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Hybrid Education is not Special

May 25, 2018 • Other • Kendra Gagnon

As a DPT faculty in Baylor’s new accelerated, hybrid DPT model (and someone who has served as an adjunct faculty at South’s newly accredited hybrid DPT program), I get a lot of questions about “hybrid education.”

“Do you ever even teach or do you just record lectures for students to watch online?”

“What do you use to run live online class sessions?”

“Do immersive labs even work?”

“Do you even get dressed? Or just sit at home in your pajamas all day?”

“Do you ever talk to another actual human?”

“Do you miss “traditional” [aka brick and mortar] education?”*

I love my work. I mean, I sort of obnoxiously love my work. So I’m happy to answer all those questions and more. And I do. In fact, almost every day, I find myself in a conversation about our hybrid model. I’m actually kind of evangelical about it.So what I’m about to say is probably going to surprise you, but here it goes,


What is Hybrid Education

The terms “hybrid” and “blended” education are generally used interchangeably (I may argue that there is a subtle difference, but that’s a post for another day). I’m not sure that the academic community has come to a consensus on exactly what they mean. Quite simply, hybrid/blended learning means that a significant amount of coursework is taken online, including both asynchronous lectures and readings that are posted for students to complete on their own AND synchronous (aka live) online class sessions. Hybrid learning also includes a face-to-face component, but often there is less “face time” in a hybrid learning environment than in a traditional setting.

In our DPT program at Baylor, students participate in most of what would be traditionally thought of as “lecture” coursework online (asynchronously and synchronously). Then they travel to Dallas, Texas, twice per semester to participate in face-to-face, hands-on immersive labs. That means that instead of participating in lab two hours a week for 12 weeks, for example, they come to Dallas and do all 24 lab hours over 3 days.

When I talk to people about what we’re doing, the conversation often (always? almost always?) circles back to this hybrid model thing.

But you know what?

Hybrid education has been around for YEARS. Decades in fact. Research has been piling up (also for YEARS) that lecture is an ineffective strategy for teaching and learning. K-12 education includes blended learning, undergraduate education includes blended learning, graduate education includes hybrid learning, and – yes – even graduate health care education includes hybrid education. There are over 400 nursing programs that are all or partially online. The journal Medical Education Online has been in print since 1996.


Hybrid education is not special

And I’m pretty sure that, while we all sit and stew about whether “hybrid” education is the right direction for our profession, the rest of the universe is letting out a loud, collective yawn.And maybe a sigh. Frankly, I’m starting to sigh, too.

Does it seem special, new, and novel in PT education? Sure. But I would argue that there have certainly been PT programs dabbling in online education, hybrid learning, and “flipped” classrooms for years. And I would argue that arguing about the merits of hybrid PT education misses the entire point anyway.

Good teaching and learning is good teaching and learning. You write a course description that outlines the course purpose and goals, you develop measurable learning objectives, create learning activities that are inclusive and collaborative and learner-centered.You write good exam questions and develop rubrics that measure your outcomes. You recognize learning is a social endeavor so you develop cognitive presence and social presence and care about your students and engage them. You follow accreditation standards and track outcomes like NPTE pass rates and employment status.

And you can do all that in a classroom or online. Great teaching can happen anywhere, in a variety of ways. And bad teaching can, too.

It sort of reminds me of the discussions we were having in our profession back in 2012 about social media (if you want a blast from the past, I wrote about it here). Good communication is good communication. Professionalism is professionalism.

Good teaching is good teaching.

What hybrid programs like ours do is simply leverage technology to make these good teaching practices more accessible. It allows us to reach students in more geographic locations. To scale so we can reach more of them.

Hybrid education isn’t special, but I’ll tell you just a few of the things about our program that are:

  • We value each other. In our model, face to face learning is precious. There are no seconds to waste. We respect each other’s time. We squeeze every single thing we can out of every minute we’re together. That includes relationship-building and fun (after all, learning should be fun).
  • We are intentional, almost aggressively so, about staying connected to one another. When our students matriculate into the program, they take a variety of personality measures. We then place them in small groups that are intentionally diverse in terms of things like their strengths, emotional intelligence, and grit. These groups are led by a faculty advisor and become the students’ first family.
  • We are human. We use a variety of video platforms (see one here) – both live and asynchronous – to communicate, provide feedback, and engage with students. And we use them whether we’re “camera ready” or not because sometimes the best teachable moment doesn’t wait for hair and make-up. The nature of our program means that I know what most of my students’ living rooms or back yards look like and they know what my kitchen island looks like after I feed my boys lunch or what I look like when I’m SUPER TIRED and finishing up grading their assignments at the end of a long day of travel. I am not a robot on the other side of a computer screen and they are not a number. In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I feel like I know my students (and my students know me) better than they did when I taught in a “traditional” program. I think this goes back to the intention thing above,
  • We are diverse. At Baylor, for example, students from our first cohort were from 22 states. Over 1/3 of them were from racial and ethnic minorities. We have students who are first-generation college students. Students whose communities are so rural they have to drive to the nearest public library to fully access online content. Because our students don’t have to move to a city with an academic medical center, it allows a wider variety of students to access DPT education. And we hope they’ll take what they learn back to their underserved communities.

So the next time one of you calls, texts, emails, tweets, or finds me at a conference and says, “Tell me about this hybrid thing you’re doing!” I will.

But then I might just sigh and say, “Can we maybe talk about the special part of my job instead?”


Kendra Gagnon

Kendra Gagnon, PT, PhD, is a Clinical Associate Professor and Director of Student Affairs in the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at Baylor University. Dr. Gagnon has been a pediatric physical therapy educator since 2006, and has taught in blended, online, and traditional models. She has practiced in early intervention and school-based settings in North...

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Kendra Gagnon

Commented • May 29, 2018

Yes! I focused on students here, and I know it sounds crazy to people who haven't been in our model, but I would say I'm even more connected to my fellow faculty in this model than in a traditional program. I do think that some of it is that we are so intentional about staying connected to each other. We have to be! But there's something about those immersion labs - it builds camaraderie. It's not an exaggeration to say we are like family!

Kendra Gagnon

Commented • May 28, 2018

Thanks, Larry. I truly believe it's not about the technology, it's about the people!

Louie Puentedura

Commented • May 26, 2018

Kendra, you forgot to mention that the faculty are so connected! Much more engaged and connected than in the traditional programs, because we team together in so many ways. I think the students see that the faculty value each other and model that behavior throughout our engagement.

Larry Benz

Commented • May 25, 2018

Kendra, brilliant article and insights. The program is "high touch" not "high tech". Most impressive is the emphasis on strengths, EI, and grit. When PT's graduate, they have to be able to work in teams and the emphasis that you place on this provides necessary facilitation of key tacit knowledge skills that enable a great PT.

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