November 6, 2020

Dear CNS Instructors,

I hope you are all taking good care of yourselves.  This has been a very stressful week for me between the election and the spiking pandemic, really impacting my ability to concentrate.

This week’s teaching tip focuses on best practices in hybrid teaching.  Various sources define hybrid teaching and learning as combining online and face-to-face modalities.  These sources also refer to this as hyflex instruction in reference to the ability to switch quickly between in-person and remote teaching.  Since we will primarily teach our courses online and hybrid again in the spring 2021 semester at CSU and I will teach a large enrollment content course in a hybrid format for the first time, I decided to look up some tips for success in hybrid teaching.

As usual it turns out to be more complex than I originally thought.  There is a continuum between pure face-to-face teaching on one end and exclusively online teaching on the other.  Blended or web-enhanced instruction involves mostly (75%) in-class activities with enhancement through the use of technology and online components.  I have taught using the blended model for years.  The hybrid model balances in-class and online modalities at around 50% each (for a full description see An Introduction to Hybrid Teaching attached). Hyflex instruction involves teaching in-person and remote students at the same time, generally to accommodate reduced in-class student numbers for social distancing.

Beth McMurtrie (Teaching in the CHE July 9, 2020, attached) interviewed teaching experts and instructors experienced in hybrid instruction.  She found that some instructors used the hyflex model to allow all the students in a course to attend class every day.  For example, one third attend in person and the two thirds attend via Zoom, Teams, etc.  Instructors she talked to shared concerns with engaging and keeping track of questions from face-to-face and remote students simultaneously, the inability to conduct active learning activities and possible technical issues.  Jenae Cohn (Stanford University) suggests starting with a completely online version of a course and adding face-to-face activities to enhance learning.  Students should gain most of the content online and review and make connections with key concepts, ask questions and build community in class.  In-class time should be used for active learning activities, clicker questions and think-pair-share discussions.  Derek Bruff (Vanderbilt University) recommends for hyflex instruction that polling can be done by both in-class and remote students through Zoom and to conduct “fishbowl” discussions (a small group of students in front of the class discussing a concept with the rest of the in-class and remote students forming groups to take notes in Google docs and continue the discussions in Zoom breakout rooms). See his blog on the subject here.

Katherine McEldoon and Emily Schneider provide seven tips based on instructional research for successful hybrid instruction in their Pearson blog.

1. Build around what you want students to learn

Successful hybrid courses fully integrate online and face-to-face instruction, planning interactions based on good teaching practice.

2. Plan effective interactions

After you’ve identified your objectives, think about what interactions you’ll use to facilitate learning. Hybrid learning gives you a lot of flexibility in how to interact.

3. Integrate the experiences

You can design the online and in-person interactions in such a way that they support each other, rather than feeling disjointed.

4. Craft a learner-centered approach to learning

In a hybrid model, encourage your students to take control of their learning.

5. Support student success

In hybrid learning, students must be more self-driven. Set clear expectations and build in support for self-directed learning, such as encouraging students to plan, check their understanding, study more as needed, and reflect on their learning.

6. Assess learning online

Since you won’t be in the room with the students when they are taking the test, clearly communicate the rules and instructions before the exam.  This blog provides more tips for online exams.

7. Continuously improve

Keep your approach simple at first and aim for continuous improvement, not perfection.

In my search for best practices for hybrid instructions I ran across a resource page on the Berkeley Center for Teaching and Learning site on Flipping Your Remote Classroom.  This page has some good ideas on flipping or inverting courses in general and flipping remote courses in particular.  This page reminded me of when I first attempted flipping one of my courses back in 2007.  I designed the course in what would now be called the hybrid model.  I will tell you that story if you buy me a beer.

Have a great weekend! Two weeks to fall break.

Cheers, Paul

Paul Laybourn (he/him/his)Professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Director, W2R S-STEM Program
Director, NoCo B2B Program
Co-Director, REU Site in Molecular Biosciences