This blog is co-written by David Yeats, Andrew Francois and Lucy Blakemore
“Check yourself before you EdTech yourself” was how one attendee surmised the message of an event that proved to be rich in techniques and diverse in perspectives. Our cross-institutional panel explored what it means to successfully run a subject in mixed-mode delivery (MMD) – simultaneously teaching students in a classroom on-campus and remote/online. If you haven’t come across mixed mode before, this introductory post takes you through some of the core concepts.
Exploring examples of mixed-mode delivery
Matt Bower spoke first about the ongoing cross-institutional ‘BlendSync’ project and its collection of seven case studies. The project examines how on-campus and remote learning can be united in different ways, using a variety of tools such as video conferencing and virtual worlds. Matt shared the results of the team’s analysis of these case studies, including a Learning Design Framework summarising practices in pedagogy, technology and logistics which can make a positive contribution to student experience in mixed mode.
Michael Henderson reflected on more than a decade of teaching in hybrid ways with 30-60 students in a mix of didactic and tutorial methods. He discussed the challenges of engagement in mixed mode environments and shared practical suggestions for being productive together in these class spaces.
Some additional themes emerging from these and the broader panel discussion are summarised below. You can also watch a recording of the session in full.
The challenge of ‘presence’ in multiple locations
During the panel discussions, our speakers noted the difficulty of managing both teacher and student presence when not everyone is simultaneously in the same spaces. In particular, Michael noted that online students easily get lost in the face-to-face classroom but the on-campus students should be represented online too.
Teacher ‘presence’ is also a challenge, not least because a teacher is usually in a physical location with some, but not all students. This means that in addition to the usual flow and management of an interactive session, attention must be shared to include both online and on-campus needs. Those experienced in mixed-mode delivery were particularly aware of the cognitive load a teacher must bear when managing and facilitating learning across multiple modes – even before any technical challenges are encountered! (For this reason Michael emphasised the need for an assistant, even if it is a keen student.)
Our speakers had experimented with various ways to establish presence and belonging – sometimes just a well-placed tablet as a camera for participants provided the window into a classroom that online participants needed to feel part of the room; likewise, giving on-campus students a chance to have a direct interaction with those online greatly improved satisfaction.
Exploring equity in the student experience
Our speakers honed in on some tough questions around equitable opportunities to learn and engage in a mixed-mode environment. This was especially evident in highly practical subjects such as science, where students were not able to interact physically with equipment.
In some cases, teaching staff looked at how students could be partnered up for activities such as lab work, with one student in the lab and their partner connected via a mobile device camera. Science academics such as Annette and Samantha have been striving to implement mixed modes of delivery for all their students in lab-based subjects. Overall, those who do it state that it’s worth the effort, providing fertile ground in which to explore diverse perspectives, rich media, feedback loops, and dynamic experience with your students.
Mixed mode might also just be a small part of a solution to a delivery format that addresses the equity of student experience and opportunity to achieve the desired learning outcomes.
This can be achieved with an ‘online first’ mentality that helps build equity into the learning experience. This is achieved via flipped and asynchronous learning activities complemented by synchronous consolidation sessions.
Mix it up and break things down into shorter, more diverse activities, and stick to mixed mode for the times when it really matters and is of most value to students, eg. discussions, seminars, simulations, case studies, industry guests and presentations. Getting everyone online together over Zoom or MSTeams is an opportunity to establish teacher presence, build social cohesion and a sense of belonging. Just don’t think of synchronous delivery as a way to deliver long powerpoint lectures like you used to.
Sometimes not attempting MMD might alternatively be your best option – or at least keeping it to a minimum. It is not a solution for everyone or every subject.
The more we explore MMD, the richer and more complex the field becomes. Considering all the variables – you don’t need to attempt to transform everything at once, just focus on where you see the easiest opportunities to experiment until you are comfortable with managing the delivery format and find the right balance. Actually trying it out for yourself is the fastest way to make mistakes and learn from each teachable moment.