Interview with Hybrid Learning Expert Heather Zink

We had the chance to interview Heather Zink, Hybrid Classroom Manager at Rasmussen College, a higher learning institution with online and campus locations in the Midwest and Florida. Heather brings insight into online learning, technology in education, and blended learning (online and classroom-based) college courses. Learn more hybrid learning and other distance learning insights through this engaging interview…

1) What do you do day in and day out?
I’ve recently stepped into a role with Rasmussen College to manage our hybrid classroom delivery models. We’ve started a virtual live lecture series where students in various courses are receiving course credit for attending a live virtual lecture with a faculty member teaching the course. We offering between 18 and 22 lectures a week so the student can choose a time most convenient to their schedule. We are seeing great results with improvement in their course averages and pass rates, in addition to retention in the course. They are loving the interaction with faculty and feeling like part of an online community of learners, instead of on their own in the online modality. I assist faculty in the creation of the lecture series in terms of content delivery and interaction management within the sessions, as well coordinate and deliver training for our virtual classroom tools. We plan to grow our hybrid classroom offerings and as that occurs, I will assist faculty in developing course materials and strategies to best suit the needs of their learners.

2) Can you explain what a hybrid classroom is and how it benefits college students?
The hybrid classroom model, or hybrid learning, is focused on varying the way in which a student interacts with the course material – part of the time is spent in a live environment, whether it’s on-campus or in a virtual session, and part of the course is delivered through asynchronous activities in the online classroom environment. I think it provides the best of both worlds in terms of higher education– students can spend time with the material and their assignments on their own schedules, but yet engage in various learning activities with their classmates and faculty member during the live classroom time. The support and encouragement for online students we’ve found with the hybrid approach helps them to persist longer in their courses and achieve greater success as a student. There are a variety of models as well, which provides faculty with the flexibility and academic freedom to adjust the course as they see necessary.

3) What are you most looking forward to in the next three years in online learning?
I’m excited to see hybrid learning models become the norm and more traditional route for new program offerings. With more and more individuals entering the higher education system, we need an approach to accommodate a variety of learning and scheduling needs. We can create engaging, interactive course material in the asynchronous environment, but faculty and students need to come together regularly to make that material come alive and bridge the communication gap that sometimes results in the world of online education. The ‘flipped classroom’ will continue to grow and I think we will see more colleges and universities move to increase their online offerings through lecture capture technology. This allows for students across the country and the world collaborate and learn from one another. It’s an exciting time in the world of online education and higher education, I’m thrilled to be a part of it!

4) What education technology could you live without?
A webcam and a headset are two essential tools for a successful online instructor – the students need to hear and see you to relate to you and to the material. Online students take online courses for convenience, not because they don’t want to interact with faculty. Let them see you, let them hear you – you’ll be surprised at the response you get. I started off podcasting to reach my students and had tremendous success with this mobile learning option. Students loved the opportunity to listen in as I walked them through a guided reading activity asking questions along the way. It’s been key in the success of my Medical Terminology students to hear the correct pronunciation of a word as they read each chapter. I missed being on campus as I moved to teaching online – the webcam allowed me to reach students in the online modality and relay my enthusiasm for teaching in a similar manner to the physical classroom. Students want to establish a connection, they need it to feel supported. I think a webcam and headset give you, as the faculty member, a personality. Students relate to it, they can see and hear you talking as they read email or read assignment feedback. It’s amazing how something so simple elevates the connection you can have with online learners.

5) What’s the number one piece of advice you would give a new online student/ or even blended student?
Successfully completing an online degree is about self discipline and time management. Putting together a schedule of work, family, and school responsibilities at the start of each week – and sharing that schedule with others – will keep you on track to complete all the tasks on your list. You need support from others to have the dedicated time to devote to your studies, so sharing the schedule and asking for help with other responsibilities will provide you additional time to focus on your school work. It’s not an easy journey, but a rewarding one at the end. Speaking as a graduate from an online master’s program, the key to succeeding in your studies lies in your ability to manage your time and enlist the support of family and friends.

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About Allison Freeland

Allie Freeland is the Editor-in-Chief of CollegeOnline.org. She has been a professional writer for a decade and received her bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Minnesota. She brings a wealth of information about higher education, online degrees, college life, and career advice. Follow her on G+.