For those of us teaching students in-person as well as virtually, it can feel like we’re constantly putting out fires left and right.

Someone’s laptop or headset isn’t working. An entire section of the class has zoned out because they cannot hear others under the muffles of their masks. Others refrain from participating because doing so is just so difficult. You are constantly checking to make sure that there are wipes and other safety materials available to all students and you constantly remind them to watch their distance, avoid crowding, and not to leave class all at once to avoid congestion at doorways and in the hallways.

To top it all off, you have another group of learners who are learning remotely at home.

This hybrid learning scenario, in which many educators are now finding themselves, can create frustrations and stress. There is no precedent for how to teach in this environment and getting it right takes a combination of many factors, including:

  • Knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of your learners.
  • An understanding of the resources that your class has access to.
  • An understanding of what tools and approaches work when teaching in-class and/or remotely.
  • The ability to identify solutions and quantify results.

Here we talk about a few strategies that can help you accomplish the daunting task of teaching in a hybrid learning environment.

Lay the Groundwork

A few must-haves for all of your plans and initiatives are as below.

  • A crucial part of helping students succeed is choosing the right tools. You can start with tools that already have school or district support and take things from there. Be careful, however, to not overdo the focus on the tool itself; instead, allow your learners to master one, two, or three tools that they may use across the board for classes, conversations, and collaboration. Be mindful of potential issues or shortcomings with the tools and approaches you adopt so that you can make alternative arrangements whenever necessary.
  • Which learning experiences require synchronous vs. asynchronous instruction. Are there ways that you can convert synchronous experiences into asynchronous ones to create learner flexibility, or vice versa to enable more collaboration
  • Plan pre- and post-class logistics. Share a calendar, mark important dates and to-dos for everyone, and conduct regular check-ins. We talk more about the importance of check-ins later in this post.
  • Make sure you are familiar with your school’s communication policies so that you do not run into (or inadvertently cause!) issues. For example, your school may not allow private, closed-door conversations between students on campus, in which case you may choose to instruct students to attend “office hour” calls to receive help or collaborate while in communal spaces.

Create a Central Online Learning Hub

With brick-and-mortar classrooms, students experience specific cues before and during classes that make it easy for them to build learning associations with their classrooms, teachers, peers – and the curriculum they are learning. Think of what goes through a student’s mind as he or she enters his or her math homeroom or the chemistry lab. The class is a clear and accessible “learning headquarters” and is where learning and community development occur.

Hybrid and remote learners, unfortunately, do not enjoy the same cohesion and community spirit that these cues and in-class instruction foster, so it is important to create a central online hub that, in the minds of your students, signals learning, interaction, and engagement with their peers and is the one place they can get whatever they may need from you. Whether they have curriculum questions, personal concerns, or anything in between, the virtual or technology-assisted pathway to reach you should be clear and unmistakable, just as a physical classroom is.

Your students should be able to see and hear you and others as well, whenever needed or relevant. In-class devices and microphones and connectivity/collaboration hardware that remote learners use should be positioned such that everyone is engaged in the day’s discussions or activities. Audio tends to matter more than video in most cases, so it’s a good idea to test your microphone quality Gather feedback about what’s working and what isn’t for in-class, remote, and hybrid learning models to see what works best for everyone and gradually get everyone to master the art of holding effective, on-time, and goal-oriented learning sessions.

Community is Everything

Fostering a positive classroom culture and community in a hybrid learning environment takes a great deal of intentionality, but is an important determinant of student success as well as student mental health. Connect however you can to your learners, especially those who are remote, not only to ensure their participation in classroom activities or to measure their progress but to see how they are doing at home and what you may be able to do to help.

One approach to creating this sense of community is to utilize screensharing tools. If you cannot use video, use another real-time collaboration tool such as Slack, Google Chat, Google Drive, or Microsoft Teams to collaborate without audio or video. Hold an “expert panel” or allow your more creative students to create a shareable gallery or presentation to demonstrate their learning or to show their project to the rest of the class. This can help develop mastery of specific tools and develop student bonds through shared experiences.

Likewise, classrooms should also be set up to enable a seamless connection between in-person and remote learners. As much as is possible,in-class and remote learners should have access to the same things, such as chat backchannels and the ability to see each other. Also, a great rhythm to establish is scheduling calls with remote students, either individually or in small groups, so that you can connect with your students outside of the classroom setting. This is critical to getting them to open up to you about how things are going and issues they may be facing.

You can provide your learners with choices for participation as well. One student may want to raise his or her hand on Zoom rather than type a response, while someone else may prefer to type or send an audio clip rather than share video. Giving students a variety of options encourages them to participate in the way they feel most comfortable with, in turn building the connections that help engage your class.

Get the Basics Right

In addition to the above, do not discount the importance of getting a few, simple basics right.

  • Use icebreakers to get everyone ready and in the groove before starting your lessons.
  • Make sure to perform regular check-ins to evaluate student understanding of the material you are teaching. You can randomly call on in-class as well as virtual learners to make sure everyone is engaged and tracking.
  • Try integrating some level of movement in your classes as well – doing a few jumping jacks together can help start the day off right! In-class learners can remain near their desks, while remote learners can perform the group activity in the comfort of their own homes.
  • Strategies such as think-pair-share and turn-and-talk are great for getting your learners to interact, even via technology, and it can help level the playing field in a way that gives remote learners the same or at least similar experiences to in-class activities. Zoom breakout rooms are a fantastic tool to easily facilitate these smaller group breakouts for virtual learners.
  • Differentiate tasks so that you can meet the needs of individual learners. Blanket solutions rarely work for everyone.
  • Create backup plans that you can fall back on should there be issues with, for example, connectivity or student availability. Have course content, instructions, and details about activities posted online, and make sure your learners know what to do even if you or they are unable to attend an in-class or remote session for whatever reason.
  • Use asynchronous learning material to maximize face-to-face and live remote learning sessions to help learners to absorb course content and complete activities together in real-time in groups. This strategy can also foster feelings of community and belonging between face-to-face and distance learners, and it works great as long you have clear and detailed instructions for your learners to follow.
  • Share your lesson plan or daily agenda with your students in advance to provide them with some transparency and help ease their minds regarding what they need to do and what is expected of them. You can start your lessons with an icebreaker and an overview of the day’s activities, after which you can take student questions or review older material before moving on. Be sure to close with a recap of what was learned, what your students need to do next, and let them know how to contact you if they need anything.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. Use a lesson recording, experiment with a flipped classroom, use Slack or Google Drive for real-time brainstorming on a project, and foster an environment in which creativity and innovation are praised and rewarded.
  • Take notes and gather metrics on, for example, attendance rates and student interactions – whenever possible – to help you identify gaps and address them on a case-by-case basis. Knowing where the issues lie is an important part of assessing risks and iteratively improving teaching approaches and strategies.

Final Thoughts

Some schools and districts adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to the multifaceted challenges they, their teachers, and their students face, but finetuning your approach to individual issues is a more effective way to personalize the learning experience for your students while giving you the flexibility to leverage the resources you have toward reaching learning goals.

Check-ins, collaborative documents, polling, intuitive assessments, and having chat and other communication channels are some of the more important ingredients to conducting successful in-class and online lessons. You need to facilitate reflection, discussion, feedback, and collaboration as well, and there are many tools you can provide your students with access to that can help them succeed.

To learn more about these tools, how they are used for in-class and remote learning, and how connectivity and technology can help you and your students develop a sense of community, foster innovation, improve tech literacy, and improve learning outcomes, speak with a Kajeet Solutions Engineer today. You can reach our team at https://www.kajeet.net/contact-us/.