Despite the challenges of remote teaching and learning during the pandemic, student surveys in 2021 indicate that students want to continue having the option to learn online. Many instructors are willing to accommodate these students. But colleagues at several institutions are experiencing institutional hesitation, with
Despite the challenges of remote teaching and learning during the pandemic, student surveys in 2021 indicate that students want to continue having the option to learn online. Many instructors are willing to accommodate these students. But colleagues at several institutions are experiencing institutional hesitation, with concerns including technological costs, the need for additional staff and increased workloads, and students’ need to be on campus for some courses (so why teach any online?).
This raises the question: Can instructors engage in hybrid instruction—face-to-face plus synchronous online instruction, preferably with recording of the instruction for asynchronous use—without institutional support? Absolutely!
I have been teaching in a hybrid manner for almost a decade without institutional support. Now with many interested instructors, I share my experiences, successes, and strategies for instructors to engage in effective hybrid instruction. These strategies are
simple: they are easy for instructors to use, requiring little additional technology; they are designed for classrooms equipped with only a data projector;
efficient: they maintain the same pedagogical level for face-to-face and online learners and do not waste class time with technology setup and troubleshooting; and
scalable: they are useable in small and large classes, and the amount and type of technology can be adjusted to the nature of the course.
Additionally, hybrid instruction has numerous student benefits:
Students who are not comfortable in large classrooms can learn online.
Students do not need to come to class when ill.
Collegiate athletes can attend class from wherever they are.
Students who miss a class can watch the recorded lectures.
There is no need to copy notes from another student.
Students can rewatch lectures to complete their notes and see examples repeated.
During the pandemic, instructors taught using videoconferencing platforms such as Zoom, Collaborate, and Teams (collectively, “broadcasting software”). They switched between presentation software (PowerPoint, etc.), webcams, a writing-capture device, and discipline-specific software, all streamed by the broadcasting software. While there was a learning curve, there was a marked improvement in instructor skill and comfort using broadcasting software from spring 2020 to spring 2021.
Hybrid instruction strategy
Effective hybrid instruction can be accomplished using broadcasting software in the classroom.
The data projector presents what is on the computer screen. The instructor switches between presentation software, a writing-capture device, webcams, and any specialized software in the broadcasting software. In the background, broadcasting software streams the active screen and saves it.
The simplest form of instruction involves presenting and annotating material. To effect this, an instructor requires one of the following:
A laptop with a USB writing tablet
A touchscreen laptop and stylus
A large-screen tablet and stylus
Preparing for class, an instructor should have the presentation software and any specialized software needed for class running. In the 10 minutes before class, the instructor needs to connect to the data projector, open the broadcasting software, and be ready to share the webcams and programs. A good pedagogical practice is to start with the instructor webcam so that everyone can see the instructor detailing the plan for that day’s class.
The processing power of the device needs to be sufficient to concurrently run the broadcasting and presentation software, capture one or more webcams, play videos, and run any specialized software for the discipline. The writing area needs to be of sufficient size to allow for comfortable writing. Most current touchscreen laptops have sufficient processing power. Few tablets do. If using a tablet, consider a Microsoft Surface Pro X, Apple iPad Pro, or Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+. The Surface Pro has the most functionality, the iPad Pro the least. Microsoft OneNote is simple and convenient for writing capture, and works on most devices.
Students learning online require a modern tablet or laptop and a stable internet connection that provides a minimum of 5 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speed. This bandwidth supports full HD streaming, which is the maximum streaming resolution used by Zoom, Teams, and other videoconferencing platforms.
Benefits and limitations
Broadcasting software has active instructional strategies built in: whiteboards, breakout rooms, alternate discussion and question modalities, and polling functionality. This removes the need for instructors and students to have third-party technology with limited functionality (such as clickers). The instructor technologies have various benefits and limitations, which are tabulated below.
Several USB ports for expansion technologies
Not readily portable through class
Ethernet jack for wired connection
Touchscreen laptops are expensive
Video-out port for data projector
Write-on screen more convenient
Lack of USB ports
Portable through class
Wi-Fi streaming only (no Ethernet jack)
Larger write-on screen than tablets
Fixed at front of classroom
Already connected to webcams
Course-specific software not loaded
*If institutionally adopted, a tablet could be mounted in each classroom.
Beyond the minimum, additional technologies will improve the student experience, student engagement, and pedagogical impact.
Instructor webcam. Pedagogically, it is valuable to see the instructor. Built-in webcams are of average quality, point in one direction, and vibrate when the device is written on. An external USB webcam provides stable, higher-quality audio and video.
Wireless microphone. If the instructor stays at the front of the classroom, the webcam audio is sufficient. If the instructor moves throughout the class, a bluetooth microphone captures the instructor audio wherever they are.
Presentation remote. If the instructor moves throughout the class, a remote presenter is needed to advance the slides.
Document camera. Most document cameras are specialized webcams that can connect to a computer via USB. A document camera can be an alternative to a tablet for writing capture, but does have the drawback that the instructor’s hand is captured when writing.
Pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) camera. A single camera with PTZ control has multiple uses:
Demonstration camera. This allows the instructor to show examples to the class.
Class camera. This allows the online students to see the face-to-face students in the classroom. (Check your institutional policies as there may be privacy issues with broadcasting and recording student images.)
Auto-tracking camera. This keeps a specific entity (instructor or guest speaker) on the screen wherever they are in the classroom. (Cameras with auto-tracking cost over $1,000 and so may be an institutional purchase.)
Advanced video control. Some instructors will want easier transitions between views, image and video backgrounds, and green-screen functionality. OBS Studio provides this and more functionality, and is free. Every tech-savvy instructor I have talked with, including myself, uses OBS Studio. An instructor would share OBS in their broadcasting software and then switch between views in OBS. There is an active OBS forum and community of instructors willing to assist new users.
For best streaming, the instructor’s computer should connect via a wired connection.
The broadcasting software should be linked to the course learning management system and recordings automatically saved there.
The instructor should repeat all student questions so that the question is included with the response.
The instructor should be visible to online students at the beginning of class and intermittently during class. They do not always need to be on camera and should move through the classroom during class.
Observations from personal experience
The screen presented in class may not as clean as a PowerPoint presentation. Broadcasting software webcams and other functionality (chat, whiteboard, etc.) are along the periphery of the screen. Students have not complained about this.
Some face-to-face students will have the online stream running while in class. They may find it easier to see or hear. To build rapport with students, encourage them to inform you of any issues with the online stream (connectivity, not sharing the correct screen, not being recorded, etc.) and of questions from online students.
Teaching in a hybrid modality at a formally face-to-face institution gave students the option to learn in a modality they were comfortable with. Over eight years, I observed that learner engagement and participation increased, total attendance was unaffected, and student feedback increased.
Online learning can be made nearly equivalent to face-to-face learning. Online assessment cannot. Locked-down browsers do not prevent the use of other technology. Remote monitoring is forbidden in many areas because it breaches privacy rights. This provides many ways for online students to engage in academic misconduct with near-zero chance of being caught. While technology is in development to address online assessment, some current options for online assessment include
having students come to campus for supervised computer or paper assessments;
having the assessments proctored in person by a local professional, such as a teacher, librarian, or principal; and
using alternate assessments for all students (no individual exams).
Face-to-face and online students should complete the assessments at the same time. Since term and final exam dates are known weeks to months in advance, online students have time to find a proctor or arrange to come to campus for these assessments.
It is readily possible for an instructor to engage in hybrid instruction with little to no additional resources or institutional support. The strategy presented herein is simple, efficient, and scalable. An instructor can start with the basics, get comfortable with that, and then add additional technologies to improve their instruction and student learning.
Roy Jensen, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Northern British Columbia, primarily teaching first-year, analytical, and physical chemistry. He is regularly recognized for teaching and pedagogical innovation. His interests are in applied chemistry and pedagogy, with interests in learner development, factors affecting student success, and modernizing instructional resources.