Kent State wraps up first semester using ‘hybrid’ course technique


Photo illustration by Kristin Bauer.

John Milligan

Kent State is working toward making “hybrid” courses the norm for foreign language studies. The new technique debuted this fall semester with elementary Spanish, but because of its advantages, more classes may be coming soon.

The hybrid element refers to the course’s unique organization. Students spend two hours in a traditional face-to-face classroom setting and one hour participating in computer lab sessions. Students are responsible for weekly online assignments.

Luis Hermosilla, professor teaching the new class, said that even though the program is only a few months old, he thinks there are many benefits to using the hybrid approach opposed to the traditional.

“The advantages I see are that students are more engaged in the material, students who need more time on material can spend more time reviewing and immediate person-to-person help is available,” he said.

Patrick Winiecki, sophomore exploratory major, said he accidently signed up for the hybrid course, but was pleasantly surprised by the material.

“I almost dropped it because it sounded like it was going to be a big hassle,” he said. “It was a nice balance; it broke up the monotony. I wouldn’t want to go back to a regular lecture.”

Philip Mogavero, graduate Spanish translation student assisting Hermosilla with the course, is responsible for keeping track of attendance and follows students’ progress through the class website.

Mogavero said he can also see the advantage of having a hands-on lab incorporated into traditional lecturing, providing students with designated times to meet and work together, a critical element of learning to speak a different language.

“All of the work outside of class was up to you, but there are a lot of activities in the book that require a partner,” he said. “The advantage here is that all the students are here, they’re available to each other and they’re all doing the same work. The idea is to get them here and talking to each other.”

Still, the program is not without its disadvantages. Mogavero said he can see why some students would be hesitant to embrace a hybrid course.

“Some people like to work alone, not with a partner, and that might discourage them,” he said.

Mogavero said the hybrid class has faced the same problems typical of online or distant learning courses.

“Technical problems can always be a hindrance,” he said. “Sometimes there could be bugs and problems and the computers crash. Because it’s the beginning it’s been trial and error in some cases.”

Hermosilla said the idea for a hybrid program came after Timothy Moerland, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, asked him to research similar programs.

Hermosilla visited universities in North Carolina and saw how the hybrid strategy was being implemented in other disciplines before deciding the tactics could be used to more effectively teach foreign languages at Kent State.

Although the hybrid course is only now finishing up its pilot semester, the university is working to make the strategy the new template for all foreign languages. Hermosilla said he expects the traditional lecture method will be phased out in favor of hybrid courses within a few years.

“We’re planning to add more sections and material; we want to do a responsible study of how students are adapting and how much benefit they’re getting from it,” Hermosilla said. “So far grades have not gone down, students have seemed to learn and many seem content with the new system.”

Winiecki said he has already signed up for the follow-up class next semester and has recommended it to his friends.

The university is also working to build a new computer lab in Bowman Hall, exclusively for the language department to use for hybrid course work.

Even though the hybrid course offers a new way to learn a different language, Mogavero, who learned Spanish through traditional means, said he thinks success ultimately depends on the student.

“If you really intend to learn a language well, it doesn’t really matter how you’re taught. Whether it’s online or paper, it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “What matters more is your motivation to learn the language.”

Contact John Milligan at [email protected].