Hybrid or Blended Classes: How Can They Be Done Well?


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, some universities are telling students that, this fall, they will be able to choose to take particular courses either in-person or online. This means some professors will face the challenge of teaching simultaneously to students sitting in a classroom with them and to students who are videoconferencing in to the class session.

This seems like quite the pedagogical challenge. Or as Rob Elliot (IUPUI) said on Twitter last week:

One respondent to Elliott linked to some useful advice on how to teach such blended classes here. If you have other suggestions or strategies, or know of other helpful resources, please share them.


 

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TT
TT
9 months ago

Why does he think he can’t teach them? It doesn’t seem like a question that can be answered from the armchair. Report

TT
TT
Reply to  TT
9 months ago

Ah, I see from the thread on Twitter. Seems like an issue with his set-up rather than with hybrid classes as such. For my own part, I plan to engage in discussion only those who are present in person (at least during class time). Our cameras also move to track the speaker.Report

G
G
Reply to  TT
9 months ago

That seems a little bit unfair to the students who have no choice but to take classes remotely, no? Curious to hear the reasoning behind this. Report

TT
TT
Reply to  G
9 months ago

Hi G,

Why do you think that? Trying to engage them in discussion during lecture would seem to take away from the discussion from those present (I once tried to read student discussion questions from blackboard during lecture, and it was a disaster). And it’s not as if I wouldn’t engage them in discussion. Just not during the lecture itself (perhaps in a later zoom meeting or by email or something). Report

Sara L. Uckelman
Sara L. Uckelman
Reply to  TT
9 months ago

Why would only those physically there count as “present”?Report

TT
TT
Reply to  Sara L. Uckelman
9 months ago

If by ‘present’ you mean ‘physically present’, then it’s because only those who are physically there are physically present. If by ‘present’ you mean ‘watching the lecture,’ then it’s for the reason I gave above: I think it would lower overall discussion for everyone to try to have in-person and online discussions simultaneously. Of course I might be underestimating the technology that will be available in the classrooms. If it’s good enough, I’ll obviously adjust. My original worry was that it won’t be good enough.Report

Will Behun
Will Behun
9 months ago

I wonder if any instructor would think “this is how I want my classroom to be set up” or if any student would think “this is going to make for a great class”. Somehow I doubt it. Given that it might be that other modalities might be better options.

I think we all know that our institutions are struggling to make things work in a bizarre situation and if my immediate colleagues are any basis on which to judge, faculty are demonstrating an astounding level of flexibility. This just seems ill conceived from the start; the driving question behind seems to have been “how can we maximise tuition income” and not “how can we best offer instruction.”Report

Derek
Derek
Reply to  Will Behun
9 months ago

This is really the central question. Yes, with the right technology and sufficient thoughts/preparation a hybrid class can be taught, but is there any reason to think that a hybrid format is better than a fully remote format, particularly under present conditions?

One case for hybrid learning is a cynical one, along the lines that you suggest: Having hybrid classes allows us to offer in-person instruction to those who want it, so we don’t risk losing enrollment from those students who want it. Potentially adding to this is the ability to displace liability: if students are given the choice of online or in-person they can’t blame the university for how things turn out either way, since it was their choice. But even on this consumerist model, won’t these hybrid classes be, in effect, a kind of bait and switch for students who want in-person classes as they are usually taught?

Another natural way to arrive at a preference for hybrid learning is through an erroneous form of reasoning about the problem of the “second best”: In-person learning is better than remote learning, and hybrid learning is more like in-person learning, so it must be better. But this is fallacious reasoning, however tempting the inference might seem. Report

C&
C&
Reply to  Derek
9 months ago

I think a further reason for hybrid learning is the recognition that a significant number of students may need to quarantine for 2 weeks during the semester. One model I saw suggested that this might be 10% at a given time. In the past, most health related absences were limited to either an occasional absences or to an occasional student with a longer term absence. We need to be ready for this to be a regular occurance. I think further this is being seen as an accomodation for students with health concerns. Large institutions may be able to run duplicate sections in different modalities, but most institutions can’t. The better model would be so-called Hyflex, but that’s a really heavy lift. Expecting faculty to prepare Hyflex courses (especially already exploited contingents) seems egregious. So Hybrid seems to be more likely to compromise the variety of constraints on the problem. But I agree pedagogically that even with good tech, hybridizin classes is going to compromise the quality of the class or simply reproduce the inequity.

This doesn’t address the hybrid v. all on-line question. A combination of financial and educational reasons makes the maximizing of face to face desirable it seems from the institutional perspective. The big financial fear is that huge numbers of residential schools will declare financial exigency and huge swaths of academic jobs would be wiped out in short order. Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  C&
9 months ago

You say “A combination of financial and educational reasons makes the maximizing of face to face desirable it seems from the institutional perspective. ”

But what evidence is there that “maximizing face to face” is *educationally* desirable? Even if totally face-to-face is better than totally online, it doesn’t follow that partial face-to-face is better than totally online, especially when that partial face-to-face requires (a) masks, (b) social distancing, and (c) the ability to shift online at a moment’s notice.Report

Jeremy Kidwell
Reply to  Will Behun
9 months ago

I agree that the motivations for pressing forward on this approach to delivery are mostly suspect and ill-conceived. However, as someone who has been trying for a few years now to think more intentionally about teaching the entire spectrum of students in front of me, including the students who have anxiety, sensory integration problems, or are neurodiverse (and I’d suggest anecdotally that this is probably more than 15% of the average classroom) this strange year of hybridity may actually mark a sea-change in terms of learning experience. Agreed that we should resist the managerialism and profiteering of University executives and top-down management styles, but it’s possible to see this as a rare opening to actually be experimental in teaching without the same level of surveillance and over-management…Report

AssistantProf
AssistantProf
9 months ago

If I could co-teach, hire a TA, or even just assign one student as full-time in-class comments moderator, it might be achievable – have one person monitoring and responding to or bringing to the in-person group what the online group is doing, while the other moderates in-person discussion. It might also be helpful to assign notetaking duties, which I considered last semester, but never had the organization to get going.

I like some of the suggestions in your link though, particularly Jigsaw, which I have used versions of before but never thought to combine that way. I also hadn’t tried Fishbowl, which sounds pretty useful for philosophy. One thing I am finding overwhelming, particularly as someone who already has ADD, is how to keep alive so many different ways of communicating, while producing in-person content and online content for asynchronous consumption. It sounds exhausting, and I am beginning to feel that I will need help to get everything done to a decent standard, but I am at a SLAC and we don’t have TAs, or enough faculty to do much co-teaching.Report

Jordan
Jordan
9 months ago

Tools like PearDeck, which is an add-on to Google Slides, allow students to participate in a class discussion whether in person or at home. For example, if the teacher asks students a question like, “What do you notice? What do you wonder,” students could type their answers on their slide deck, and the teacher could then project their screen displaying student responses. Other tools like Padlet have a similar functionality. This tool could be useful for a chalk talk type activity or a gallery walk. Report

Aaron V Garrett
Aaron V Garrett
Reply to  Jordan
9 months ago

Thanks for this helpful suggestion.Report

A Professor
A Professor
9 months ago

I attended a department meeting remotely, a few days before our university shut down in March. 2/3 of the attendees were physically in the meeting room, and 1/3 of the attendees were attending remotely. It was hard for those of us who were remote — the microphone that was being used picked up many participants in the room clearly, but hardly picked up some participants at all, so we couldn’t follow the whole conversation. Of course, soon after that meeting, we were all on Zoom together, and that worked much better; I never had trouble hearing what anyone was saying. So my thoughts are: 1. Yes, hybrid is really hard. 2. The classroom needs multiple good microphones.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
9 months ago

I’ve done several dissertation defenses remotely (with most of the committee, and the candidate, physically present), and last week I did an all-Zoom meeting. I was struck by how much easier the latter was than the former- but I’m unclear if that’s an inescapable constraint or just meant that we haven’t figured out the best setup for hybrid meetings/teaching.Report

David Auerbach
David Auerbach
9 months ago

It isn’t just the tuition money. It’s all the student services money. All the rent that food franchises pay. Report

Jean
Jean
9 months ago

One of my worries about how things will work in the fall is that a lot of students will be on campus phoning into hybrid or online classes, not sitting at home at a desktop computer (as many were in the spring). That’s going to make it harder to implement some of the very cool suggestions in the linked page, which presuppose students can open multiple windows, type, etc etc. Not clear how many students on campus will be able to set themselves up for Ideal remote participation,Report

Alt Hybrid
Alt Hybrid
9 months ago

My department and university is using “hybrid” a bit differently than many of you, I believe. Due to physical distancing requirements, most of our classrooms cannot accommodate all of our students at one time. So many of us are putting lectures and other material online, and expecting half of our students to show up in person one day during the week and the other half to show up the other day. (Or one-third of the class shows up each time, if the class meets three times a week.) The in-class portion of the course will then be dedicated to something other than lecturing, but pinning that down has been a struggle for me, at least. After all, small group discussions seem to be excluded, given the distancing guidelines. I’m not sure if this will be better than a fully-online course, but I’m trying to figure out how to make it so, at least. If anyone has ideas, I’d like to hear them!Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
9 months ago

Those looking for empirical evidence may find this test run illuminating:

“Last week I simulated fall semester teaching with some students in the physical classroom and others connected remotely via Webex. My main objective for the demo was to identify possible points of failure in the technology that my university is thinking about purchasing, and in this I succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. ”
http://activelearningps.com/2020/06/22/simulating-covid-19-classroom-conditions/Report

TT
TT
Reply to  Derek Bowman
9 months ago

Thanks, Derek. This confirms my worry that trying to incorporate discussion from everyone on the same day is unlikely to work. Not that it can’t work. But it would seem to require top-notch technology, committed students, and a lot of luck. I lean towards splitting discussion in two: one for those physically present and one for those online. It makes more work for me, but it seems more likely to make the class worthwhile for more people (we are required to do hybrid if we don’t have a medical excuse).Report