If you’re scheduled to teach in-person, but some of your students can’t make it to class due to extreme weather, isolation, transport disruption, caring duties or other obstacles – what do you do? Hybrid learning and teaching delivery is one solution to this need for flexibility. With the continual disruptions we’ve all experienced in the last few years, there have been many opportunities to experiment, learn and reflect on what works well.
Hybrid delivery can get complicated, with multiple ways to interact in-person and virtually in different types of lectures, tutorials, workshops, labs and large collaborative classrooms.
Zooming out, however, it’s useful to look at hybrid through three lenses:
- what is said (words and voices)
- what is done (tasks and technology)
- how we engage (people and interactions)
With hybrid, preparation is everything. Sharing slides and other resources with students in advance of the session, for example, can help less confident students warm up, and can mitigate technical issues in the live session. Likewise, if you have a big class, complex interactions, or are using a room for the first time, a ‘dress rehearsal’ using the equipment in the room and testing planned activities is a must.
Also consider whether you can design the session first with online students in mind, then extend to accommodate those attending in-person. This can help you think about what everyone needs to see, hear and do for a good learning experience, rather than retro-fitting for a minority. If you can bring in a ‘co-pilot’ who can help to monitor and engage across one or both spaces for your session, even better!
Now you’ve got the planning underway, you can start to think about how words, tasks and interactions come together in this hybrid environment.
🎤 Words and voice: what’s being said?
Rules of engagement
‘House rules’ help everyone understand what’s expected and how to participate in class. These might include reminders about how to use tech features (e.g. ask questions in the chat) or how to work inclusively with peers both in and out of the room. You can develop the rules yourself, or get your students to collaboratively develop their own engagement rules. Try online tools like a shared document or an open question poll to invite suggestions.
Hybrid spaces can get noisy! If you and your students are using multiple devices for in-class activity via Zoom or Teams, make sure these are muted. In-class discussions are hard for online participants to engage with, so conversation needs to be carefully managed or discussions moved into breakout rooms for more interactive tasks.
Bear in mind that some students may have accessibility requirements related to audio and hearing. Check that your plans are in line with inclusive and accessible practices, and be open to students who need to request alternative ways to be included in class discussions.
Bonus tip: if you’re in a room with a lapel mic and roving microphones, all of these are already mixed into a ‘single’ stream to help avoid audio feedback.
Can you repeat the question?
‘Repeat and relay’ is a classic roaming talk-show host approach, especially in acoustically challenging spaces. This clarifies the discussion for all participants, is helpful if you are recording the session, and it helps online participants stay engaged and feel included.
💻 Tasks and tech: what’s being done?
Make friends with mic
In addition to repeat and relay techniques, embrace your inner performer and try using a lapel or portable microphone to make managing sound easier. If you don’t have one of these, you could experiment with joining a Zoom meeting via the Zoom app on your phone, and use that as your mic (with your hands-free earbuds). Toggle your microphone on/off as needed, to manage noise and audio feedback.
Poll it like you own it
Online polls are an ideal activity for icebreakers, knowledge checks and inviting whole-class opinions in hybrid classes, as they can be accessed by students in class and online at the same time. Students can use Mentimeter, for instance, on their phones or laptops wherever they are. Create online polls in advance so they’re ready to launch on the day.
Use the lectern computer for content and use your own device, if you have one, to see what your online students are seeing, or to provide alternative camera views.
🤝 Interactions and people: how are we engaging?
Stay warm (and inclusive)
‘Warm calling’ involves telling students ahead of time that you will be calling on them in session. This gives students time to prepare thoughtful responses that benefit everyone, and to feel valued by contributing. ‘Cold calling’, where you call on students to answer a question in class without warning, can lead to ‘dead air’ online, as less confident students may be reluctant to offer responses under pressure.
Find your groups
In an ideal world, online and in-class students would be able to collaborate seamlessly, regardless of location. For group work and discussions, however, this isn’t always practical, especially when classroom spaces are lively and there’s lots of interaction. Make the most of the technology you have and group your students together based on their in-class or remote location. Once they’ve collaborated in their groups, get them back together to share across the locations.
Let’s (watch) party!
Watch party lectures offer another take on hybrid, combining asynchronous and synchronous teaching approaches. Students watch a recorded lecture with opportunities for pauses and questions. The teacher can provide commentary, pause/play and layer additional activities and discussion into the session. This brings online and in-class students together into one interactive, potentially more equitable, space. Watch parties can also be initiated by the students themselves in study groups, without the teacher. They are a great way for students to revise, discuss, annotate and analyse pre-recorded lecture content.
A continuing challenge
While we want to emphasise the importance of delivering the best on-campus and online experiences, and the best of both worlds as blended learning, it’s clear that the hybrid learning experience is still a reality in higher education. What have your hybrid experiences been? Let us know in the comments section below. For more on hybrid learning and teaching, take a look at two other posts in this series: