We are now near the end of the fall semester of 2020/21, and there are still some higher education institutions in Hungary that have decided to push the complete application of online teaching as far back as possible. Instead, they have opted for hybrid education, which in theory represents the perfect balance between online and face-to-face teaching. Unfortunately, though, these institutions are just not ready for successful hybrid teaching yet. Let me tell you what it would take to rise to this challenge!
Remote, distance, blended, hybrid – what do all these mean?
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The terminology of innovative, technologically enhanced teaching methodology has become decidedly mainstream – even with the general public – this year. There is always some new article in the media mentioning a new way of teaching, which could be the sole, magical remedy for our pandemic-struck lives.
But what do these terms mean? Let’s take a quick look:
* There is great controversy in connection with “remote” and “distance”. According to some sources (Bromcom, 2020), “remote” learning means that the teacher and the students are in different places but still might be able to connect synchronously. In contrast, in the case of “distance” learning, they might not even meet at all and it is not even necessary. However, some other sources (Hodges et al., 2020) claim that “remote” teaching is basically an emergency makeshift solution that tries to imitate face-to-face teaching in the virtual world. This understanding of what constitutes “remote” teaching places successful “online learning” courses very much at the other end of the spectrum.
* “Blended” teaching describes courses that have both online and face-to-face elements (Hodges et al., 2020). This way of learning was first offered and advertised, at least in Hungary, roughly 10 years ago, and the idea was that students would do self-study at home with the help of online learning software and then they meet their teacher live for a while. It didn’t really become popular.
* “Hybrid” teaching is supposed to be the perfect solution not just for the COVID era but for any time when one or several students fall sick. According to IH World, the ideal setup would let sick, infected or simply anxious students join online while the others are in the socially distanced classroom face-to-face.
What, in theory, are the infrastructural requirements of a hybrid classroom?
Based on the IH World blog post, a perfectly functioning hybrid classroom would need at least one 360° or wide-angle camera that could show as much of the classroom as possible, a conference microphone preferably in the middle of the room, as well as a bluetooth headset for the teacher, and several tablets or laptops that the face-to-face students could interact with during group or pair work. This would create such a learning environment in which interaction among face-to-face and online students could be as seamless and effective as if all of them attended the class face-to-face.
What is reality?
Now, unfortunately, such infrastructural investments are quite a stretch for the average institutional budget. The university I work for at the moment has provided all rooms with a webcam and all computers with a Microsoft Teams subscription. However, the rooms lack proper microphones and the whole building lacks a proper wifi connection.
It’s easy to see that we need to start from the bottom to be able to build up the hybrid classroom environment. If you’re familiar with the modified Maslow’s pyramid as a meme, you’ll know that our needs have significantly changed in the 21st century. There is practically nothing without electricity and properly functioning internet. So, first and foremost all institutions should have a reliable and fast wifi network!
Next, we need to admit that one webcam attached to a fixed computer screen is not able to give a wholesome learning experience to online students as it can only show a limited number of angles. There should be at least four wide-angle cameras, whose angles online students could switch from home, or at least two 360 cameras attached to the ceiling.
In addition, classrooms should be equipped with several microphones so that everything audible. My experience with this is that my laptop is capable of picking up quite a lot of sound, but once students start to work in groups, all the sound fades, which makes the task less than unenjoyable for the online students.
Something we completely forget
Speaking from experience, I can say that there are two crucial points here that all articles seem to forget to mention – the lack of methodology training and the unmanageable task of multitasking. We must not overlook the teachers’ needs!
First, it needs to be pointed out that many teachers are still struggling with the methodology of teaching online. Expecting them to handle a hybrid situation without any guidance and assistance is too much to ask for. Teachers should be shown ways how they can juggle their attention between face-to-face and online students. Some solutions could include assigning longer, project-like tasks, group activities, or rotating tasks with lots of autocorrection or self-checks (Nadori, 2020).
Another issue to consider is how much extra pressure we put on teachers. Asking them to troubleshoot their online students’ problems (such as letting students in the virtual meeting, managing sound and connection issues, letting them back in again if they were cut off) results in so much extra work that they won’t be able to properly focus on their face-to-face lesson. I would suggest having either a technician or a teaching assistant in the classroom if hybrid teaching is to be done.
All things considered, hybrid teaching is definitely not a bad idea for handling current or future pandemics, but for it to properly work, institutions need to make larger investments not only in infrastructure but in teacher training as well.
Admin. (2020, August 13). International House schools offering hybrid classes. Retrieved October 17, 2020, from https://ihworld.com/news-blog/ih-network-news/international-house-schools-offering-hybrid-classes/?fbclid=IwAR2qA1wMmaS7x7QCFm3eHL3zD4AnuAB9mREH94aqEN4OldMWXsyQB68QaeU
Bromcom. (2020, May 05). What is the difference between Remote and Distance learning? Retrieved October 17, 2020, from https://medium.com/@bromcom/what-is-the-difference-between-remote-and-distance-learning-11552f45d998
Hodges, C. (2020, March 27). The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning. Retrieved October 17, 2020, from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/3/the-difference-between-emergency-remote-teaching-and-online-learning
Nádori, G. (2020, September 8). Jön a hibrid. Retrieved October 17, 2020, from http://tanarblog.hu/cikk/jon-a-hibrid?fbclid=IwAR1PPN-ZlTUmz9UoAL-x6o97ZycbEnkTC2yaxYcn9Yx6jZLpmv1V0Z1pNis
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