Hybrid courses combine face-to-face classroom discussions with online activities, interrelating teaching, learning, and assessment (Colleague and Author, 2009A). Based on recent research reports, the hybrid (also referred to in the literature as blended) learning model is now the preferred model for online course design. Its superiority over online learning, which lacks face-to-face interaction, is evident from studies that examined both student achievement and satisfaction (Precel, Eshet-Alkalai and Alberton, 2009).
These days there seems to be greater demand for advanced models of hybrid courses in all areas of academic education. These types of courses are the preferred choice for students who are unable to attend regular classroom lessons, and they offer students all the necessary levels of knowledge required to graduate. In addition, these courses afford academic institutions to enlist large "classes" despite lack of physical space, while still offering careful attention to individual students' progression. These courses utilize the benefits of face-to-face teaching and online platforms along with educational technologies for advanced visualization, in order to promote dialogue and other cultural and social needs (Tsaushu, Tal, Sagy, Kali, Gepstein, and Zilberstein, 2012). On one hand, the hybrid learning discourse provides students the opportunity to construct meaningful understanding and knowledge. It offers a distinct advantage in supporting and facilitating higher levels of learning through interactive discussions, reflective thinking and critical discourse. A critical thinker takes control of one’s thought processes and gains a metacognitive understanding of these processes (Garrison and Kanuka, 2004).
On the other hand, hybrid courses require more students' work on pre-exam activities and a much more intensive participation on their part in discussions (Djenic, Kreneta and Mitic, 2011). Hybrid learning is not just finding the right mix of technologies or increasing access to learning. It is inherently about redesigning teaching and learning dynamics. Designing a hybrid course typically means adding more formative assessments and reducing the value of summative assessments. Blended instruction is also an opportunity to introduce asynchronous online discussions and essays or other formal writing assignments in science (Colleague and Author, 2009A). Additional long-term benefits are easily updatable course materials, more student collaboration and engagement with content, and a more up-to-date, enjoyable and effective way of teaching and learning science (Bergtrom, 2011). Those aspects are well valuated also in visualization-rich environments with potential of creating knowledge by peers, in both face-to-face and online setting (Chiu & Linn, 2012).
The combination of face-to-face teaching with online instruction in higher education promotes learner-centered as well as active learning and sharing novel ideas and knowledge by peers (Colleagues and Author, 2009; Hmelo-Silver and Erkens, 2006). Studies exploring undergraduate hybrid courses were examined in psychology, education, educational science and computer science (Alonso, Manrique, Martínez and Viñes, 2011; Cacciamani, Cesareni, Martini, Ferrini and Fujita, 2012; Djenic, Kreneta and Mitic, 2011; Colleagues and Author, 2009; Kenny, 2011; Schworm and Gruber, 2011).
However, in science or engineering education, only a few studies explored hybrid learning, referred to in these studies as blended learning (Bergtrom, 2011; Kavadella1, Tsiklakis1, Vougiouklakis1 and Lionarakis, 2012; Tsaushu, Tal, Sagy, Kali, Gepstein and Zilberstein, 2012).
In this study, we investigated fostering scientific literacy in two hybrid courses in which advanced undergraduate and graduate biomedical engineering students took part. The courses combine face-to-face lectures with asynchronous learning activities. The lectures included interactive features as well as visualizations of key concepts and processes being taught, in order to foster students' deep understanding of science and engineering. In order to prompt socio-constructivist learning and higher order thinking skills, students functioned as peer instructors in students' online forum discussions. While students posed questions on research articles and led or participated in the discussions in the From Cell to Tissue course, they also prepared scientific posters based on reading 3-4 scientific articles in the Tissue Engineering course. We chose to combine those previous course activities using the design principle of "students learning from others" based on the recommendations of Kali and Linn (2007) and Kali and colleagues (2009). This design principle emphasizes the importance of giving students the opportunity to teach and learn from others by explaining and exchanging ideas and thoughts with other students. In the course, From Cell to Tissue, the design principle in the online forum was that students served as peer-tutors for their fellow students. In the course, Tissue Engineering, this design principle was incorporated by asking students to work in teams, submit research proposals, and then present their scientific posters to their peers and instructors.
The hybrid model of the biomedical engineering courses is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: The hybrid model of the biomedical engineering courses.