as the face-to-face class will drop students who are not attending after two weeks. If students have difficulties, they need to ask for help. They also need to set their own schedules and manage their assignments on their own. Instructor feedback in the hybrid class is usually written, which offers specific comments about assignments. When students start to struggle with either the online work or the face-to-face work, the instructor is able to contact them through the LMS (we use Canvas) to set up an appointment or ask a question.

One of the main problems with teaching the class is that the general ESL student population doesn’t know what a hybrid class is! Many students who sign up for the class see only the schedule for the class meeting once per week. A footnote in the course catalog explains what the hybrid class involves. However, most of the students don’t understand the term. Consequently, enrollment is low because students don’t know what kind of class it is, and students who sign up for the class might drop it after they realize that they have to do online work every week. The book Making Hybrids Work, by Joanna N. Pauli and Jason Allen Snart, mentions that colleges need to advertise hybrids and explain what they involve. These blended classrooms can offer many benefits to students (not only ESL students) but the colleges need to be committed to the groundwork in building them.

Disadvantages of teaching the hybrid primarily involve the struggling students in the class. They may be struggling because of learning styles, language, or computer skills. Students who have more dependent learning strategies or weaker language skills need more explicit instruction and may become confused by written instructions. If they don’t understand the directions, there will be errors in their posts, either with content or with staying on task. Students who lack computer-literacy skills also struggle to keep up with the assignments. In fact, in the hybrid class, I have had one or two students who did not even have a computer at home! The lack of verbal interaction and face-to-face interaction may impede the progress of students, too.

The learners who have weak writing abilities can improve in many ways through persistence; however, they will face more obstacles than the average or highly skilled writers, not only a major disadvantage for the ESL students but also a problem for any online class. Students who do not write well and have many errors in their writing may feel embarrassment, which could result in the student’s choosing not to participate. In the article “Problematizing the Hybrid Classroom for ESL/EFL Students,” Harrington calls this phenomenon “self-muting” (2010, p. 6). In the online environment, grammar errors are clearly visible, whereas in a face-to-face class, only the instructor or perhaps a few classmates in the student’s group will observe the student’s writing abilities. On the other hand, in the online environment, students who have exceptional writing skills will have the opportunity to share their skills while the less-skilled students have the opportunity to read what the stronger students have posted.

When students are absent from the face-to-face class or when a holiday occurs on a day the class meets face-to-face, there will be two weeks that a student will not see the instructor or classmates other than online. As a result, he or she will miss feedback, miss the chance to ask questions, or not be able to catch up with some of the objectives that are better taught face-to-face. In the face-to-face class, students can receive feedback about questions or difficulties more quickly. In addition, students may think the hybrid class has more homework. Because the teaching material and assignments both are posted online, students may consider this information as homework even though it includes the class materials that need to be taught.

In conclusion, the hybrid ESL class has many similarities to the face-to-face class. The hybrid can cover the same materials and objectives as the face-to-face class teaches. The pace of the hybrid class, just like any class, depends on the group of students. Some groups will move more quickly through the assignments, depending on their computer skills, language abilities, and learning styles. Enrollment can also be a problem. In both classes, attendance makes a difference. Despite the disadvantages, I think it is important to offer the hybrid ESL classes because they can introduce ESL students to the online classroom. Through weekly face-to-face meetings, students can ask questions and the instructor can keep the class up to speed with the class objectives and homework, possibly reviewing areas in which problems are presented online. With more and more online content classes offered at colleges and universities, a hybrid ESL class can be a safe place for ESL students to get their feet wet in the online ocean of information.

References

Harrington, A. M. (2010). Problematizing the hybrid classroom for ESL/ESL students. TESL-EJ, 14(3), 1-13. Retrieved from http://www.teslej.org/wordpress/issues/volume14/ej55/ej55a3/

Pauli, J. N., & Snart, J. A. (2016). Making hybrids work. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

 

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