Teaching Hybrid v.1—Finding Your Technology Threshold

illustration of various computer devices, finger points to tablet

Adjunct Professor Cynthia Schultes, PhD, learned firsthand the process of going “hybrid” with her Research Methods course in the Master of Professional Communications program at USF in the Spring of 2018. She transitioned her face-to-face (F2F) course to the hybrid model, working closely with instructional designers Angie Portacio and Jill Ballard to integrate active learning and maintain social presence in the online sessions. Hybrid courses are courses that have online sessions–which can be either synchronous or asynchronous, in addition to in-person class sessions. USF defines a hybrid course as one in which ⅓ to ½ of the total class sessions are given online; if more than half of the class time is online, then it is defined as an online course. Dr. Schultes works within USF’s online and hybrid masters MAPC program, housed at the 101 Howard campus.

Dr. Schultes planned to utilize a swath of technologies in her course as she transitioned it to a hybrid course: Canvas discussions, quizzes, and assignments, Google docs and calendar, capturing guest lectures using Echo, and offering online conferences using Zoom. Although she had technical support during the development phase and during the semester, there was plenty to learn (and juggle) on her own.  Given a plethora of functions within Canvas and other apps available to add in, Dr. Schultes needed to evaluate and then make considered choices about the technologies she could effectively manage, support, and use throughout the semester.

Cynthia Schultes

“You just can't assume they’ll understand how to use all the tech components… you’ve got to be prepared”  -Dr. Cynthia Schultes

Instructional Challenge

The benefits to hybrid and tech-enhanced learning are great, yet instructors often face challenges adapting their face-to-face courses to the hybrid model; beyond adaptations in content delivery and teaching style, technology integration and readiness have a learning curve. Even for seasoned instructors, making decisions about what myriad software and technology components, such as those available with Canvas or online, requires both an ability to use a technology as well as to explain and sometimes troubleshoot issues with students. Deciding which technology components to include can feel like a tall order for instructors teaching their first hybrid course, but this needn’t be a daunting task. For instructors, it is key to a smooth first hybrid course to identify what technologies they’re ready to use—and what can wait.

Organizing Online Conferencing, Meeting the Challenge

In particular, a key component for this hybrid course was the integration of online writing conferences. The ID team suggested the idea of using Google calendar in connection with Zoom, to set appointment times, which students could sign up for independently. However, Cynthia found this process more complicated to set up and manage than it first appeared,  knowing too that it would need to be explained to students. This system could save time ultimately, but after weighing the pros and cons along with her other course concerns, she decided not to use the combo for the first course run. Instead, she used two applications separately—a shared Google doc to schedule appointments and individual Zoom meetings for conferences. Her facility with these applications allowed her the immediate flexibility to vary her conference structures: for the first conference, she divided students into groups of four for 1-2 meetings; then conferences for groups of two; and finally individual conferences to address work for the longer project in second half of semester. 

Jill Ballard, a woman with brown hair, smiles

“When you take the leap of teaching hybrid, take smaller, sure steps with tech—choosing technology you’re at ease with and can support will make the course run smoothly. You’ll always have room to include new and different technologies in future iterations.”  - Jill Ballard

Instructor Takeaways For Future Courses

At the end of the semester, Cynthia noted that determining what tech to keep and what to cut early on was important for the course to run smoothly. Although tech savvy, she found she needed to develop a facility with the new, suggested processes before implementing them, so she streamlined her choices to be more manageable. She noted there was also a technology learning curve for students, though the online experience was familiar  to them, having already taken other hybrid courses within the MAPC program. Using Zoom worked well for her graduate students, especially for individual conferences, and was convenient for working students. In general, the hybrid model puts more responsibility for learning on the student, which was especially true for her online conferences. Students were held accountable for their own meetings—preparing their own questions to bring to the meeting and deciding how they wanted to use the time without looking to the instructor to lead fully. Other components used in the hybrid model such as discussions, process questions, and writing assignments, were supported by the conferences. Going forward, Dr. Schultes  plans to create more visible ties between discussions, assignments, and conferences, as well as clearer connections between the F2F and online class meetings. For the Google calendar and Zoom combo, she’s still interested in adding it in her future hybrid courses, as she particularly likes how the calendar function reminds students via Google calendar notifications, to be ready at their chosen conference time.

Course design and the tech implementation process will be different for every instructor certainly, but overall, it’s important for instructors to be comfortable with their courses’ technology before rolling out.  In truth, “educational technology does not possess inherent instructional value: a teacher designs into the instruction any value that technology adds to the teaching and learning processes” (Dexter, 2002, p. 57).