Hybrid classrooms, in which some students attend in person and some students attend remotely, aren’t new, but they are getting more popular. If you guessed that’s because of the current pandemic, you’d be right, but that’s not the only reason hybrid classrooms are a fantastic offering for teachers and institutions to be able to provide.
What are the benefits of a hybrid classroom?
There are lots of benefits to having a hybrid classroom available. One group of benefits centers around COVID-19 wellbeing and precautions. Put simply, a hybrid classroom allows students and their families to choose the learning situation that’s best – and safest – for them.
With a hybrid classroom, students who prefer in-person learning can attend class in the traditional way, but students who may be at higher risk can choose to learn from home. But in this case, being at home won’t separate them from their peers – they’ll still be able to participate in the class alongside those attending in person. Additionally, with some students in the classroom in person and others logging in remotely, the number of students in physical class spaces can be reduced, allowing for greater in-person safety through social distancing.
A hybrid classroom that is also HyFlex (in which students can choose whether they attend in person or remotely on a class-by-class basis) has additional pandemic-related benefits. For example, students who need to isolate in preparation for a gathering or while waiting for test results can continue to be part of the classroom experience.
But the pandemic isn’t the only reason a hybrid classroom can be a huge benefit to your students. Hybrid learning can boost engagement and allows a wider range of students to attend classes. Whether this means playing host to students outside your immediate geographic area or being able to better integrate non-traditional students who are juggling class time with jobs and family obligations, the availability of a hybrid classroom makes education obtainable to a wider variety of students. This, in turn, can enhance your classroom’s diversity, provide new perspectives, and expand the learning experience for all your students.
How to Plan Your Next Hybrid Classroom
A hybrid classroom requires advance planning in terms of technology, syllabus, and student participation. If you’re creating a hybrid classroom plan – whether it’s your first or your fiftieth – be sure to consider these seven tips and suggestions.
- Make sure you’re using the best technology for your hybrid classroom. We’ve all had to adapt so quickly lately that it might be easy to think that any software that provides basic video calls will work for your hybrid classroom. While that’s technically true, basic video calling software isn’t actually designed for classroom use. The right virtual classroom technology for a hybrid classroom goes beyond allowing participants to see each other and comes packed with tools to enhance the learning experience. Look for features like chat, virtual white boards, breakout rooms, interactive quizzing, moderation features, discussion forums, and more.
- Familiarize yourself with the technology… and make sure your students do too. We all want to hit the ground running, but to do that with a hybrid classroom requires students and teachers get familiar with the tools they’ll be using. Let remote students know what they’ll need and hold a session in advance of the first class just to test out the technology together. In person students should also be familiarized with and included in technology use and learning whenever possible and will also need preparation to be successful in a hybrid classroom before learning begins. If it’s not possible to provide students with this type of training and access before the first day of class, make sure the class session is solely dedicated to getting comfortable with the tools… and each other. Be sure to plan your syllabus for your hybrid classroom accordingly or else you may find yourself falling behind, and your students may get overwhelmed.
- A successful hybrid classroom is about building community. Making sure all students feel equally valued and engaged no matter where they are learning from is your top priority. While technology can be a great equalizer, the true secret to classroom inclusion is community building. Remember, in a hybrid classroom community is about more than access and participation… it’s also about caring, especially during the pandemic and its disruptions. Make sure your students have time to get to know each other and their perspectives whether they are joining you from the physical classroom or the virtual one.
- Prioritize activities and assignments that allow in-person learners and virtual learners to work together. In a hybrid classroom, this includes both in-class and take-home work. This doesn’t mean that all assignments need to be collaborative, but this type of working together is key to fostering community in a hybrid classroom. Don’t just assume, however, that students already know how to manage group projects. You’ll need to give them information related to brainstorming, project management, and conflict resolution to achieve success and to make sure all students contribute fairly to their team’s work load.
- Think cooperatively, not competitively. You’re probably already getting the hint on this one since we’re talking about the benefits of community building and group assignments to hybrid classrooms. But a hybrid classroom’s goals should focus on getting all students to achieve a strong command of the material, and not on ranking the students against each other. Be sure to set grade metrics that mean students are only competing against themselves. Also consider including graded components that reward cooperation, compassion, and problem-solving. After all, success isn’t only about getting things right, it’s about knowing what to do when things go differently than expected.
- Make sure the requirements for all students, regardless of whether they are remote or in-person as similar as possible. If you’re new to running a hybrid classroom, it can be easy to assume that some students have it easier than others, but learning – and learning during a pandemic – is complicated for all of us. Don’t, for example, assume that attendance is easier for students learning remotely. While students attending a class in person may face challenges with transportation, students attending a class from home may face challenges with computer and internet resources in their household. In a hybrid classroom it’s important to hold all students to the same standards in a way that is also fair, flexible, and understanding.
- Be sure to provide instruction on navigating the digital world. Learning in a hybrid classroom is about more than the course subject material. While some of your students may already be deeply involved in online activities and social media, some won’t. Be sure to discuss internet citizenship by offering instruction on online etiquette, information evaluation, and privacy-related topics with your students. Remind them that there’s always a real person on the other side of the screen in their hybrid classroom and beyond.
While many have expressed worries about students falling behind academically during this time, hybrid classrooms are one way to help ensure that doesn’t happen. Additionally, hybrid classrooms provide the opportunity to teach life and work skills that go beyond just what’s on the syllabus.
Of course, running a hybrid classroom isn’t without challenges – technology and people are never perfect. And running a hybrid classroom right now, during a pandemic, can be particularly hard. Be ready to problem solve, pivot, and err on the side of compassion and be ready to encourage your students to do the same.