Initially, hybrid education was introduced as a short-term solution to the inconvenience presented by the global Covid-19 pandemic. Yet as another year draws to a close, we are faced with the suspicion that hybrid education is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Students and teaching staff alike struggle with this concept. After all, how do you navigate a classroom where half of the students are physically present, while the rest tunes in online, frequently struggling to see or hear what is going on in the on-campus session?
To support the UM community in this process, EDLAB hosted its very first co-creation session tackling the issue of hybrid education using insights from both the student and teaching perspective. Following an initial discussion round, participants were divided into three sub-groups to examine different aspects of hybrid education presented to effect learning in tutorials and formulated tentative solutions to these.
Didactics in hybrid education
The first group discussed the aspect of didactics in hybrid education, exploring how to best safeguard the PBL ideal of CCCS: Contextual, Collaborative, Constitutive and Self-directed learning. The group identified a number of key challenges to this, most notably the difficulty of engaging online and in-person participants alike. This frequently would lead to a division in motivation, where online students would turn off their camera and simply watch but not engage with what is going on. As such, the co-creation of content as a tutorial group was hindered and the collaborative character intrinsic to CCCS eroded. Moreover, participants lamented the unclarity of the role of the tutor in all of this. Are tutors now moderators? What are the expectations? How can they be trained?
Upon further discussion the group presented a variety of tentative solutions to current problems with didactics in hybrid education. An important initial step to promote engagement that tutors can take is to check-in with their students regularly. See where each one is at today and ensure that all students get to speak. This way, tutors can model behaviors that support better communication between online and on-campus students. Another practical approach to ensure student engagement would be to also assign online students’ roles necessary to the discussion – give them a sense of responsibility for the group process. Overall, it seems that tutors must take on a stronger role in regard to initiation and activation amongst students during hybrid education. To prepare teaching staff for this, the group noted that more trainings need to be available to navigate hybrid teaching.
Etiquettes in hybrid education
The second group in this session discussed the aspects of etiquettes in hybrid education, inquiring into the rules of engagement to shape the best possible classroom culture. They noted the problem of a lack of united, explicit vision. What kind of classroom culture do we want in the first place with hybrid education? Is the on-site tutorial the golden standard for hybrid education? This further leads to the problem of an unclear responsibility division. After all, who is now responsible for managing this complex group dynamic?
The group then formulated a handful of tentative solutions for the current issues surrounding etiquettes in a hybrid setting. The first crucial step is for a tutor to develop a clear vision of how they would like hybrid education to function in their classroom. They then are encouraged to discuss their vision with the class and adapt it accordingly. The group also introduced the notion of a “hybrid education contract” where the class would spell out and affirm their shared vision to manage expectations and behaviors throughout the course. Furthermore, tutors should reserve time for periodic reflections with the class on how the hybrid education has been working and what may still need to be adapted for optimal learning. All of this would ensure the creation of explicit and effective rules of engagement that can guide a class through hybrid education.
Technology in hybrid education
The third group tackled the problems associated with the aspect of technology in hybrid education. They identified the most pressing technological issues UM is currently facing as the following: Limited sound and camera scope make it difficult for online students to fully follow the tutorials; the problem of drawing and making diagrams in class, so both online and offline participants can follow; and the issue of transmission delay.
The group identified a host of tentative solutions to begin to remedy at least some of the current technological problems surrounding hybrid education. To allow online participants to follow the class optimally, the university should aim to install smart cameras and microphones that can catch the full scope of what is going on in person. Until then, tutors may already achieve improvements through re-arranging the classroom set up in line with the camera angle. For all students to be able to follow the note-taking equally, tutors may assign two people to do the job – one in class on the whiteboard, the other online. Furthermore, to make the most effective use of the equipment we currently have, a UM-wide equipment inventory should be developed. This may allow cross-faculty sharing of equipment necessary for the specific needs of a course or allow faculties to try out technology they may want to invest in. To also ensure that tutors can incorporate the technology currently available, there is a need for an equipment support desk. Quite a few of the solutions proposed in this session are currently being explored in the EDLAB research project on blended learning called EDvance. If you are curious to learn more about what EDvance is currently up to, then have a look here!
We would like to thank all participants for their valuable insights – this meeting was an attest to the fruitful discussion on education that can emerge when student and teaching staff united in their quest for solutions! We will continue to make use of the concept of co-creation events to ensure education innovation at UM, the next session will discuss the question of how to incorporate valuable feedback for effective learning. For more information have a look here and we hope to see you at a future co-creation event.