4 tips to prepare for a new phase of hybrid learning

Nhi Nguyen
Rebecca LeBoeuf
Rebecca LeBoeuf
September 23, 2021
Table of Contents
A complete guide to flexible course design that promotes active learning, student engagement, and retention.
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Without doubt, flexible teaching will take over as the dominant course delivery method for the Fall semester 2021 and beyond. Hybrid, blended, and hyflex courses allow institutions to ensure accessibility and equality, and at the same time, address learner variability.

According to Kelly Hogan, associate dean at the University of North Carolina, in the latest report from The Chronicles of Higher Education:

The Hyflex model is going to become more important in the fall because of international and immunocompromised students, or those who don’t want to return.

With the rise of mixed classrooms, academics face the challenge of delivering effective, engaging lessons for both in-person and online learners. Instructors, therefore, are in high need of professional training, effective practices, and teaching communities in hybrid and online course design.

Jenae Cohn, director of academic technology at California State University, Sacramento, shared 4 key recommendations to consider when preparing for a new phase of hybrid teaching.

You can find Jenae’s full article in The Future of Teaching: How the classroom is being transformed, the latest report from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

In this article, we’d like to elaborate on each of these key elements and how educational technology can support and enhance flexible pedagogy.

For more insights into how you can implement flexible teaching, check out our latest guide to help you design meaningful learning experience in any course modality – Quality online teaching and learning: Achieving the higher education we deserve

1 | Focus less on the differences between synchronous and asynchronous instruction - and more on where, how, and why learning happen

Education should focus on building meaningful interactions and dialogues within the classroom, rather than on when and where the learning should take place.

“As long as there are opportunities for online students to check in with one another and with the instructor, it doesn’t especially matter if their interactions happen in real time or not - as long as they happen.” - Jenae Cohn

In order to build meaningful interactions both online and in-person, here are some effective practices you can utilize to initiate interactive and motivating hybrid/hyflex classrooms:

Design interactive learning activities

By simply adding several discussion points to your teaching materials for students to engage with, you can instantly initiate more active participation within the virtual classroom. For example, FeedbackFruits’ LMS plugin Interactive Study Materials allows instructors to enrich videos, documents, and audio for students by including questions, prompting comments, and promoting discussion threads, all within one interface. Furthermore, these interactive activities are appropriate for both synchronous and asynchronous activities.

For further information on how to create an Interactive Video activity, check out this article.

Set clear and friendly reminders

Students tend to be much more motivated when receiving detailed, straightforward instructions and timely reminders throughout their online courses. Therefore, teachers may be able to improve virtual interactions by crafting specific instructions and setting up friendly reminders to make sure students stay on track.

As for classroom instructions and rubrics, students can often benefit from specific, concrete, and informative information. Students love to be clear on what is expected of them, and at what time, as well as how they should carry out the learning activities, and finally how their performance will be assessed.

And when sending deadline reminders, try to maintain an approachable and friendly tone. You can either utilize your email service or functions integrated into the LMS. For example, FeedbackFruits tools allow teachers to set guidelines for each step of an activity, and send out timely deadline reminders for students.

Initiate peer and group feedback

The benefits of peer/group feedback have been confirmed by both teachers and students. Especially within remote contexts, the role of peer comments in facilitating classroom interactions and engagement has become increasingly critical. Peer/group feedback can be easily integrated into different learning activities, whether in an  individual or group setup. For example, teachers can have students submit their work (report, video, presentation) onto the virtual platform and exchange feedback on peers' assignments; or assign a group project then require group members to evaluate their friends' contribution.

You can dive deeper in to the topic of feedback by reading Feedback for learning: A comprehensive guide – an ebook that provides insights on how to facilitate effective feedback.

2 | Develop a shared vocabulary for online and hybrid instruction

The term “hybrid” especially continues to confuse in light of the myriad options that colleges and universities are offering, according to Beth McMurtie, senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Such confusion is detrimental to the implementation of flexible teaching as it reduces efficiency, engagement, and motivation.

Developing a shared understanding of online and hybrid instruction is absolutely critical for instructors when designing their hybrid courses and delivering their expectations to the students. As for the learners, “a clear vocabulary” lets them know what they are expected to learn and achieve in this new format of learning.

Here are some resources which we think would help you develop that common vocabulary of hybrid course design::

- Revisit one of our blogs on 4 main steps for a good HyFlex model implementation

- The Office of Teaching and Learning, University of Guelph provides a comprehensive handout on Course Design Models: Blended, Hybrid, Flipped, HyFlex

3 | Encourage a “less is more" philosophy about curriculum planning and development

Teaching both in person and online can be super challenging for instructors due to the huge workload required for course design and technological use. Therefore, a “less is more” philosophy is believed to be able to reduce this workload, shifting the focus away from covering course content over to improving learner engagement and building meaningful interactions.

Rather than trying to adapt an entire course book to a hybrid course design, instructors should develop “a handful of highly engaged activities that work across learning environments.”  With the support of pedagogical tools, instructors can upgrade their existing activities for better engagement, interaction, and retention.

Again, we’d like to share with you our go-to resources on designing engaging activities and building classroom dialogues:

- For inspiration on your online activities, check out 4 ways to keep students virtually engaged

- It can be hard to balance connections with students while teaching both in-person and online. Flower Darby shared several practical tips for keeping all students engaged when teaching in a mixed course design.

4 | Advocate the principles of Universal Design for Learning

Flexible course design opens a huge opportunity for institutions to address accessibility, diversity, and equity, by offering different ways to engage in learning. In other words, hybrid teaching allows instructors to produce instructional options for a wide variety of students, in a wide variety of learning contexts. This is also the core value of the Universal Design for Learning framework (UDL).

Therefore, it is important that instructors develop flexible courses with the UDL philosophy in mind, to give students more choices about how they connect and engage with the course materials. Furthermore, learning technology should be further explored and supported since online infrastructure will continue to play a key role in maintaining learning accessibility, communication, and interactions.

Here you can find several great resources on UDL and how to use this framework in your course design:

- The UDL guidelines are a good starting point to explore the scope and structure of this framework

- ThinkUDL podcast by Lillian Nave is where you can hear about how post-secondary educators are implementing UDL in their classrooms

FeedbackFruits has also been exploring the applications of UDL as we strive to stay at the forefront of innovative collaboration. Check out the following resources co-created with our own team for a headstart on flexible course design and teaching practices being used today:

- Episode #5: Communication, Inclusivity, and UDL with Lillian Nave from the Learning Experience Lab, in which we invited Lillian Nave to share her thoughts on making courses accessible to all students

- Developing Inclusive Educational Experiences with Universal Design for Learning, keynote presentation by Linda Lee, Director of Instructional Design, The Wharton School

Read more on course design: FeedbackFruits’ ultimate guide to course design

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