Hybrid Teaching Review
The new modality of the online class, brought to us by COVID-19 and the necessity of teaching students in person and online simultaneously, is known as the “hybrid” class. Formerly a “hybrid” course would be considered as one that mixed online asynchronous resources with an in-person class session. In the early days of online learning, a variety of experiments in “flipped” classrooms made use of this format and some promising new technologies and pedagogies were developed.
As we all have been forced to teach students in a mix of locations – both in person and remote – we all are needing to learn new techniques for providing an engaging classroom environment for both the in-person students, and one that also includes the remote students fully. This requires a mix of classroom hardware to facilitated video and audio linkages to remote students, and an admirable concentration on the part of the instructor who now has to juggle the various technologies in the classroom, and monitor the engagement of both audiences simultaneously, deploying a mix of techniques that will be effective for both audiences.
A variety of articles have been written on this topic, which are included with short summaries below. I hope these resources will be useful for instructors beginning their journey into hybrid teaching.
Josh Blackman, a law professor from Houston, has written an article in the online publication reason, on “The Difficulties of Teaching a ‘Hybrid’ Class.” This article is available here:
In the article, Dr. Blackman points out that the hybrid instruction is “the most difficult method, by far” among the options of in person, remote or mixed. The tension between the needs and pedagogy that would be best for both groups os students is succinctly summarized by Dr. Blackman:
“Pedagogy aimed at facilitating online discussion (like checking the chat feature and waiting for a student’s video feed to buffer) will annoy students in class. And pedagogy aimed at the warm bodies in the room (writing on the white board or calling on a student out of the microphone’s range) will annoy the students at home. Pedagogy aimed at satisfying both groups will fail to satisfy either.”
The importance of having the right technology in the classroom is noted, and in larger classes the difficulty of providing proper microphones and video for all students is especially difficult. Dr. Blackman enumerates the daunting list of things a professor will need to do to make things work well:
- “Professors will have to monitor the Zoom queue to check for blue hands.
- Professors will have to read sometimes lengthy questions on the chat, and decide if they merit attention. Doing so distracts from classroom flow. I find that ignoring a time-sucking comment saves time, but frustrates students who feels ignored. You can’t win.
- Professors will have to keep an eye on the Zoom grid to see if people are actually on camera or not. Professors should be careful to look at the grid on the podium computer (perhaps several feet away). Professors should not turn their back on the students in the class to watch the Zoom grid on the projector.
- Professors will still have to run their powerpoint presentation, or other visual materials.
- Professors will have to keep track of the screen share feature so that the students at home can follow the presentation.
- Professors will have to use polling features to asses the performance of students in class and at home.”
Dr. Blackman recommends the use of three monitors to make this juggling process easier. One monitor can be used to see all the students in a “Zoom grid” while a second monitor can work with the chat feature and the queue of questions. A third monitor for use with a powerpoint presentation is also needed. Careful placement of microphones and staging of the video monitors behind the instructor is also vital. It is noted that behind the instructor one should NEVER project the video of the instructor, as the time delay and mirroring effect can be very disruptive.
From reading the article I came away thinking a good setup would be a pair of displays behind the instructor – one showing the Zoom grid of students and one showing the powerpoint presentation – would be optimal. Then a set of 2-3 monitors facing the instructor would also be needed. One display would be used for the presentation powerpoint (and mirroring the display facing the students) and one to include the Zoom grid (also mirrored by the display facing the students). I also recognized that it would be helpful to have a camera to show the instructor – and allow the instructor to interact with the monitor showing the classroom presentation, as well as a camera facing the class. This could break up the potential dynamic of a group of students in class all hunched over their laptops and not able to talk with each other.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a raft of articles on hybrid teaching. I include links to those articles below, with short commentary.
Beth McMurtrie wrote an article in the Chronicle entitled, “Colleges Say Hybrid Courses Will Make the Fall a Success. But Will Students Get the Worst of Both Worlds?” This article is available here:
This article focuses on the awkward dynamics of teaching online and in person simultaneously with examples from specific instructors around the country. The article notes that the “hybrid” model we are discussing was originally developed at San Francisco State University in 2006 to help working adults attend class. The model in that context was known as the Hybrid-Flexible Course Design or “HyFlex” teaching model, and this has been described in more detail in an article by Brian J. Beatty. The article discusses how various campuses, including UC Irvine, had discussed using HyFlex teaching for Fall 2020 but met with strong objections from faculty, who instead prefer either all online or all in person instruction in their classes. The article discusses some of the concerns that Rob Elliot, a computer technology professor in Indiana has developed with the Hyflex technique, some of the innovations that various universities have brought to the technique, such as the Northern Arizona University NAUFlex teaching mode, and the Shenandoah University ShenFlex teaching mode. Northeastern University has its own flavor of Hyflex as well, known as NUFlex, and all three of these campuses have been working to outfit classrooms with advanced technology and also to work with clever scheduling tools to reduce the number of students in the classroom to enable 6-foot social distancing.
To enable wider access to the wonderful book written by Brian J. Beatty from San Francisco State University, I include a link to a free copy of his Hyflex book below. The book is licensed with a Creative Commons license which allows us “to do with it as you please as long as you properly attribute it” and so I am thankful for pioneers like Dr. Beatty who have made materials like this available to us for helping with our online teaching. The book is available online at the site https://edtechbooks.org/pdfs/print/hyflex/_hyflex.pdf.
The Chronicle of Higher Education also has a series of newsletter memos on online teaching and the HyFlex model, also written by Beth McMurtrie. These are summarized below:
A July 9, 2020 memo shares expert advice from Jenae Cohn, an academic-technology specialist for the program in writing and rhetoric at Stanford University, about the HyFlex model. Her advice is to “Design a fully online class and think of the in-person part of it as an enhancement to the core of your coursework.” This way the in-person part is not given too much weight. In this mode the class time is a place to “connect and regroup” and to review content. This prevents an unfair dynamic where remote students are forced to watch as you have a lively and engaging time with the in-person students. A clever tip is to pair up remote and in-class students with zoom chat rooms to work on problems together. Another expert, Derek Bruff, director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University, notes that active learning is difficult with students wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart. The solution is to “lean into technology” and make extensive use of live polling, and make use of chat and other technology to knit together students in conversation. Another way to build community is to use collaborative note taking – where students together work on an online shared document during a discussion. These notes can be used both to summarize the discussion and also to bring collaborations together among the students. A technique known as the “fishbowl” is also recommended, where a group discusses a topic and remote students observe and then provide comments. Then the roles can be reversed, with the online students discussing and the in-class students observing and providing comments.
A July 30, 2020 memo provides follow-up answers to questions that faculty have raised about hybrid teaching. These include answers to questions such as “how do I learn my students’ names while everyone is wearing masks?” (answer: discussion forum in a learning management system for introductions; can also include student videos). Another question is related to managing the difficult audio challenges in the hybrid class and having discussion. The memo suggests using text chat for discussion – which can include one of the students who can take on the role of “voice of the chat” (which allows the student to read out questions, highlight points that are coming up frequently in chat and help all the students to be heard), and also recommends using Zoom’s Live Polling feature.
An August 8, 2020 memo provides more discussion about how to manage sound issues in a hybrid class, tips for using chat and online documents to help students interact in class, and a very useful compendium of articles for more detailed and comprehensive guides to Hybrid teaching. The memo recommends a few articles which are listed here – Oregon State University has a “searchable Online Learning Efficacy Research Database, which includes academic studies on learning outcomes of hybrid and online education compared with face-to-face education. The database houses more than 100 peer-reviewed studies about blended and hybrid learning.” The memo also recommended The Blended Course Design Workbook by Kathryn E. Linder, the former research director of eCampus and now executive director for program development at Kansas State University Global Campus, which is described as “a comprehensive guide to evidence-based hybrid pedagogy, technology, and design.” Two additional articles were recommended by Jenae Cohn: Challenges of Student Equity and Engagement in a HyFlex Course, by Sebastian Binnewies and Zhe Wang (2019) and Learning style, sense of community and learning effectiveness in hybrid learning environment, by Bryan Chen and Hua-Huei Chiou (2014).
Among the many articles and resources within the Chronicle memos was a notable website with many tips about online hybrid teaching prepared by Jose Antonio Bowen, former President of Goucher College and author of the book Teaching Naked. This article seemed very helpful so I wanted to provide a brief summary below. The article is entitled “The Hyflex Flip” and is available at: https://teachingnaked.com/the-hyflex-flip-planning-for-courses-in-fall-2020/.
Dr. Bowen gives a point by point guide to using the “Hyflex” model effectively. He makes the point of stressing to use asynchronous materials extensively in a hybrid class. According to Bowen, “With hyflex, there is less need for large synchronous gatherings and even your on-campus students will appreciate the flexibility of asynchronous video content.” By reducing reliance on synchronous class time, it frees up more time for small group work with both remote and on campus students. Bowen recommends liberally using already existing videos that cover similar content online where appropriate, instead of relying completely on your own abilities to produce a vast number of online programs. By clever scheduling, and making use of evening and weekends, it will be possible to reach all of the students. The time saved from creating and repeating lecture materials can be deployed toward these small group and individual meetings. Bowen also recommends using the jigsaw pedagogy, whereby students can be asked to research topics in groups of 5 and teach each other and then teach the class about what they have learned. To make the experience more personal, Bowen also recommends using “personalized support videos” that give tips on the readings or short videos helping students through difficult concepts. Bowen recommends the “fishbowl discussion” and gives some details about this technique:
“If you really have to hold synchronous hyflex sections, note that a fishbowl discussion can work. One group actively discusses and the other group observes, awards points, scores using a rubric, or makes written commentary. Then you switch. If you switch between F2F and online then both groups get a crack at being center stage and you solve some of the microphone and other issues.”
The article he cites, written by Jeremy Knoll, gives a very detailed account of how to structure a fishbowl discussion and make it work effectively with both in person and online students. This article is available here:
The final article I have studied comes from Williams College and is a booklet for “Strategies and Tips for teaching Hybrid and Remote Courses” which came from the “Teach Summer 2020 program” and is available at:
The guide is very effective and concise and gives 10 different sections that include
Different models of teaching a hybrid course – Some different models of teaching a hybrid course, with the relative advantages and disadvantages of each.
Thoughts on teaching in a socially distanced classroom – Challenges of teaching in a socially distanced classroom, with some potential solutions.
Strategies to help students manage an online course – The particular challenges that students face in an online classroom, with some potential solutions.
Strategies for keeping students engaged in an online course – Some simple tactics for maintaining student engagement during a synchronous, online course.
Tips for building community in a hybrid or remote course – Some simple and tangible ways to build classroom community in hybrid and remote courses.
Considerations for designing and grading assessments – Special considerations for designing and evaluating assessments in hybrid or remote courses.
Designing an accessible and inclusive course – Simple ways to ensure that a hybrid or remote course is accessible and inclusive to all students.
Helpful information to share on or before the first day of class – The most important details to provide students at the very beginning of the semester.
Some simple technology that may be useful – Some simple devices and technologies that might be helpful for achieving goals in hybrid and remote courses.
Glossary of remote and hybrid teaching terms – Definitions of terms commonly used to describe hybrid and remote courses.
The booklet is too detailed to summarize here, and includes many of the tips and ideas included in the articles above. Some of the uniquely useful parts of this booklet include the ideas for building community, making a course accessible and inclusive and how to share information with students as the course starts. These ideas are essential for preserving the sense of interdependence and building a positive social learning environment, and are well worth studying.