A Fusion of In-Person & Online Instruction

In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Elon instructors are using a range of pedagogical strategies in their courses while following physical distancing guidelines and other necessary measures to prevent the spread of the illness on campus. Although various course design models may be used, many instructors will combine in-person and online elements for a blended approach to teaching and learning.

“Blended” or “hybrid” refer to any course design that leverages a combination of in-person instruction and online applications or technologies. By design, this integrated approach accommodates more learning preferences with added flexibility and more options for learning. This is especially important during times when instructors may need to divide students into groups in order to maintain instruction amid COVID-19 related restrictions.

Models for Blended/Hybrid Instruction

A wide variety of possible configurations and designs are possible to reduce classroom density during disease outbreaks or other conditions that might limit occupancy. In general, hybrid/blended models fall into two categories:

  • HyFlex/synchronous hybrid: In-person and remote students participate simultaneously, with remote students joining using Zoom, WebEx, or other videoconferencing programs. While ideal for simplicity of planning and offering a theoretically unified experience to students, this model can be challenging to manage and may leave remote students feeling disconnected and disadvantaged. Designating an in-class student to monitor the chat for questions from remote students, and another to take notes on the class session for all to access afterward, may help to mitigate these drawbacks to some degree.
  • Hybrid asynchronous models: Students alternate spending time in class with completing course assignments and activities asynchronously in an online environment. While these models require more planning on the part of the instructor and a greater departure from normal classroom teaching practice, they may help students feel more consistent engagement with the course material and reduce Zoom fatigue and other videoconferencing frustrations. Many hybrid asynchronous models are possible, and this Models for Blended Instruction video from Elon’s Summer 2020 Resilient Teaching Course Design Institute provides a few useful examples.

To choose between these models, or to design a hybrid asynchronous model for your students, the following questions from may be helpful to consider:

  • What course activities or components would best be accomplished via in-person meetings or synchronous online interaction (via Zoom or WebEx)? Possibilities might include: Interactive lectures, perhaps including the use of polling; scaffolded small group work or peer feedback, perhaps using breakout rooms; or conferencing between instructors and individuals or groups.
  • How much synchronous online interaction is likely to be productive given the experience of “Zoom fatigue”? What classroom agreements or design practices might help keep Zoom fatigue to a minimum?
  • What course activities or components would best be accomplished via asynchronous work and engagement via Moodle or other tools? Possibilities include:
    • Reading discussions using social annotation tools like Hypothes.is
    • Recorded lectures, perhaps including a Video Quiz using Kaltura or with a follow-up discussion forum for questions
    • Quizzes or other low-stakes assessments to help you and your students monitor their learning
    • Feedback on common mistakes or concepts students are struggling with via recorded video
    • Writing-to-learn assignments designed to prompt students to recognize their prior knowledge or prepare for group activities
    • Discussion forums that foster learning and community by inviting students to share personal experiences related to content, integrate and draw connections among ideas or concepts, discuss case studies, etc.
  • How familiar are my students and I with the necessary technologies? What support might we need?

Creating a supportive course community

Creating a supportive course environment is more essential than ever during challenging times. Students who experience themselves as part of a cohesive community exchange support and camaraderie, motivating each other to stay engaged regardless of where they may be or how conditions may change. The Community of Inquiry Framework provides a useful structure for thinking through social, teaching, and cognitive presence that come together to build community, especially in online or hybrid courses. CATL’s handout on Fostering Community and Belonging can be helpful in thinking about the arc of community development across the semester. In addition, the following approaches and resources may be useful in designing ways to maintain a collaborative and supportive course community:

  • Online spaces such as blogs and discussion forums create spaces for students to post reflections on course content or assignments, comment on one another’s work and thinking, and share questions and strategies for understanding course content and its application.
  • Web-based documents such as a wiki or synchronous web-based technologies such as Google docs can allow student groups to work collaboratively and provide peer feedback at a distance, allowing them to discuss and iterate on group projects and complete assignments.
  • Mays Imad’s Hope Matters, an article on Inside Higher Education, offers additional ideas about how to sustain and foster student hope and sense of connection, such as creating a space for them to exchange phone numbers and using hopeful and optimistic language when you talk about the future.
  • Finally, CATL’s web resource on Trauma-Informed Teaching offers guidance for course design and instructional approaches that reinforce students’ “sense of control, connection, and meaning” to help them thrive after personal or shared trauma (Carello, 2020).

During times of increased stress, tempers may be short, and we are all more susceptible to our own implicit biases. Creating course agreements or guidelines for respectful interaction can help raise everyone’s awareness of supportive and mutually-beneficial communication norms. It may also be helpful to develop a proactive plan for how we might address bias and microaggressions in virtual spaces. Additional mental health resources may be useful to have handy as you find yourself on the front lines of needing to help students who have mental health concerns:

  • Managing anxiety and stress is a helpful resource from the U.S. Center for Disease Control.
  • WellTrack and MindWise are self-screening and self-tracking mental health resources available to Elon students via Counseling Services.
  • Elon’s Counseling Services include individual care and counseling, ongoing support groups, and workshops on a variety of mental health-related topics.

Finally, it may be helpful to be even more proactive than usual in referring students to Student Care and Outreach, so that they receive additional support beyond the course context.

Ensuring access to course materials and information

Specifically for course elements that students will access virtually, specific considerations around access may apply.

  • For synchronous online or recorded lectures, how can you take advantage of research-supported design elements such as interactive lecture to help hold students’ attention?
  • Are any useful narrated animations, visualizations, interactive media, simulations, videos, or podcasts available online, through the library research guides, or by consulting with your library liaison?

When migrating materials to virtual spaces, readings, textbooks, and learning supports may need to be exchanged or altered to maintain accessibility for students with a range of needs and in a range of settings. Visit CATL’s page on meeting the needs of students with disabilities in online and remote environments for more information about Universal Design for Learning and related topics. A few of the most critical questions to consider include these:

  • If any students in your course have visual impairments, are lecture notes or assignment guidelines provided in a format such as a Word document with headers that is converted to a PDF, which can be navigated using screenreading programs?
  • If any students in your course have hearing impairments, are videos and synchronous online class sessions (for example, using Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or even PowerPoint) captioned?
  • If students encounter bandwidth limitations, intermittent internet connections, or other technological hurdles, what alternate ways can you provide for them to access materials or participate in activities?
    • Are synchronous course sessions recorded and uploaded for later viewing?
    • Can you provide transcripts for videos or recorded lectures?
    • May students submit comments or reflections on a discussion board if they are unable to participate in an in-class discussion?

Designing activities and providing feedback

As at any other time, assignments or activities during challenging times help students practice the skills they need to succeed on higher-stakes assessments, in future courses, or in their lives or future professions. When teaching in a blended or hybrid format, there may be unique affordances of technology you can leverage, or additional challenges to student engagement that you may want consider. Some questions to explore include the following:

  • If students must perform work that requires using special symbols or formats (such as solving math problems or writing music scores), can they submit photos of handwritten work or access special software programs for that purpose?
  • How can assignments or activities serve double-duty by also encouraging a strong and supportive course community ?
  • What additional guidelines or scaffolding might enable group work to be more effective? (For example, check out the Inside Higher Education article, 8 Ways to Improve Group Work Online.)
  • How can technology help reduce students’ stress by allowing you to target learning outcomes more specifically or offer a broader array of choices?
    • For example, might offering ideas out loud during a class session, posting questions or comments in a Zoom/WebEx chat box, and posting reflections or questions (in text, audio file, or video) on a discussion forum all count equally for any participation credit?
    • Might students be able to record and post videos of themselves presenting, rather than needing to present live, to allow them to focus on the content of a presentation?

While practice is essential to learning, practice accompanied by targeted feedback is exponentially more effective. Since students may be more likely to experience cognitive overload during challenging times, being as transparent as possible about what you are looking for in an activity or assignment, why, and how, is even more important to helping students succeed (while also helping you focus your grading and feedback). The Chronicle guide How to give better feedback to your students with technology offers some useful suggestions. Finally, providing students the option to revise work by incorporating feedback helps them learn from that feedback, reduces the impact of learning difficulties that result from disruptions, and may reduce the grade-related stress students are experiencing alongside the stress of a disruption.

Assessing learning during disruptions

Due to the cognitive and emotional challenges associated with significant disruptions that might cause us to adopt a hybrid modality, high-stakes assessments are particularly fraught for students, who are less likely to be able to perform to their full capacity and accurately demonstrate the level of mastery they have achieved. Since these assessments may need to occur outside the classroom setting, they may also be troublesome for instructors concerned about academic integrity. A few options to consider include the following:

  • Can major assessments be swapped out for more-frequent, lower-stakes assessments throughout the semester? What other inclusive assessment approaches might be applied?
  • How might you modify quizzes, presentations, or exams to allow students to demonstrate their learning in different ways?
    • For example, for classes with significant writing (weekly responses, multiple papers, etc.), students could have the opportunity to revise a certain number of assignments and compile them into a final portfolio. The portfolio could then be annotated, where students explain their writing and revision process for each piece and include a brief introductory statement about the work as a whole, or which elements of their growth in the class the portfolio highlights.
    • For student presentations, you could ask students to record their presentation using simple technology (such as a cell phone or their computer) and upload it to Moodle for you or the entire class to view. One lower tech option, if oral communication isn’t a core learning objective, might be to ask students to submit a written script of their presentation to assess content knowledge and other skills like persuasive thinking.
  • In what other ways might you incorporate trauma-informed practices such as providing choice and control to students around how they will demonstrate their learning?

If high-stakes assessments cannot be eliminated or substantively modified, considerations outlined on the Balancing Rigor & Compassion in Assessment During Times of Disruption page can help to maximize their effectiveness under these conditions. Asking students to affirm their understanding of the Honor Code and how it applies to online or remote assessments can be surprisingly effective at reducing academic integrity violations. Finally, some faculty have been pleased with the effectiveness of online proctoring software such as the Respondus Lockdown Browser, though it may be important to carefully consider the inclusivity concerns related to these technologies.

Additional Resources

The IT Service Desk can help with questions about Elon-supported tools, including Moodle, Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, and Kaltura. CATL can help you think through design aspects of the course or assignments. The Strategies and Resources page of this site provides guidance on a wide range of related topics, such as ensuring accessibility of online course materials, adapting student presentations, holding office hours, and supporting students. Other resources that might be useful include the following: