Students in political science professor Kathleen Bawn's hybrid "Politics and Strategy" view videotaped lectures online (above), then attend weekly in-class workshops with Bawn and her TAs to fine-tune what they've learned.
Kathleen Bawn, a professor of political science in UCLA’s College of Letters and Science, launched an online version of her “Politics and Strategy” class last year, feeling pretty confident that her undergraduate students would grasp the basics of game theory via her videotaped lectures, online assignments and virtual class discussions.

And they did. The students, in fact, performed just as well as students in another class that Bawn taught simultaneously, but using traditional teaching tools. “The exam averages were the same,” said Bawn. “Even the spread was about the same.”

The difference between the two classes, however, came down to evaluations by students who rated the online class slightly lower. Most noticeably, Bawn said, “There were no ‘Game theory changed my life!’ comments that the face-to-face class always gets. And I felt a little bad about that. You want your classes to be memorable for students.”

What’s more, even though she held office hours for both classes, she felt an uncomfortable sense of disconnect from her online class about how those students were doing.  

Bawn now teaches a hybrid version of the class, still classified “online” in the sense that students access the lectures and other features outside of the classroom. But students also attend required weekly workshops led by teaching assistants and optional workshops with Bawn to allow for discourse that can be critical in mastering the problem-solving skills that are at the heart of the class. “There are many hardworking students who feel like they get it when they hear it in the lecture, but then find they can’t do it on their own,” said Bawn. “These face-to-face workshops are what they need.”

Bawn is among a growing number of UCLA faculty who are turning to hybrid teaching to capitalize on the benefits of technology while retaining the face-to-face interaction many students and faculty deem indispensable.

“Technology is a big part of innovative teaching at UCLA, but I don’t think all-online education is ever going to be the model,” said Jan Reiff, who, as chair of the Academic Senate and associate professor of history and statistics in the College, is helping to forge the future of online classes.

“Part of what makes a place like UCLA so interesting is meeting other people and sharing ideas. It’s harder to do that online,” said Reiff, who has had deep roots in the digital world. She has served on campus technology committees, including UCLA’s joint Senate and Executive Administration Information Technology Planning Board and the evaluation panel for UC’s Online Instruction Pilot Project.

Reiff has been teaching hybrid classes since long before the term was even coined. In a GE cluster class on Los Angeles that she and colleagues have offered since 2007, Reiff has used a variety of multimedia resources, including Hypercities, a historical mapping tool and website developed at UCLA, to enable students to download their research findings about historic neighborhoods. The Hypercities data, along with source material from the UCLA Library and other online materials, have become part of an online textbook developed jointly with students.

Students will be using a whole variety of learning tools, said Reiff, like those shared by faculty innovators at a recent campus conference, Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age. Among them was geography professor Michael Shin, who created a class that introduces students to the key concepts behind geospatial information technology and incorporates hands-on lab activities using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Gyanam Mahajan, a lecturer and coordinator of the language studies program in the department of Asian languages and cultures, teaches a class that incorporates online voice-notes and video-notes, extended office hours via Skype and, in development, a language room in the “cloud.”
In the UCLA Department of Earth and Space Sciences, Jonathan Aurnou, an associate professor of planetary physics, and graduate student John Cantwell have created a 30-minute video that uses lab models to demonstrate the large-scale fluid dynamics occurring in the oceans and atmosphere. Aurnou uses the video in an introductory oceanography class. By graphically illustrating the processes that are invisible to the human eye, Aurnou said, he hopes that his students can “gain an intuitive sense for the large-scale fluid systems that we live within.”

Bawn’s videotaped lectures have contributed to additional hybrid classes taught by political science graduate students and recent Ph.D.s honing their teaching skills by taking on introductory courses with large enrollments that would normally be taught by more seasoned faculty. This past summer, Joseph Asunka, a political science doctoral candidate, taught a class in which he used Bawn’s lectures along with materials of his own.

Meanwhile, Bawn is hard at work on a new hybrid version of an introductory political science class in statistics. While Bawn will give lectures, she will also incorporate an extensive set of online materials developed by political science professor John Zaller as well as coursework from the Carnegie Open Learning Initiative.

The hybrid approach challenges conventional ideas of what it means to prepare and teach a class, said Bawn. “It’s a very different approach from ‘I’m going to stand up here, and I’m going to profess, and you’re going to get it.’”

Learn more about hybrid and online classes at the UCLA online instruction resource website. Also see the website of the systemwide Innovative Learning Technology Initiative, established by the UC Office of the President to support the development of high-quality online or hybrid course offerings.