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EMILY E. SCIDA
RACHEL E. SAURY
University of Virginia
The University of Virginia's (UVA) Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese created two new hybrid courses for elementary Spanish which supplement 3 hours a week of class time with 2 hours of mandatory, web-based practice activities to respond to a need to make better use of personnel resources at the university. This article reports on the results of a pilot project comparing the impact of the hybrid course model versus the traditional classroom model on student grades. We also conducted two surveys of students and Teaching Assistants about the perceived impact of web-based grammar and vocabulary drills on in-class activities and student performance. The studies described here, albeit small, support the findings of more extensive surveys of hybrid language courses. We posit that the computer can be well used in hybrid language courses at the level of routinized, lower level skills of cognition while supporting higher level functions, such as communication and writing.
Hybrid Course, Computer-based Instruction, Technology-enhanced Course
Language programs around the United States have been struggling to meet student demand for Spanish language courses due to the lack of adequate resources in funding and personnel. According to figures from the latest Modern Language Association survey of foreign language enrollments in the United States, enrollments in Spanish rose 13.7% between 1998 and 2002, Spanish making up 53.4% of all foreign language enrollments (Welles, 2004). As other institutions, the University of Virginia (UVA) has experienced an increasing demand for Spanish courses for many years. Other disciplines and markets have faced similar structural and delivery challenges, for instance the University of Florida experienced a classroom shortage (Young, 2002), and the University of Minnesota discovered
a need to make Spanish language courses available to a wider population of both traditional and adult learners (Echávez-Solano, 2003). To respond to needs at our institution and to make better use of existing resources, two years ago the Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese at UVA created two new hybrid courses for Elementary Spanish (SPAN 101 and 102) which incorporate up to two hours of mandatory web-based practice activities per week.
Hybrid courses are defined as classes in which instruction takes place in a traditional classroom setting augmented by computer-based or online activities which can replace classroom seat time. These types of courses are becoming more and more the norm in higher education in the United States as earlier predictions of the explosion of completely online courses have not been borne out in practice (see Ijab, Anwar, & Hamid, 2004; Farmer, 2003; Lindsay, 2004; Sauers & Walker, 2004; Willet, 2002).1 We would like to add to the growing discussion about these courses with a focus on how the technology impacts student learning and classroom practice. We will share the results of a small pilot test we did in 2003 between a traditional and hybrid version of the same course to determine what the impact of reducing time in class by two hours and replacing it with online activities would be on student grades. We have also recently surveyed students currently enrolled in elementary Spanish courses—and the graduate teaching assistants (TAs) who have taught and are teaching them—about the quality and content of in-class activities. In this study we will show how clearly defined pedagogical and administrative goals can lead to an effective use of technology with no detriment to students or teachers.
We propose here that the computer works at its best with automatized skill building. Firdyiwek (1998) notes that “Evaluation of the underlying pedagogy in courseware systems depends on broader theories of learning and cognition, which are defined in terms of one's views on what knowledge is, how it is transferred, and what motivates us to learn” (p. 30). The choice to adopt a hybrid model to address problems in our Spanish language program was compatible with UVA's culture as a university serving a traditional, residential, undergraduate population where students and their parents expect teaching and learning to be based on face-to-face contact. As noted by Sauers and Walker (2004), “To best mitigate the student and faculty backlash against distance learning, our faculty developed an online hybrid: a part tutorial, part distance-learning option to measure the students' ability to function in an electronic environment without entirely sacrificing the richness of the face-to-face medium” (p. 432). Nonetheless, with web-based course tools becoming easier to access, use, and support, the long-touted ability of the computer to take over certain rote tasks—literally to be a “tutor”—could be parlayed in servicing several goals without challenging faculty and student expectations (Piconi, 2005). Firdyiwek (1998) continues, “context of use plays a
significant part in determining the importance of any particular strength or weakness [of an online course system]” (p. 30).
In a 1998 study of how computers impact learning from the perspective of psycholinguistics, Saury notes that “Language learning is increasingly considered to be a process in which a set of habits or automatized skills are created which then become imbedded as mental models in the mind.” Citing Seel, Norbert, and Stritt- matter (1989), she goes on to say that “A mental model can loosely be defined as a `construction of an internal model of the world' which is `persistent and stable'” (Saury, 1998, p. 1214). In language acquisition, mastery of lower level skills, such as form, structure and vocabulary, is necessary to have the freedom to use higher level skills. To that end, the automaticity of the computer, with its tried and true ability to do multiple-choice and other rote drills, acts quite successfully as a tutor. As a result of making use of the computer to practice structure and form so that more classroom time can be spent on communicative activities and language skill mastery, we can put to rest the ancient worry on the part of full-time faculty that administrators or state governments are going to use computers to replace teachers. Similarly, Young in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education asserts that “Hybrid models appear less controversial among faculty members than fully online courses have been” (2002, p. A33).
In our survey of literature on studies of the impact and effectiveness of hybrid courses on instruction and student learning, we found that the majority focuses on the effect of computer-based materials on student grades and other qualitative factors such as student motivation or teacher-student interaction (Sauers & Walker, 2004; Epp, 2004; Killian & Willhite, 2003; Hofer, 2004; Lindsay, 2004). Since computers came on the scene in the late 1970s, there have been many studies on the impact of technology on student learning. We agree with Echávez-Solano that
research in the past several decades comparing foreign language teaching methods, particularly structure, cognitive, and socio-cognitive frameworks has proven inconclusive, and there is good reason to believe that studies evaluating the efficacy of technology as method will inevitably be flawed by many uncontrollable variables. … Unfortunately, the question `Does it work?' is simply not answerable on such a broad scale. (2003, pp. 2-3)
Nonetheless, there certainly is value in sharing experiences with our colleagues as we explore more effective ways to put new technologies to use.
Therefore, we take this discussion further and address a key motivation in maintaining 3 hours of classroom time in the course: how do the online materials affect student performance in class during nongraded activities and how is class time used? The answer to this question, we believe, goes to the heart of whatever resistance may still exist towards the use of technology as an adjunct to traditional teaching methods. In our opinion, it is time to stop arguing about the pros and cons of technology use, embrace the fact that it is here to stay, and simply share what is working for us and why as models of best practice. To that end, our approach resonates with the words of our colleague, Edward L. Ayers, Dean of the
College of Arts & Sciences at UVA, in his article in the EDUCAUSE Review that: “I think we're ready for the next stage: building tools that can be carried into the heart of the academic enterprise” (2004, p. 60). In our institution, as at many others in the US and other countries, we are building courses which integrate many technologies in creative ways, of which Spanish-language teaching is only one example.
THE PROBLEM AND THE PROPOSED SOLUTION
In past years, Elementary Spanish courses (SPAN 101 and 102) met 5 days a week, and Intermediate Spanish (SPAN 201 and 202) met 3 days a week. Instructors assigned to teach Elementary Spanish taught only one section (a total of 5 hours), while those assigned to Intermediate Spanish taught two sections (a total of 6 hours a week). To maximize our teaching resources and to take advantage of new instructional technologies available for foreign language learning, we proposed to reduce the amount of time spent in class with the instructor from 5 days a week to 3 days a week in Elementary Spanish. The other 2 hours would instead be transferred to integrated web-based practice activities to be completed outside of the classroom. The Spanish language program has for years responded to competing concerns among faculty in the department between those who feel language courses should provide a sound basis in the structure of the language—grammar and vocabulary—and those who want students to develop good communicative skills after taking the 2 years of foreign language study required by the College of Arts & Sciences. With web-based applications for drilling and testing becoming more feasible in the late 1990s, thus allowing more flexibility of access to such materials, it seemed like a good time to integrate technology into our courses to ameliorate our problem with staff resources.
Our goals for the use of the technology were very simple: going back to the 1980s, literature on the use of computers in language instruction and other fields have noted that the one thing a computer can do comparable to what a human being can do is rote exercises or drills. Tutoring in language learning for as long as classroom instruction has been in existence is often provided in a face-to-face setting in which students can get extra practice in basic grammar and vocabulary, feedback provided by a human tutor, with the goals of increasing retention of grammatical concepts and reinforcing correct use of grammar and vocabulary. Starting with tools like WinCalis,2 a language tutoring program developed at Duke University in the early 1990s, the computer could also be programmed to provide guided feedback when learners answered incorrectly.
Because the Spanish language program at UVA was restructured as a result of adopting a hybrid model, each instructor now teaches two sections of Elementary Spanish instead of one, enabling the department to offer more sections of Spanish at all levels. Between the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 academic years, we were able to increase the number of sections of SPAN 101 from 9 to 12 as well as offer 2 additional sections of SPAN 202 and an additional 10 sections at the advanced level. This curricular change also allowed us to reduce the student-teacher ratio in the classroom from 25-1 to 22-1, more comparable to peer institutions. With these
new restructured courses, we could maintain the original number of contact hours with the target language and make better use of existing instructor resources.
Although the overt goal of our project was resource management, we nonetheless saw this change as an opportunity to improve student mastery of the language and to offer the instructor more resources and means to reach students with different learning needs or who simply wanted (or needed) more practice with grammar and vocabulary. We also saw that the online course materials could be structured so that fixed deadlines and grades delivered via mechanisms provided by the web-based course tool would force students to learn both the grammar and vocabulary prior to its initial introduction in class. It was our hope that students would be encouraged to learn and practice the material more thoroughly online, so that they would be better prepared to practice this material in class in communicative activities. This would address problems we had encountered in the traditional course regarding homework completion and low levels of student preparedness.
It has been proposed (Frommer, 1998; Cubillos, 1998) that technology can enhance language acquisition in various ways: it can increase time on task; it helps to make students responsible, independent learners; it allows students to tailor their practice to their own needs and pace; it provides immediate feedback for learners and student progress tracking for the instructor; it increases student motivation and confidence; it offers important teaching resources; and it is multisensory and multidimensional, appealing to different learning styles and increasing student exposure to a variety of authentic texts and cultural information.
With these potential advantages in mind, we evaluated various commercially available web-based course administrative tools (e.g., Blackboard, WebCT, and Mallard). We chose Mallard, designed and supported by the University of Illinois, because compared to the other available tools on the market at the time, it had the most robust exercise development (e.g., multiple choice, cloze, fill in the blank, and matching) and student tracking system. The program allows for the creation of various types of interactive activities on the web including structured grammar and vocabulary exercises as well as practice in listening, reading, and writing. The tools offered by Mallard allow instructors to track student learning, including how much time students spend on individual activities and how many times they attempt each activity. These data can also be looked at across the entire class and across all classes of the same course, thus giving instructors information about questions and activities which seem to be stumbling blocks for an entire portion of class. This function can enable instructors to determine if there is a particular activity or grammatical concept that all the students are struggling with.
In Spring 2003, we launched a pilot of the new hybrid SPAN 101 course with Mallard. The same instructor taught one section of the new hybrid course meeting 3 days a week and one section of the traditional course meeting 5 days a week. The pilot was a success, the results of which we report on below. In Fall 2003, all sections of SPAN 101 were taught based on the hybrid model, and in Spring 2004 SPAN 102 was included, followed by SPAN 106 (Accelerated Elementary Spanish) in Spring 2005. All classes meet 3 days a week with approximately 2 hours of online homework assignments and quizzes. The activities in Mallard are
considered “classroom” time. Students also complete additional homework which is not web-based, including written homework, readings to complete for in-class discussion, preparation of oral presentations, informal journal assignments, and so forth.
RESULTS OF THE HYBRID COURSE PILOT, SPRING 2003
2003 Pilot Method
Given the academic climate at UVA, we felt it was prudent to prove that eliminating two hours of classroom time would not negatively impact student learning before we implemented a new technology-enhanced version of the old course. We therefore undertook a small semester-long pilot in 2003 comparing student outcomes in a section of elementary Spanish taught as a hybrid course versus a section taught in the traditional manner. The comparison showed modest gains by students in the hybrid course. Our findings were different from those of Echávez-Solano (2003), the most extensive study on hybrid versus traditional Spanish courses in the US, done at the University of Minnesota. Echávez-Solano states,
Findings indicated that there were no significant differences between student performance in traditional sections and technology-enhanced sections on course homework assignments, participation, oral interviews, unit exams, composition grades, final exams, and final course grade [sic]. There were also no differences in student performance on measures of listening proficiency and oral proficiency administered at the beginning and end of the semester. (pp. iii-iv)
While our study was not as comprehensive, nor are we experts in the educational theory in developing assessment models, we will show that our pilot showed slightly different and overall positive results.
To mitigate differences in results attributable to instructor teaching styles between the two sections, as mentioned above, the same instructor taught both sections. There were 22 students in the traditional section and 19 students in the hybrid course. There were no students in the course who were known to have disabilities of any kind. All students but one were native speakers of English. In this study we did not control for other learner variables (e.g., motivation, exposure to Spanish outside the classroom, or time spent on homework and studying). Since our goal was quite simple—to establish whether the hybrid course would result in any significant deficit in student learning or in their classroom experience—our assessments were based on two measures: (a) a comparison of the overall final grades of students for the courses and (b) an exit survey given to the students at the end of the semester with questions regarding access to computers and the impact of Mallard on their learning experience.
In her M.A. thesis, Epp (2004) examined student attitude towards technology-enhanced programs to determine if a correlation exists between attitude and achievement
in students enrolled in the SPAN 101 hybrid courses. She found that when students felt more positive about computers in general and about the program they were using in particular, they were more successful in the course. Our experience in the SPAN 101 pilot in Spring 2003 echoed Epp's finding. Eighteen of the 19 students in the hybrid course responded to the midsemester survey and the exit survey; all of them reported a high degree of comfort and ability with computers and computer technology (e.g., word processors and Internet browsers). No one felt at a disadvantage in the course due to a lack of adequate computer skills. All the students in the hybrid course were satisfied with the quality of training to use Mallard, and 17 out of 18 students agreed that Mallard was appropriate for performing the tasks required. Out of the 18 students, 16 (89%) agreed or strongly agreed that Mallard improved the classroom experience, and 76% reported that Mallard helped them perform better on tests and quizzes in class. All students said that they would recommend the hybrid course to others, and 17 out of 18 (94%) said that they were satisfied or very satisfied with the course. Online end-of-the-semester course evaluations of the pilot course showed similar results; one student commented, “I've taken two other first year languages at UVA and this was the best because of Mallard. It was pretty helpful, really encouraged me to study, and it was great not to have to go to class 5 times a week.” From the exit survey of the pilot course, students indicated that they would not prefer to be in a traditional class meeting 5 days a week nor would they prefer to be in an online class with no face-to-face interaction with the instructor. All the students agreed that the course encouraged them to take responsibility for their own learning as a result of using Mallard.
In the area of student performance, the median grade for students was higher in the hybrid course as compared to the traditional course. In the hybrid course, 11 of the 19 students (58%) earned As versus 7 out of 22 (32%) in the traditional course. Three students in the hybrid course (16%) earned a C or below as compared to 6 students (27%) in the traditional course. Overall, 84% of the students in the hybrid course earned a B or above compared to 73% in the traditional course (see Table 1).
Course Results in Pilot Study (2003)
No. of As
Percent of As
Percent of Bs and above
Percent of Cs and below
Admittedly, the total number of students in the courses is a small sampling, nor is it possible to determine to what degree the learning style, personality, or work ethic of the students had an impact on the results. However, students were not told prior to enrolling in the class that they were part of a research study and, therefore, did not self-select on that basis. Because of how similar our findings were to those of Echávez-Solano (2003), we can look at the two sets of findings to hypothesize
whether individual variables affected success in the technology-enhanced course. The individual variables that Echávez-Solano studied were motivation, anxiety related to technology use, risk taking, sociability, and gender. She found that none of these factors was a predictor of success in technology-enhanced courses. On poststudy questionnaires in our pilot, 92% of students in the hybrid course felt that they benefited from the use of Mallard, listing advantages such as better feedback, more individual attention, nonjudgmental testing, and greater control, among others.
Anecdotal observations on the part of the instructor who taught the two courses noted improved student performance in the hybrid course. We attribute this to several features built into Mallard. First, the instructor must set a minimum passing score for a student to get a grade for that activity. The program also allows the instructor to determine how many “tries” students are given on an activity to reach that score or to go even higher. Each new worksheet or quiz contains the same content when students opt to try again, but different questions are randomly drawn from the question bank. In addition, the instructor can preset Mallard to “turn off” an activity on a certain date and time, meaning that students must complete the activity by the deadline or receive a “0.”
As a result of another feature in Mallard, which allows the instructor to see how many times students work on a particular activity, we were able to draw some interesting conclusions. It appeared that all students not only achieved the required score (60% for worksheets and 70% for quizzes), but they made multiple tries to achieve a perfect score. For instance, if students in their first try at a worksheet got a score of 80% (20% higher than the minimum passing score), they would keep working with the same worksheet until they got a 100%. This pattern was consistent across all students in the hybrid course. Out of the 18 students who responded to the survey, 14 reported that they always worked on a Mallard assignment until they got a perfect score, while 4 reported that they sometimes did so. As a result, students who completed multiple trials got increased practice with the materials. This finding correlated with Epp's (2004) findings,
Twelve students [of 67] reported that they used Mallard more than required by the course. … They voluntarily increased their workload with Mallard in order to prepare for tests and quizzes given in class. Sixteen students remained neutral, while 22 students reported they never used Mallard to review for assessments. … Fifty-one students from all groups repeated Mallard quizzes and worksheets until they received 100%. (p. 13)
The instructor in the 2003 pilot project postulated that the most significant grade increases appeared among those students whose course grades might normally fall within the midrange (Bs and Cs). Anecdotal observations by the instructor of student performance in class revealed that the students in the hybrid course who were required to do the 2 hours of Mallard activities needed less grammar explanation and mechanical practice. Similar observations were made by an instructor the following semester in her SPAN 102 section; she reported that students who had completed the SPAN 101 pilot course with Mallard were better prepared and,
in particular, that their mastery of vocabulary, oral fluency, and writing skills were superior to those students coming from the traditional SPAN 101 class.3 Epp's (2004, p. 13) study again validated these observations: “The majority of students (43 students) also felt that Mallard improved their written comprehension of Spanish and that Mallard supplemented class materials well (37 students) … 33 students agreed that Mallard improved their listening comprehension.” Not having to review grammar and drills in the hybrid course freed up more class time for communicative activities and writing practice than was available in the traditional course.
2005 Survey on Mallard's Impact on In-class Activities and Student Performance
These anecdotal findings regarding student in-class performance made us curious about exactly how the use of Mallard activities impacted students' perceptions of their performance in class and how class time was being used. Therefore, in fall 2005, we conducted another round of surveys. First, we surveyed 162 students currently enrolled in SPAN 101 and SPAN 106 about their perceptions as to how the web-based activities affected their comfort level using Spanish grammar and vocabulary and completing classroom activities. Sixty-six students in SPAN 101 responded and 69 in SPAN 106. Second, we surveyed 15 TAs who were currently teaching the elementary Spanish courses or who had taught in the previous 2 years asking them to provide feedback as to how much class time they spent on reviewing grammar and vocabulary and doing drills versus communicative activities. We also asked them to assess if and how the web-based work students did in Mallard possibly impacted their in-class performance.
The results of the student surveys in 2005 had a high response rate and were similar to those completed in the pilot course in 2003. The majority of students indicated that Mallard had a positive impact on their learning; in the pilot hybrid class in 2003 89% of students said that Mallard improved their classroom experience, and 74% of students surveyed in 2005 stated that Mallard improved their level of comfort in using Spanish during in-class activities. An interesting result of these surveys has to do with students' reported confidence in using new vocabulary learned in the course. In the 2003 pilot hybrid course, 94% of students said that Mallard helped them remember vocabulary, and in the 2005 surveys 76% of students claimed that they were more confident using Spanish vocabulary during in-class activities because of Mallard. More than half of the students who completed the surveys in 2005 agreed that Mallard had a positive effect on their confidence level using Spanish in in-class activities, such as listening comprehension, reading comprehension, and other communicatively oriented exercises. The majority (88% in 2003 and 65% in 2005) agreed that as a result of using Mallard, they “could see the results of their work everyday,” to quote one survey response.
Response rate by TAs was similarly high, 10 of 15 TAs completing the survey.
The TAs who used Mallard in their elementary Spanish courses reported spending most of class time on communicative activities as opposed to grammar explanations, drills, or mechanical exercises. The teacher who taught the pilot courses in 2003 indicated that she spent most of her class time on communicative activities and speaking practice and did not spend any time in class on vocabulary explanations, grammar explanations or worksheets. Half of the TAs surveyed in 2005 stated that they spent more than 50% of class time on average doing communicative activities, while the other half reported spending 30-50%. Eighty percent of the TAs spent between 10%-40% of class time on role-play activities and spontaneous conversations. Grammar presentations and vocabulary presentations as well as mechanical practice of these elements received less attention in class: all TAs reported spending 20% of their time or less on presentation of new vocabulary, 80% of TAs reported spending 20% of their time or less on vocabulary drills, and 90% of TAs reported spending 30% or less on grammar explanations and drills.
COMPARISONS WITH OTHER STUDIES
Our findings from the 2003 pilot and the 2005 surveys were consistent with the more extensive series of studies done by Echávez-Solano (2003) at the University of Minnesota. In her initial pilot study, Echávez-Solano found that the benefits of the technology-enhanced course included the improvement of academic skills, the flexibility and independence to complete work at the student's own pace, immediate feedback on student's work, and better preparation and in-class performance by students.
After the initial pilot study, Echávez-Solano did a formal study in Fall 2000 on the use of Mallard in two elementary Spanish courses. In the formal study, 90 students were enrolled in the new hybrid course with Mallard, and 70 students took the traditional course meeting 5 days a week. Most of the instructors in this study taught one section of each type of course. The two issues Echávez-Solano studied were: (a) differences in the performance of students in the hybrid course versus those in the traditional course and (b) whether individual variables affected success in the hybrid course. Results concerning the first research question indicated that there were no significant differences measured in test scores, final grades, course assignments, or in oral and aural proficiency exams between students enrolled in the hybrid course and those enrolled in the traditional course. Lewis and Atzert (2000), Van Aacken (1996), and Walczynski (2002) had reached similar conclusions. Walczynski showed in her dissertation for Illinois State University that performance self-reports by students using Mallard indicated higher performance, which could have led to positive outcomes such as improved satisfaction with the course, lower absenteeism, lower drop-out rate, and less repetition of similar courses. We believe our study, bolstered by Epp's (2004) work, brings us to the same conclusion reported in these earlier studies concerning the overall positive value of the hybrid course model in elementary language instruction. In language instruction, the biggest impediment to student success and enjoyment is often the mastering of forms and structures (grammar and vocabulary) and then
being able to manipulate the target language in meaningful discourse, whether written or spoken. Littlewood (1990), in his book Teaching Communication: A Methodological Framework, notes that “When we use language, we are constantly having to create new higher-level plans at the level of ideas, meanings, and conversational strategies. The effective execution of these plans depends upon a high degree of automaticity at the lower levels” (p. 93). Automaticity is the key here. When we think of computers as a tutor doing drills using a variety of stimuli (e.g., sentences with multiple-choice blanks, matching exercises, and even audio materials and images—as some of our activities at UVA do), we can see how automatic responses can become with repetition. Our pilot study and surveys of classroom activities clearly show that this very conservative use of the computer based on an old behaviorist model of learning and cognition (Firdyiwek, 1998) can be effectively used to build new mental habits at the lower levels of complexity, with a focus on particular skills, and that this approach supports greater communicative competencies at higher levels.
CONCLUSIONS AND BEST PRACTICES
We feel the key to the success of the hybrid model is to assess realistically the areas in which computers can have the most concrete, positive benefit based on the present strengths in its functionality.4 The capacity of current web-based applications to enable instructors to time stamp student work and to prevent students from accessing materials after specific deadlines forces students to engage with materials in a timely and active manner, thus leaving them far better prepared for in-class activities than in the “old” way of requiring students to “read the textbook chapter before class” (which language instructors know most students do without much focus or rigor or not at all). This model therefore makes students more responsible for their learning because they cannot passively rely on teacher instruction alone and class time for review of grammar and drilling to reinforce forms, structures, and vocabulary. As Pederson and Williams (2004) note, “Essential to student-centered approaches is student ownership of their goals and activities. Because students make decisions about which actions to take to meet their goals, their work is meaningful to them, a condition that encourages depth of understanding and an intrinsic motivational orientation” (p. 284). The computer in this case holds them accountable for a level of engagement with the material, we would argue, in many ways perhaps even better than personal contact in a tutor group.
Based on comparison of student evaluations of the hybrid course to those in our traditional courses, we feel it is fair to say that when students perceive they have greater mastery of form, structure, and vocabulary, they enjoy the class and the study of the language more. In addition, the instructor could also find classroom teaching more enjoyable when time is focused not on the frustrations of dealing with ill-prepared students or students who continue to need further grammar explanations but instead on more creative, flexible, and meaningful uses of the language. Both of these assumptions merit further study.
We would venture to say that through the implementation of a hybrid course,
we have actually achieved close to the ideal teaching and learning scenario in language acquisition, guiding students to master form, structure, grammar, and vocabulary, while also being able to speak, read, and write with greater fluency. To that end, we have certainly quelled any of the old conflicts at UVA which might have arisen between traditionalists who feel structure should be privileged over communication. We also believe, based on our experience, that it would be valuable to incorporate web-based activities into any language course at any level not simply for purposes of making better use of resources but because the evidence clearly shows improvement in student learning and quality of classroom instruction.
We have an ongoing goal of developing more web-based instruction in SPAN 101, 102, and 106 that includes more images, audio, and video to increase cultural immersion as part of the learning experience and to incorporate similar activities into every level of Spanish instruction. The only factor that currently prohibits us from doing large-scale projects is funding since the process of creating content is at the outset quite time consuming.5 We agree with Sauers and Walker when they assert, “It is time for the debate about the disadvantages and advantages of online education to move forward and for researchers to focus their efforts on more narrowly identifying the best uses of online instruction and how best to implement these” (2004, p. 441). We feel more pointedly that it is time for teachers and administrators not to wait for the next, best study but to embrace the fact that as technology becomes more flexible, the greater the positive impact can be on student learning when course goals and content are well defined and implemented.
1 We are aware that online and hybrid courses are more common outside the US. However, we do not have enough expertise on the issues particular to non-US settings to apply our findings more broadly outside our own setting. Nonetheless, we hope that our studies on the impact of technology on students learning reported here will be relevant to some of our colleagues around the world.
2 The WinCalis program was developed at the Humanities Computing Laboratory at Duke University (see http://www.humancomp.org/index.html). The developers claim that in WinCalis, students “can receive helpful feedback and extra information at their own individual pace, making WinCALIS a valuable supplement to classroom and textbook learning.”
3 Personal email communication to E. Scida, December 2003.
4 We are, of course, aware that not all hybrid programs run smoothly. Problems encountered can include limited access to computers, teachers who are unable to assist students with technological issues, poor audio quality of materials, and so on. At UVA, technical support is close by and in house with the Arts & Sciences Center for Instructional Technologies, the home of the Language Laboratory. The Mallard program has also proven to be a stable, effective tool which we feel has also contributed to the success of the hybrid course.
5 To do the pilot and implement the hybrid course, we were given $5,000 by the Dean's office which we used to hire graduate students to input content into Mallard and to do research on course tools. This process took a year in preparation for the pilot. It also helped that Professor Scida is the Language Program Director and was empowered by her department chair to use other TAs to test the materials prior to putting them in the hands of students.
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Emily E. Scida is Associate Professor of Spanish, Director of the Linguistics Program, and Director of the Spanish and Italian Language Programs. She holds a B.S. from Georgetown University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Cornell University. Her areas of research include applied linguistics, comparative Romance linguistics, historical syntax, dialectology, and relational grammar. In addition to teaching courses in Spanish linguistics and in foreign language pedagogy, she is Director of the Summer Language Institute for Spanish and of the Spanish for Health Care Professionals Summer Program. Professor Scida was selected as a 2001-2002 University of Virginia Teaching Fellow, and in 2005-2006 she was awarded a Teaching + Technology Initiative Fellowship. Her book, The Inflected Infinitive in the Romance Languages, was published by Routledge in 2004.
Rachel E. Saury is Lecturer in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures. She holds a B.A. from Trinity College in Hartford, CT in Russian Studies, an M.A. in Soviet Studies and a Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures from the University of Virginia. She was Director of the Language Learning Center at James Madison University prior to becoming the Director of the Arts & Sciences Center for Instructional Technologies at the University of Virginia. She has 10 years of experience teaching Russian language and currently teaches courses in violence and peace studies. She has published extensively in teaching technologies in journals and magazines such as the IALL Journal and Change.
Emily E. Scida
Department of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese
PO Box 400777, Wilson, 130
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA 22904
Rachel E. Saury
PO Box 400784, Cabell 219
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA 22904