• Devon Moore

How to Plan for Your Spring 2021 Hybrid or Flex Course

So, you’re planning a hybrid or flex course.

Whether you’re just wrapping up teaching a flex or hybrid course for the first time (Congratulations! You survived!), and you’re wondering how you could improve your approach…or you are facing teaching in one of these formats for the first time (you got this!), the guide below outlines suggestions and resources for the various aspects of planning a hybrid or flex course to help you as you prepare for your spring 2021 courses.

Granted, flex is not as difficult to plan as a hybrid course as it requires fewer changes to your overall course design. But both course delivery options can pose challenges, as we’re all beginning to learn.

We hope these strategies and resources will help you plan.

How to Plan a Hybrid or Flex Course

Jenae Cohn, an academic-technology specialist for the program in writing and rhetoric at Stanford University offers one approach for designing your hybrid course. She says, “Design a fully online class and think of the in-person part of it as an enhancement to the core of your coursework. That may sound counterintuitive, but I’ve heard this from several teaching experts. The idea is that if you expect the bulk of teaching and learning to take place in your classroom, you’re asking it to carry too much weight.” She advises instructors to use class time to review student questions and build connections with students.

Essentially, Cohn’s recommendation is to follow more of a flipped classroom approach, in which course content is delivered outside of class and more active learning activities are built into class. At the same time, be sure to clarify coursework expectations for students and make sure that you’re not inadvertently adding more work than would typically exist in your face-to-face course. Especially if you’ve chosen to teach the same content for your “Group A” and “Group B” in a given week, remind students in your syllabus that the online work they’re doing on the “off” (not-in-class) day is equivalent to work they would have been doing in class on that day. Consider creating a “getting started” module to help students orient to your course structure and explaining this setup.

Sample course map for hybrid course
Jenna Sheffield's Hybrid Course Map

For either your flex or hybrid course, consider using a planning sheet or planning map to help organize your online versus face-to-face content and activities, connecting them to course learning outcomes. Oregon State University developed planning sheets to help instructors organize activities and class plans for students according to course format. Their blended course planning forms or blueprints help instructors think through which activities should be completed online and which can be done in person. There are also charts to help make sure class activities & content align with learning outcomes.

It can be helpful to lay out course due dates and activities based on when different groups of students will be online or in class, establishing a consistent weekly learning pattern for each group. The University of North Carolina Charlotte has some suggestions for ways to structure coursework based on a weekly schedule. They have suggestions for both hybrid-asynchronous and hybrid-simulcasting (their version of flex). They offer some blueprints & examples that may be helpful.

How to Spend Class Time: Working Together/Building Community

As Cohn noted, think of class time as a chance to regroup with your students. This maximizes the opportunities for engagement and discussion and limits the likelihood that remote students will be able to just sit back and watch the classroom activities.

Another approach is to focus class time on three themes: well-being, engagement & feedback, as suggested by Baylor University’s Jon Eckert & colleagues. Taking time to get a pulse on students’ well-being can go a long way toward supporting their ability to focus on their schoolwork because the pandemic is causing repercussions on many levels of students’ lives that go well beyond their physical health. Engagement is a standard that remains important regardless of the course format; the more students engage with the material, the more likely they are to succeed in the course. Spending class time providing feedback can also help to build relationships with students.

While different modes call for different teaching approaches, here are a few tips for what to do when you are live in front of your class:

  • Flex: In-person students can zoom one-on-one with remote students to discuss a topic, or work on an assignment together.

  • Hybrid or flex: As you might do in a typical classroom, hold interactive discussions that require students to apply concepts they have just learned. Hybrid class discussions seem to work a bit better in pairs rather than larger groups. Flex classes work well when the whole class participates in online polls or in collaborative documents.

  • Hybrid or flex: One-on-one instruction time/conferencing with students on writing assignments or problem solving (potentially through document sharing to maintain social distancing).

  • Hybrid or flex: Community building both between students, and between students and instructor.

  • Hybrid or flex: Wellness checks (a recent CTE Panel discusses strategies for gathering input from your students).

Derek Bruff at Vanderbilt University offers a plethora of examples for how class time can be used for group projects even if a portion of the students are online. In the section called “Group Work,” he describes a framework for students to contribute to small group discussions using Google Sheets: in-person students work in socially distanced clusters, while students online go to breakout rooms. The same system could work to have students create presentation slides collaboratively. He emphasizes that making the groupwork meaningful and using the same tools repeatedly will be helpful in making the collaborations a success. This article also contains a number of other suggestions for how to engage students when some are in person and some are online.

What Students Should Do Asynchronously

Remote activities might focus on preparing students for what’s to come in class, or for recapping what was covered during a live meeting.

Activities for Remote Learning:

  • Viewing lecture materials in presentation or video format where students can learn at their own pace

  • Independent work like practice problems, worksheets, reading, and writing

  • Completing tests or quizzes to assess knowledge level (including low-stakes opportunities to test knowledge)

When possible, try to reduce the amount of reading, and try to mix up content with different formats, such as short videos and podcasts.

How to Hold Multimodal Course Discussions

Some faculty are struggling to keep up with the Zoom chats while also attending to in-person students, and it can be difficult to engage students in discussion when half are online and half are in person— whether synchronous or asynchronous. However, there are a number of ways to stimulate discussion in class even when a portion of the class is attending virtually. Below are some suggestions to encourage discussion in live course meetings.

  • Flex or hybrid: Use live polling. In lieu of “clickers”, there are a number of free online resources (Poll Everywhere, Mentimeter) that can allow students to offer their opinion. Instructors can use poll results to help students expand on their ideas.

  • Flex: The think-pair-share model is still a viable option for students in breakout sessions whether in person of via Zoom breakout rooms.

  • Flex: Discussions may be “silent.” Having students working in a shared collaborative document still gives them the opportunity to interact and share ideas. Take a few minutes at the end to summarize the high points and close the loop on questions or errors. It’s possible that a version of this could work for hybrid as well. Students can review collaborative documents asynchronously and add commentary.

There are many other ways to modify traditional teaching tactics for the various teaching modes. This collaborative chart of activities was initiated by Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner, Associate Professor at Louisiana State University, with input from LSU colleagues and members of the POD Network. The examples below are adapted from Baumgartner’s chart.

  • Hybrid/Asynchronous Online: Assign partners and ask students to discuss their responses in a discussion forum, via e-mail, or by using a video sharing platform like Flipgrid.

  • Hybrid/Asynchronous Online: In recorded videos, pause to let students leave comments or discussion questions and consider counting this as “class participation.” Allow students to comment on posted videos or use a video recording in a discussion board.

Bruff’s previously mentioned article also offers suggestions for how to engage students in discussions during live flex class meetings. Especially check out the “Fishbowl” method. In this activity, a small group of students have a discussion while being observed by a larger group. The observers summarize the points, and the students in the discussion confirm or clarify points made. The roles switch and a new discussion topic is explored.

Managing Backchannel Communications

Backchannel communications are the secondary conversations taking place during a primary lecture or presentation – for example when your students use the chat feature during a lecture. This can be a valuable way for students to engage with course material, but as an instructor, it can be challenging to manage all the moving parts.

Bruff recommends asking one student to be the “voice of the chat” during each class. That way you can ensure that any questions or comments in the chat are brought into the main conversation. In a different article, he goes into further detail about the way backchannel communication can be used in the classroom. In the planning stages of your course, you might even consider assigning a few points to the “voice of the chat” role to ensure each student takes it seriously when it is his or her turn.

Monica Rankin, a history professor from the University of Texas Austin, used Twitter to create a more structured backchannel line of communication that was projected to the class, and updated throughout the class period.

There is a whole world of technology to use for backchannel communications. Here are a few suggestions: Facebook, twitter, GroupMe, Slack, Discord, Twitch, Padlet, and more.

While it can seem daunting to teach in a new format, hopefully some of these tips and activities will inspire some excitement and help you to apply some of your traditional classroom activities to a new mode of teaching. Below we offer more resources with additional suggestions.

Other Resources:

Oregon State University’s Center for Teaching & Learning offers a whole series of videos, articles, samples and resources to guide instructors in designing & teaching hybrid courses.

“Don’t Teach. Facilitate.”: From the University of Waterloo, James Skidmore offers his approach to teaching online. This site includes an overview of his approach, examples for how he structures his course and runs discussions, and more.

“How to be a Better Online Teacher”: suggestions for not only how to hone your skills, but also find more enjoyment in teaching online if it’s not your favorite modality.

“How to Design & Teach a Hybrid Course”: this article offers “Do’s & Don’ts” for teaching a hybrid course.

“7 tips from research for effective hybrid teaching”: This article offers a handful of suggestions for preparing your hybrid course including planning & suggestions for how to continuously improve.

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