Hybrid courses (also known as blended courses) mix face-to-face instruction with various kinds of online learning. Students in hybrid courses are expected to participate in both online and in-person parts of the class. Hybrid courses have been traditionally been used for low-residency college and graduate student programs, courses for adult learners who cannot fit as much traditional classroom time into their schedules, and, increasingly, as a way to reduce face-to-face time due to the risks from COVID-19. Hybrid courses can also serve as a way for students and educators to see how they feel about online-only instruction.
However, hybrid teaching should not be thought of as just the average of traditional face-to-face learning and online courses. Rather, they are their own specialized format and require specific strategies to keep students engaged and involved with both the online and in-person portions of the class.
Here are five tips that can help you navigate hybrid teaching in the current environment.
1. Treat In-Person and Virtual Classroom Time As Equally Valuable
Because hybrid and virtual classes are new for many students, there is risk that some students will view the online portion of a hybrid class as less essential to their skills attainment and to their grade. By setting clear expectations for participation in your hybrid class in advance, you can help navigate this issue. Other ways to address this potential problem include acknowledging that every student may have parts of the class they prefer – whether that’s specific types of assignments, specific topics, or specific ways of receiving content.
Letting students know those preferences are okay, while also highlighting the need to meet requirements can help diffuse discomfort some students may experience in some learning environments. This will also open the door to feedback that can help you make your class even more responsive to student needs.
2. Use Virtual Classroom Features to Build Community
The online components of your hybrid teaching provide unique opportunities for you and your students to establish community. Consider asking students to introduce themselves in the virtual environment before your class starts or within the first week. This allows students to showcase their creativity and talk about what’s important to them using the asynchronous features of hybrid learning. This prevents introductions from cutting into limited face-to-face learning time, while still providing ways for students to get to know each other.
3. Group Projects Can Help Students Strengthen Skills
Group projects are particularly valuable to hybrid teaching in 2020, because they can help build class cohesion and community during a time when many students feel isolated during the pandemic. Group projects also have the benefit of encouraging peer-to-peer teaching. This can help your students become confident in their knowledge and also support those learners who are less comfortable with the online portion of the course to receive peer support and instruction. Additionally, students who are more reticent to participate in face-to-face classroom activities can receive encouragement and support from their group project teams to be more outgoing in the traditional classroom setting as well.
Group projects, however, can sometimes get a bad rap. Some students may have memories of other courses where not everyone in the group did their fair share. For this reason, you’ll need to teach students not just about the subject material at hand, but also about group dynamics, problem solving, and project management. This will make group activities more valuable for your students and less stressful for you as their instructor.
4. Online Learning Isn’t Just About Lectures
For the online-learning portions of your hybrid classes, be sure to use a range of virtual classroom tools. Yes, video lectures students can watch on their own time are a great start, but keeping students engaged means taking advantage of a range of virtual features. These include lean-forward video techniques, online quizzing, group note-taking, shared virtual white boards, and asynchronous message board discussions on the presented material. This will help students be more engaged with the material, with each other, and with you the instructor. With access to these sorts of features and activities, students won’t view online learning as a passive experience.
Setting clear class requirements is essential so that students know where to focus their efforts. However, teaching a hybrid class in 2020 is unavoidably about flexibility. The reality of the COVID-19 pandemic means that students may not always have a quiet place to work remotely and may also face schedule disruptions due to shifting family needs, work schedules, childcare obligations, and possible illness. Making sure you are available to students both remotely and in person to discuss concerns will allow you to address issues before they become problems. Additionally, providing ways for students to make up missed assignments or recover from lost points may be more essential than ever. In a challenging time, you may find more student success if you focus your syllabus on knowledge attainment that can be achieved in more than one way.
In many ways, hybrid courses are a great opportunity for students and teachers to discover everything virtual learning can bring to both fully-remote and more traditional classroom experiences. Students and instructors alike with have the opportunity to connect in multiple ways that will ease the strains of the social distancing required by the pandemic, while also gaining valuable skills that will help them navigate today’s distributed workplaces.