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Hybrid Learning

Supporting Students and Faculty in the New Normal

As classrooms evolve to accommodate the flexibility and innovation of new learning models, it's important to provide ample training and resources for all constituents. Here are three key areas to consider.

hybrid learning

In the liminal space of 2020 now extending into 2022, educational institutions, like many other social constructs, have gotten a facelift, moving those who were still in the prehistoric zone of Flintstonian Bedrock to the Jetson domicile of Orbit City. Some have made the leap gracefully, while others are still rambling around in a Fred Flintstone-inspired Windsor knot tie with bare feet hidden from the view of the other Zoomers. Fred was more ready for Zoom than we realized.

The classrooms of the future are now both formal and informal spaces. The teaching podium can be the kitchen table looking into the all-seeing eye of a computer camera, or it can be in the front of a classroom that, if lucky, might be filled to 50% capacity with faces whose features are muted by the necessary veils of protection. Planning for these wide variations in places and spaces creates unique challenges for IT professionals, faculty and students. Digital natives are flexible enough to be able to jump from one medium to the next with little learning curve, while the non-natives often struggle to understand how transcending time and space for course delivery through the use of technology is even possible.

To alleviate the anxiety and the learning curve for all, a focus on three key areas can help.

1) Standardizing Technology

When selecting technologies — both software and hardware — campus standardization, user-friendliness and shelf life are important criteria. Taking these facets into consideration helps unify training and minimize costs for updating and upgrading. 

As classrooms have been retrofitted to meet the demands of new learning modalities, there are a few key pieces of equipment that are necessary. Speakers, cameras and microphones are needed for faculty members to be able to stream their class sessions from the classroom in live-time or record the class for future sharing. The cameras should be able to show the faculty member in the front of the classroom and also the students sitting in the room. Microphones need to be installed in such a way that they can pick up voices of students in the audience as well as hear the faculty member clearly. Because of the need to have much of this permanently installed in a classroom, classrooms also require computers and AV controller units that allow the faculty member to be able to more easily use all of the modern classroom equipment. The former days of walking into a classroom and hooking up a laptop to a VGA cable that is connected to the projector are gone. 

2) Designing for New Learning Modes

Students who have continued their education through the duration of the pandemic have seen institutions and instructors seek new ways to convey course content. This includes alterations to instructional modality, course structure, content delivery, assignment alterations, personal technology access and much more. Creating fluid instructional experiences allows students to be consumers of education in a "college my way" environment, and this flexibility might be here to stay.

Hyflex is one method employed by many institutions that may stand the test of time because it is built on four pillars that are foundational to technology-mediated teaching and learning.

4 Pillars of Hyflex Learning (Beatty, 2019)

  • Learner choice: Students have a choice to how they want to learn.
  • Equivalency: No matter what modality students choose, they receive an equivalent learning experience.
  • Reusability: Resources/artifacts from the learning experience are made available to all students.
  • Accessibility: All students have the necessary technical skills and access to all resources in all participation modes.

With any change in course delivery modality, altering instructional design to maximize effectiveness should be taken into consideration. Group work will look different, assessment of student learning outcomes may need altering, and information presentation may need to be revisited. The new learning medium can be both a creative playground and an intimidating environment at the same time, and responsiveness to students' need for course support is imperative.

Some instructional tools and techniques faculty have found useful in altering how they deliver content and interact with students include: synchronous and asynchronous Zoom sessions, virtual breakout rooms for collaboration, mid-lecture surveys, recorded lectures, exam proctoring services, virtual office hours, reverse classroom, VoiceThread and various other non-traditional ways to engage with students. 

3) Training and Support

As they interface through digital means, students and faculty will continue to need support systems, including support for hardware concerns, software struggles and updates, access to internet connectivity, training and loads of patience from all sides. It is crucial to not make assumptions that students and faculty already know how to use the university's learning management system (LMS). In order to properly support these systems, it is important to offer training and to have a university virtual/remote "Help Desk" that can offer support as needed for both students and faculty members to be able to use the systems correctly. As with most things in IT, the better the training and support is, the better the adoption and level of use of the technology. 

Developing training and support that is easily accessible was essential during the pandemic and will continue to be offered into the future. For instance, one example of a hands-on opportunity for training and support is the Q&A Café (a virtual IT support meeting), developed as a regularly scheduled, synchronous session where faculty and staff can come together to have their technology-related questions answered immediately by an IT staff member. Another way to determine what training is needed and ensure that professional development is continuing to improve: Regularly solicit feedback about desired trainings. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have reached out with surveys to our students, staff and faculty about what training they need. We then use that information to create training modules or classes to help in those areas. The key to success is pace: Introduce usable technologies to faculty at a rate that is innovative but not overwhelming, reminding faculty often when it is a requirement to add new practices, and when it is only an optional suggestion.

Making the Most of Lessons Learned

Classrooms are not the only area that have had to use innovation ways to reach students. To meet students where they were during the lockdown phase of the pandemic, student services such as virtual meetings, counseling sessions, remote testing services, and new considerations for electronic course materials were all introduced. Some of these developments will continue to be used, while others may eventually go by the wayside. What cannot go by the wayside are the lessons learned and the realities highlighted through these experiences.

We have learned we can use technology to deliver quality instruction and to support remote work functions. We have uncovered the power and promise of being able to reach people with learning and work experiences wherever they are. We have learned the value of human interaction. And we have also learned that America's digital divide is vast. We know that not everyone has the same access to quality high-speed internet (or in some cases, any internet at all) at their residence. From the pandemic and surveys, we learned that often students at home are sharing not only a computing device but also their internet connection. Just like when you share a piece of pie, when you split a less-than-ideal wireless connection over numerous devices, everybody gets a smaller piece of the pie. That sliver of bandwidth can sometimes make it difficult to accomplish school and office work remotely.

Merging these lessons and realities will help campus administrators plan and prioritize if they choose to look up and out in order to not run the risk of being Fred Flintstone in Orbit City.

In the fog of crisis response, we have paved a path through the technology wormhole and have emerged in what promises to be a new reality for the future of work and learning. Our challenge is how do we make that new reality better for everyone.

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