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Reflections on/Lessons from My Hybrid Journey

Reflections on/Lessons from My Hybrid Journey Image generated from "hybrid learning," Adobe Firefly, 05/13/2024

Kathleen Beauchene, Professor, English

After teaching two fully online sections of a freshman-level course since 2000, I transitioned to teaching a hybrid section of an entirely different course in 2017 when hybrid offerings were limited and neither students nor faculty were clear about how a blended course function. Even though I had online teaching experience and was a faculty Online Mentor for many years, I, too, had a wobbly understanding of hybrids, not to mention anxiety, given that I had never taught the course in any modality. 

Eventually, I embraced hybrids as they allowed me to pick from and incorporate a variety of Blackboard (Bb) tools that would be most appropriate for the online session: (Tests, Groups, VoiceThread, MEDIAL, Assignments, etc.). Additionally, I could communicate with students online using the Discussion Board, Journals, Email, Messages, and most recently Starfish. But most importantly, I could take advantage of the face-to-face (F2F) meeting for lectures, group work, discussions, presentations, and other activities. 

However, reaping those hybrid benefits occurred only after I evaluated all materials and tools, identified what was the most appropriate to achieve course outcomes, and then formed the organizational structure. With so many moving parts in the hybrid modality, I liken building a blended course to solving a Rubik’s Cube!  

Ultimately, I learned that a successful hybrid experience results from making solid choices to overcome challenges inherent to blended courses. 

What Do I Put Where?

That became the overriding question to answer.   

Course outcomes, time, and ease of implementation determined what course material or activity was best suited for F2F vs. Bb. For example, developing presentation skills is a key outcome in my communication course. Having students deliver presentations in class rather than online was easier for them and easier for me to grade. However, with 28 students in a section and with an initial 3-minute presentation per student accompanied by feedback and discussion, presentations would take two class sessions. Because F2F meetings are valuable, my solution was to divide the class in half; half of the students would present in class, and the other half would present online, uploading their video to a discussion board prompt to share with classmates and me. With the next assigned presentation, students switched modalities. In class, we then discussed the advantages and disadvantages of speaking in both environments as well as strategies they could employ to turn negatives into positives. As a follow-up, students completed a reflective journal entry in Blackboard.  

Faculty concerned about cheating (even with Bb tools such as Respondus Lockdown Browser and Monitor) may want to devote class time to testing. Faculty concerned that students rely on AI to write essays may want to add an in-class writing assignment to their syllabus. Also, faculty who are uncomfortable recording their lectures (or who find recording to be time consuming) can choose to lecture in the classroom.  

Instructors who want to encourage student interaction and questions could choose to lecture in person. However, faculty who don’t want to devote a class meeting to lecturing can choose to put all or part of the lecture online instead, with key points reviewed, highlighted, or explored in the in-person meeting, perhaps with a related activity. For example, the activity “Poem, Picture, Prop” engages students by having them work independently and creatively to summarize or apply course content. They might find an object from a backpack to connect to the content, write a poem, draw a picture, or draw upon one of their talents. As time allows, students share their creations. The activity is a fun way for students to recall content and develop a sense of belonging in the community. 

Where Is Everybody?  

Some students came to class; some didn’t. Some students did the online work; some didn’t. In either case, students could not pass the course if they missed key material and assignments. To encourage attendance/participation in both environments, I suggest employing/stressing employed/stressed some strategies:  

1. Develop a Clear Syllabus* 

  • Differentiate F2F from online work by using tables or color. (Both Word and Bb have accessibility checkers for documents to be sure they are ADA compliant. Download the Hybrid Schedule Template) 
  • Provide a grading scale for each grade category (essays, tests, etc.) 
  • Include the importance of attendance and consequences of missing the in-person weekly meeting. I repeated this point frequently throughout the semester in both modalities.  
  • Highlight due dates and the late-work course policy
  • *Further information about developing a syllabus, including a hybrid course syllabus, is available at CCRI’s Syllabus Statements.

2. Email the Campus Map link that shows the on-campus classroom number.

3. Connect online and F2F coursework to underscore the importance of completing both. One example is the Six-Word Memoir I assign in a Tuesday F2F meeting in Week 1 and due in Bb’s Discussion Board by Friday of that week. In this Discussion Board Forum, students post a one-slide PowerPoint (no template) using only six words that capture something about themselves (or their dreams, etc.), and one image. Color and font size are their choice. (If time allows, I put all slides into a PowerPoint presentation set to music and share that with the class before the next class meeting.) A Sample Memoir video is provided here. 

In F2F class for Week 2, students share their slide via their phone or computer, introduce themselves, and elaborate on their words. To save time for discussion and a brief lecture about upcoming work, I divide students into five or six groups. In each group, students present to each other, mentioning their name, major, and the reason for their six words and image. This format allows every student to speak, meet each other, and learn at least five or six of their classmates’ names and something significant about them. 

Students who do not create/post their memoir slide are unable to present to their group, and students who create/post but do not show up to present quickly learn the value of completing Bb activities and attending class. I did not grade this memoir assignment, but all students are required to post/present. I reinforce how a hybrid works and extend to students the opportunity to complete the assignment—although presentations must be made to the entire class at the next F2F meeting.  

4. Submit Starfish reports and flags (attendance, missing assignments, in danger of failing) Students receive these via email, and advisors can see the flag and can reach out. I once had an advisor walk a student who was in danger of failing to my office. After that, I always took advantage of Starfish.

5. Use the Grade Center>Course Reports for students who come to class but are not doing the online work. I saved the report as a PDF and printed it for any student in danger of failing primarily because of missing coursework. Before or after class, I reached out to the student to discuss the grade report. (My office hours are before and after class, which made it easier for me to spend time with a student.) Additionally, to underscore that a student is not spending enough time in the Bb portion, which is resulting in a low grade, I select a relevant report from the Bb Course Menu>Evaluation>Course Reports and share that with the student. 

What Is Due When? 

Sunday at 11:59 pm seems to be a popular due date. However, if students take multiple online or hybrid courses requiring a Sunday due date, they may be overwhelmed.  

  • If an assignment is relevant to what is due during an upcoming F2F meeting, one option is to have work due BEFORE the class. 
  • Work might be due AFTER the F2F meeting, at the end of that day, so during class an instructor can remind students of the assignment, answer questions about it, or review a student’s attempt at the assignment. 
  • Or perhaps BEFORE and AFTER might work in some situations. For example, students need to read Chapter 1 before the Tuesday F2F meeting, but the online test on Chapter 1 is due the following Tuesday at the end of the day. 

Providing a consistent due date is the preference, and that is what I used for readings and tests. For most other work, I selected 11:59 PM for the F2F class, which gave me time to correct and provide feedback to students before next week’s class. Admittedly, establishing due dates was my biggest hybrid challenge, especially as for 17 years I used Sunday at 11:59 PM as a due date for online courses. 

Throughout my hybrid experience, “review, remind, remind again” became my mantra. I begin each F2F meeting with Bb open and a review of that week’s schedule, including any new Bb tools or other technology associated with that week. Class ends with reminders of upcoming readings and assignments that I had previously typed into an Announcement. In Blackboard, I hit Submit on the Announcement and have students check their phones for the email.

What Do I Do Now?  

Unless there is some type of power outage, a fully online course can run mostly seamlessly. However, with a hybrid, cancellations of the F2F meeting because of an instructor’s illness or weather requires adjusting the schedule for that week and perhaps subsequent weeks. In my case, I was often overly ambitious in terms of what I intended to cover during class. And when I did not finish, I had to add uncovered material online. That might necessitate creating a video, screenshots, written material, a web link, etc. Additionally, if students work in groups in class but are unable to finish the assigned task, I might opt to mirror the groups online or carry over the task to the next F2F class. For those reasons, adding the phrase “schedule is subject to change” to the syllabus is paramount.

What about Phones? 

Technology is essential in an online environment, but what is the role of technology in the F2F meeting? Many students access Blackboard via their cell phones and read their textbook on their phones as well. Should they then be able to use their phones in class? In my case, students are permitted to use their phones/computers in the classroom when necessary. For example, if I am reviewing a specific chapter, it makes sense for students to access it via their phones, especially if there is only an e-text. Additionally, students need their phones to play a free version of the digital game Kahoot that I used for in-class quiz/exam reviews of chapter concepts. However, in some situations, such as when students are presenting or during a lecture when a text is not necessary, I restricted cell phone use. A clear “technology in the classroom” policy should be stated in the syllabus.  

Since I began teaching hybrid, Blackboard has morphed, with more tools being added over the years. For example, Class Collaborate is now an option for Bb Groups. Additionally, publishers continue to expand their resources: test banks, web links, videos, and even video assessment with GoReact that allows students to record and faculty/students to provide time-stamped comments. Publisher instructor manuals provide teaching ideas, activities, and a variety of syllabi for on-campus, online, and hybrid courses. Faculty can also draw from their own F2F lectures, assignments, activities, etc., to find an appropriate place for them in the hybrid course. 

With planning and familiarity of Blackboard tools, faculty can design hybrids that include the best of both course delivery options, online and on campus. And more so than in my fully online courses, hybrids cultivate a personal connection—between students and me as well as among students themselves. 

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