For educators who have long enjoyed using both technology and face time for promoting collaborative learning, the imminent transition to hybrid learning can be a welcome change. This transition if anything has been accelerated significantly due to the constraints the pandemic has brought about. Now that learning has been predominantly online means for over two years, it is very likely that even as the world bounces back, a certain ‘hybrid’ model will settle in as the new norm in educational institutions.
Hybrid learning typically involves classroom interactions in both online and offline modes. For those educators who worry about the efficacy of hybrid learning, a Canadian study may offer some comfort and confidence. While many may see the current trend with skepticism and worry about efficacy of learning, a Canadian study that compared learning outcomes of online-only participants in a hybrid classroom found that course instruction, pedagogy and student participation are the primary determinants for ensuring learning outcomes. In fact engaged students who chose the online-only mode in a hybrid class room had just as much academic achievement. Hence it seemed only right for instructors to focus their efforts on ensuring quality in pedagogy, approach, while also encouraging student engagement. (1)
Having said this, a transition to the hybrid learning model is non-trivial. It involves a ‘change management’ approach that takes into account the specific circumstances that teachers, the taught and the institutions face. Here we shall deliberate on this along three ‘verticals’ – students, teachers and institutions:
- Students: It is helpful to assume that not all students would be equally adept or comfortable with technology usage. I have had the direct experience of a student who was visually impaired and for whom the pandemic brought untold challenges. It is helpful if a survey is conducted the schools and universities to assess the preparedness of their students, and also evaluate any special needs they may have. Those needing special assistance may need to be duly oriented and the teachers could be duly sensitized. Creative solutions that are custom made for special learners (including those who have learning disabilities or those may have learning styles incompatible with online only mode) may be considered while deciding on the schedule and composition of hybrid classes.
- Teachers: It is easy to forget that teachers are humans too! And it is all too easy to place a large number of demands; subject matter expertize, logistics, mentoring, remedial measures, and so much more on teachers. My recent interactions with college and school teachers indicates that there is an ever increasing demand for documentation on teachers. Now added to that would be the logistical workload associated with hybrid mode, which can in some cases mean a multiplication of efforts by a factor of two or more. In many places where hybrid mode has begun, teachers teach off line and also record lessons post-school.
Schools, colleges and universities can be mindful of the various ‘non-academic’ sinks of time (bureaucracy, documentation), try to minimize it or streamline it, and ensure that a support network is in place, for the transition to the new norm. In all cases, the face time and personalized interactions the educator has to have with the student, ought to be considered as the most essential use of the teacher’s time and resources. Furthermore, the personal study time of the teacher ought to be valued too, for that is a key ingredient for creating a high quality learning environment. In case of university teachers, their time for research too ought to be given due consideration.
- Institutions: Organizations may not have the ability to quickly learn and adapt. In such cases, maintaining an open line of communication with teachers and students, and continuously making an effort to pay attention to them, while also upgrading the infrastructure and training support is necessary. It may be anticipated that platform dependent training for file transfer, data management, and periodic assessment etc. will be needed as and when there are system upgrades. Also the teacher may be trained on means by which collaborative learning can be facilitated between students, thereby enabling shared learning among both cohorts – students who are entirely online, and those that are also attending physical classes. A combination of the institutional platform along with social media apps (e.g. whatspp) would likely be needed for effective communication among all.
Institutionsmay also encourage generation of small study groups (of 3-4 students) that are mixed – containing students who are attending online and offline, which could promote discussions and knowledge sharing. The platform should also in principle allow some selected class representatives to make notes on class participation; this could be qualitative and could help the teacher evolve a strategy to ensure learner engagement. Also it is helpful if platforms chosen are ‘lean’ on bandwidth, so students from remote parts of the country also have equal access, despite prospectively poor connectivity. Also institutions would need to be sensitive to the limitation of their teachers – especially those who are elderly, or have special needs. Support may be thoughtfully provided to ensure that the logistics of the course does not come in the way of essential teaching activities.
Institutions ultimately will do well to be civil bodies that are formative and truly attentive enablers for teachers and students, so as to make best use of the inevitable and fast emerging hybrid model of education. Training programs and short round table discussions may be conducted frequently, so that the management may know the ground reality, and enable the transition to the new norm in a healthy manner.
- Performance in an Online Introductory Course in a Hybrid Classroom Setting, Ibrahim Aly, Canadian Journal of Higher Education, v43 n2 p85-99 (2013).
- Hybrid Classroom: Designing for the New Normal after COVID-19 Pandemic, Tuul Triyason, Anuchart Tassanaviboon, Prasert Kanthamanon, Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Advances in Information Technology, Article No.: 30, pages 1–8 (2020). https://dl.acm.org/doi/pdf/10.1145/3406601.3406635
The author is Dr. Tiju Thomas is an interdisciplinary faculty, and an Associate Professor with the Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras, Tamil Nadu, India).