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December 11, 2017

Hybrid classes are all good

On the first day of classes, I showed up to my last class of the day, expecting to take the first step in a year-long commitment. I had it penciled into my schedule – Tuesday-Thursday at 1 p.m., it was on.

But then, about halfway through the class, something weird happened. The professor reminded us that we should stay diligent on the SPARK readings and discussions he mentioned and that we would not be meeting in-class for another two weeks.

Wait, what?

Apparently, unbeknownst to me, the class I had signed up for was a hybrid online class. How this happened without my knowing, I’m not sure. But there is one thing I do know: Hybrid online classes are sweet.

A lot of people talk about online classes at the University of Massachusetts and the benefits and problems with it. The biggest problem, though, rarely gets mentioned. You have to pony up a couple extra hundred dollars to take them. Some people prefer having hundred of dollars over taking a class on their computer, it’s just their thing.

With hybrid online classes, though, you don’t have to pay. It’s just a normal class that meets less often and requires more online work. While the more work thing sounds like a downer, it’s really not.

Instead of going to a 50-75 minute lecture where there’s only 30 minutes of actual lectures and even less time of you paying attention, a professor posts the lecture online in crisp, clean, pure lecture form. So, instead of sitting through a professor’s tangent about his cat or those damn kids with their text message boxes and their rock ‘n’ roll music, you can have a lecture that you’ll probably get more out of in the end. Plus, they’re like free notes.

In a normal lecture, you scribble down four lines of notes, a picture of a robot and a quarter of a crossword puzzle only to forget the 50-minute ramble you just heard – not really conducive to learning. In an online lecture, you get a condensed, organized lecture that you can really learn from and can then go right into whatever assignment the professor has waiting for you. Whether the professor wants you to discuss the topic, do a reading or write up a paper, the lecture’s fresh in your mind.

Speaking of discussion, hybrid classes – at least so far for me – can actually produce intelligent discussion if run properly. All the professor has to do is create a topic, preferably related to the coursework and then grade you on participation. It’s essentially posting on a forum, but is still way better than any in-class discussion.

In case you’ve forgotten, here’s how every in-class discussion on a topic has ever gone. First, one person makes a point just to get it out of the way and get participation points. Second, someone replies for the same reason. Next, someone makes some overly-politicized comment that nobody cares about. Then, someone takes the opposite side of said overly-politicized comment. This continues for a while until the professor doesn’t let these kids talk anymore and starts picking off people who haven’t spoken yet. In the end, everyone still doesn’t give a crap.

In an online discussion, people’s points aren’t just made up on the spot; rather, they’re cohesive, clear points that might actually make someone go, “oh, that’s a good point.” This, combined with the fact that people can actually research (read: Google it real quick) their points and post them, backing up whatever point is made.

The most important difference, though, is the avoidance of the really awkward discussion moments. You know, when someone starts making a point, realizes it’s a terrible idea, but keeps going anyway, leaving everyone in the room uncomfortable because the kid – absolutely not me in my sociology class last year – is just going down in flames? Yeah, that’s not very fun.

All of this, of course, is what makes an online class a good idea. However, hybrid classes do have a few distinct benefits.

For one, you will actually see the professor, at least once. While only a couple in-class meetings a month doesn’t sound like a lot, it really makes a difference to know that the person grading your papers is willing to show up to the school. The in-class meetings also come in handy for sorting out issues with the class. Talking about it in person is much more effective than each person playing e-mail tag with the professor.

By the way, since you have that 75-minute block free in your day from the class not meeting, you have a nice chunk of time to knock off the work you have assigned. You don’t even have to go through the excruciating process of putting on pants and stop eating out of that box of Frankenberry.

Huh? That’s just me. Oh well, have fun in your lecture that’s a 15-minute walk away.

Nick O’Malley is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at nomalley@student.umass.edu.

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