Understanding Grammar as a Hybrid Course

WR 330, Understanding Grammar, is a course that leads students through the advanced concepts of grammar. Basically, the course strives to answer: What is it we do as writers, and what are some of the effects of those choices? The course moves quickly through complicated and often new concepts, and students build an impressive bank of terminology. The student population is varied as the course satisfies Bac Core for Writing II. As such, the course frequently sees students in majors as varied as engineering and fashion design. In any given class, a small number of students are likely to be English majors, but even among these students the levels of grammar preparedness can vary greatly. This diversity among student understanding when they first enter the course is always something I have to work hard to manage–and I actually think that a hybridized version will make some of this a lot easier.

For example, allowing students to simply take quizzes online on their own time will be such a help! As the course is right now, all the students take six different quizzes throughout the term. Quizzes are given at the start of designated classes, usually as a way of concluding a major unit within the course. (So, for example, students will have a quiz testing them on the four major verb types and another on the various adverbial and adjectival modifiers.) Sometimes, you can see a student just fly through the quiz, complete it with perfect accuracy, and then sit there… and sit there… while the students around him or her are sweating through the answers. I always feel badly for both students in this situation–the one who is bored and ready to move on, and the one who is panicked and stressed and fully aware that his or her neighbor has already completed the quiz… fearing, perhaps, that he or she is holding the class up. By taking all of the quizzes online, students will be able to truly work at their own pace, move on to new material when they are ready, or struggle through questions slowly if that’s what they need to do. They won’t have to worry about the judgment from other students–and they won’t have to worry about any perceived judgment from me.

So… moving all quizzes to the online presentation seems like a no-brainer to me. This feels like the most immediately tangible way the hybridized version will be superior to the strictly on campus version.

But I also teach this course online, regularly. And I know from my past experiences that there are certain things that are very difficult to do online, concepts that need a little more hand-holding. Sentences with nominal clauses that truly need to be diagrammed and explained on the chalkboard. And so I can see how the hybridized version will be superior to the fully online version as well. Class time will be used as a sort of place to trouble-shoot. I’ll present lectures online (I’m thinking in both video and written format), and then I’ll use the time in class as a place for “strategic intervention” (I love that phrasing!), as a place where questions can be asked and answered. I’ll also use class time to set up and assign the major projects the students complete in the course: the discourse analysis projects. These projects ask students to read critically, to write effectively for specific rhetorical goals, to recognize and identify by name advanced grammatical concepts, to interpret information they gather, and to compare—with a level of objectivity—their own writing to another’s writing. They also allow students to choose what they want to write about as long as they meet similar rhetorical goals—useful considering the wide variety of majors and student interests.

…But they’re difficult. And having the opportunity to explain and demonstrate aspects of them in person seems very valuable. The students will then be able to work independently and to use online resources such as the discussion board and links to online writing labs to work through the projects. I think that overall these projects will straddle the online and campus presentations of the course pretty evenly, and that the two presentations will complement one another to truly help students advance in their understandings.

So that’s kind of where I am right now: I’m excited, and I really see the potential for this  to pay off. I came into this hoping that I’d be able to figure out what’s best about both versions of the course–online and on-campus–and to come to some understanding of how to balance the benefits and limitations of each presentation. I know there are probably a lot of things I still haven’t thought of, but so far, it really seems like it’s going to work! Thanks for reading!


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One Response to Understanding Grammar as a Hybrid Course

  1. noacker says:

    You’ve brought some interesting thoughts to the hybrid discussion Isabelle, especially as it pertains to teaching and learning grammar. Thanks!

    One aspect of hybridized learning you’ve pondered here, online quizzes, is something I’ve previously reserved for F2F class, but now I’m not so sure. You’re description of varying grammar competency among students, and the tense classroom atmosphere it can create. Eliminating these bad vibes from the classroom by moving quizzes online is a definite plus. What is causing me to vacillate is student integrity, and making honest attempts to complete the quizzes. Open book quizzing isn’t an issue; in fact, I encourage it as many nuanced and wrote rules govern English grammar. What I do wonder is: will students devalue the quizzes because they are open book and online? Or, will they use other students to complete the quizzes? These seem like less of a risk when administering formal assessments F2F, but along with the bad test vibes you’ve mentioned, I also get squirmy about this being an efficient use of F2F time.

    I too like the idea of F2F time as “strategic intervention.” Many grammar points need time and repetition to be understood, or understood enough to ask clarifying questions. If students are involved with the initial dive into a grammar point online with lectures, discussions, producing guidelines and examples, etc., the instructor has the unique opportunity to observe these online interactions, and then create a focused plan of action for the following F2F meeting. Questions or confusions posed in a course grammar Q&A forum would also give the instructor ample time to dissect the grammar issue, and allow them to provide the most thoughtful, simple explanation in class (I’ve had a few too many situations where I either didn’t know how to explain a grammatical situation, or just didn’t possess the grammatical prowess).

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