By Robin Loon, Department of English Language and Literature
If you want to skip straight to the teaching and technical resources that are available to support teaching in the hybrid classroom, click here. Otherwise, please bear with me as I share some personal thoughts about hybrid teaching and the hybrid classroom.
I just want to start off by making one thing clear – I don’t think anyone will dispute that in-person classes are the best mode of teaching and learning. Speaking as a Theatre practitioner and educator in Theatre Studies, not only is the live, direct and embodied experience of in-person engagement the foundation of my discipline, it underpins the efficacy other discipline’s pedagogies (including my own). Lev Vygotsy (1962) famously wrote that learning is a social activity. While many video-conferencing platforms (VCP) can replicate a similar social environment, it still leaves the individual student isolated in their respective locales, stripped of the corporeal interactivity of being in the same space as their colleagues and the instructor.
Being in the classroom with your peers and instructor is, literally, a fully fleshed-out experience. As educators, we can intuit student’s body language and make adjustments to our teaching to make the learning experience active and responsive.
Under normal circumstances, I would opt for in-person teaching and learning without a second thought. It is where I can merge my theatre practice with my pedagogy, and I have received positive feedback from students that it has augmented their learning.
But these are not normal circumstances.
In fact, they are most ‘abnormal’.
These circumstances have forced us to teach using less than ideal platforms and modalities; making us reconsider our notions of assessment and how to achieve learning outcomes or modify learning outcomes (or at the very least, not compromise those learning outcomes).
But as they say in the theatre, the show must go on.
FASS has rolled out e-learning as the default mode of instruction for Semester 1, 20-21. This was communicated to all teaching faculty months before the start of the semesters and many of us have adapted our teaching to it. One thing I can safely declare about my FASS colleagues: we have, on the whole, demonstrated a great deal of flexibility and dexterity in this adaptation process and have found a feasible approach to converting our in-person classes to virtual environments.
And to our students’ credit, many of them have embraced the switch and have made encouraging remarks to their instructors expressing their appreciation for the attempts to make e-learning engaging while accepting that these efforts will have limitations.
So now the option has presented itself where smaller classes can revert to in-person classroom teaching which, on the surface, looks like the most natural thing to choose.
After all, I have been extolling the virtues of in-person learning so it seems like a no-brainer, right?
I would ask everyone to think about this carefully.
Consideration 1: How disruptive will this switch be?
Now that we are into the 4th week of the semester, the teaching has gained some momentum and some of the inter-personal dynamics have already been established. Will the thrusting of everyone into a new learning environment upset that, and if so, how can we minimise that? With students still unable to cross designated zones, will some students who are not permitted to be in the classroom with their colleagues feel marginalized, or worse, disadvantaged? How can module chairs and instructor mitigate that?
Consideration 2: Does this mask-to-mask environment present challenges to learning?
So we’re all in the same space (Hooray?) but instructor must keep a 2m distance from the students and all students must be masked at all times and be kept at least 1m apart. Will the small-group discussions be as effective? The masked student may face problems with diction, volume and clarity of speech: will this affect audio capture for students using VCP (those who cannot cross zones to attend the class in person)? Will this affect and disrupt flow of communication between students and student AND student and instructor? How can the module instructor deal with this effectively? How can we read students’ response clearly when everyone is masked?
Consideration 3: Parity in engagement and student learning experience
The hybrid classroom presupposes 2 concurrent modes of teaching and learning – the in-person and the online. How can the instructor manage or negotiate a consistency in the communication techniques and pedagogy across the two disparate modalities? Will the student who is on VCP feels that he/she/they is less engaged because of the lag in the immediacy of the in-person experience? How do we cater to the student on VCP without neglecting or distracting the mask-to-mask student (and vice versa)? Will this disparity in engagement have any impact on the effectiveness of the assessment (especially when it comes to group projects and group work)? What measures do instructors have in place if there is a technical fault where the in-person students can continue with the classes and the VCP students’ experience is disrupted?
Many colleagues who are keen to go back to the classrooms with their students are concerned about the technical aspect of the hybrid classroom, and rightly so. It will involve some adjustment and some new technical know-how in order to provide both in-person and online students a comparable learning environment.
For me, that is a secondary consideration over how to conduct teaching and learning in a hybrid classroom environment. The tech can be overcome with practice. The teaching and learning in such an environment needs deeper consideration and strategizing – customising it to the discipline, assessment tools and the learning outcomes while considering the challenges presented in this new dual-mode classroom.
I urge everyone who is thinking about going back to the classroom in Semester 1 of 20-21, and having to operate within the current limitations of the hybrid classroom to think carefully about the three considerations I have listed (which are by no means exhaustive). I have no quick answers because the solutions should be based on each module’s needs and learning outcomes.
As I have learnt from my colleagues (Dr Nina Powell, in particular), it always pays to be up front and open with your students about expectations and limitations. At the start my Introduction to Theatre and Performance exposure module which is in an e-learning format, I explained to the students that the practice component of the module will have a dramatically different focus from the in-person version. By and large, the students have embraced the changes and are fully engaged with the module’s repurposed learning experiences.
Managing students’ expectations and limitations vis-à-vis hybrid classroom and learning is the first step to constructing the learning environment with which you wish to engage your students.
CIT has a few very useful resources regarding the tech in Hybrid Classrooms which you may wish to peruse.
The general portal is: https://wiki.nus.edu.sg/display/cit/Hybrid+classroom
In this landing page, you will have 2 video recordings of the hybrid classroom briefings conducted on 4th and 6th of August – they provide useful step by step information on how to use classroom tech and platform features
This link has information on operating tech and platforms specifically for tutorials in the seminar rooms. There is information on equipment, procedure and modifications. It also has some important information on how to facilitate person-to-person communication: https://wiki.nus.edu.sg/display/cit/Hybrid+classroom+-+tutorials
This link has information on hybrid classroom recording – you can opt to record the seminar or class so that students can review the lesson:
CDTL has a one page breakdown of the principles behind Hybrid Teaching which is a useful general guide: http://nus.edu.sg/cdtl/docs/default-source/professional-development-docs/resources/quick-guide-to-hybrid-teaching.pdf
A simple hack from me would be bring your laptop to the classroom, plug it into the display in the classroom, open your VCP session (e.g. Zoom or MS Teams), share screen to your lecture notes and project that onto the screen in the seminar room. That way, the students in the seminar room and students on the VCP will get to see the lecture notes. Invest in a tripod so that you can mount your webcam (if it is not fixed on your laptop) and adjust it to your standing view so that you can move freely. Loan a body mic from the FASS tech unit to make sure your voice can be captured by the webcam and streamed through the VCP.
In my experience, you will achieve clearer diction and speech when you use the disposable medical masks while conducting mask-to-mask teaching. You can always opt to use the face shield which makes speaking easier but, in my experience, can slightly compromise your visual field.
Thank you for reading.