October 28, 2020

The Pains & Gains of Hybrid Learning [Guest Post]

Girl reading iPad screen at school

When this pandemic hit, many schools were scrambling to figure out what remote learning might look like. Schools and districts quickly spun up websites with weekly learning guides. While teachers tried to support students remotely with daily check-ins via a video call. As the summer hit, schools wrestled with what the 2020-2021 school year would look like. It was evident this pandemic wasn’t going away and now they had to consider the possibility of serving their students either completely remote or through a hybrid environment.

Many opted for the hybrid model. Before we get into some of the good and bad of that model (or “pains and gains” as I call it), let’s review the two main types of hybrid models that exist out there and the reasons why schools choose to go this route.

Concurrent Hybrid – In this model, students are learning in both in-person and remote locations at the same time (synchronous). Teachers in this model have a group of students on a video call while students in the room participate and interact with each other and those on video. In secondary schools, students on campus continue to rotate from class to class.

Alternating Hybrid – In this model, a group of students attend school in person while another group learns remotely in an asynchronous setting. Then the two groups switch places. Some schools choose to do this switch in the middle of the day or the middle of the week, while others opt to alternate weeks.

Why do schools choose a hybrid model?

Having fewer students in the building allows for better social distancing and less risk of spreading the Coronavirus, which would cause school shut-downs and return to fully remote. Some models like the one in my home district (Austin ISD) utilize what’s called a “learning pod” model where students remain in the same classroom all day. In secondary schools in particular, that limits movement and shared common spaces like hallways or cafeterias.

The Pains of Hybrid Learning

As a large amount of schools shift to some variation of a hybrid model this fall, we are now seeing some of the issues that can occur because of this type of environment. These “pains” all have adverse effects on student learning as well as the mental health of students, teachers, and parents. Here are several of the pain points already brought to light in this environment:

  1. Teacher Stress – Trying to teach in a hybrid environment stretches already underpaid positions even more thin. Unlike the students, most teachers were not given a choice about being in-school or remote. They have to be in school for custodial reasons (to watch over the kids) and also they need to support the learning goals of students learning from home. It’s enough to cause teachers to quit, and many already have.
  2. Curriculum Reduction – Schools have had to change calendars and daily schedules regularly. Switching back and forth between different hybrid and remote models causes a loss in instructional time. Many schools are combating this by reducing some of the learning goals and targets in their daily instruction. This could lead to some long-term effects of learning and has already led to some increased failure rates that come from a reduced curriculum.
  3. Lack of Participation – Depending on the hybrid model, students might struggle with organization of asynchronous work and with class participation. If they aren’t participating in online discussions, this could adversely affect their learning and comprehension of the subject and ultimately their grades.
  4. Feelings of Isolation – As much as teachers try to involve all students, there can be a feeling that the remote students are not truly a part of the class. When they log off of their video calls, they are left to their own devices while students in person get the extra attention of the teacher for asynchronous work. This could also lead to an unfair advantage for those that brave the in-person learning environment.
  5. Parent Fatigue – In a hybrid environment, much more of the learning pressure falls on the parents of remote students versus those students physically in school. In the alternating hybrid models, parents also have to juggle their work schedules based on when their students might be in school.
  6. Technology Issues – During “normal” school, there are always some minor technology issues that teachers are used to dealing with and have back-up plans that involve non-technology based work. In a hybrid setting, there is a large dependency on technology and bandwidth, especially when teaching in a concurrent hybrid environment.
The Gains

With so many pain points, you might be wondering why schools would even bother going this route. It’s a valid question, but there are some advantages, or “gains”, that can happen as a result of teaching in either a hybrid or remote environment.

  1. Teachers can clone themselves – Being in two places at once can be stressful. Many teachers have discovered the power of using video to provide instructions to their students in both in-person and remote environments. This concept of “flipped teaching” has been around for a number of years in schools, but by providing a recorded lesson to students, the teacher can support those that need it while others can learn “on-demand” with the ability to pause and replay videos.
  2. Schedule flexibility – Everyone learns and creates differently and at different times of the day. Some learn math better in the morning, while others can write essays best in the evening or early afternoon. The traditional school schedule doesn’t account for this as students go to their assigned class or subject daily and without change. By creating space for work to be done asynchronously, students can now adapt their schedule to fit their own learning preferences.
  3. Increased accessibility – By shifting learning online, teachers have unlocked opportunities for students to use the accessibility features that their device provides and an avenue to rewatch instructions (like the videos mentioned above). As I’ve seen personally with my own child who has dyslexia, allowing students to use tools like speech-to-text can help them get their stories out of their head and onto a document or transposed onto paper. Videos with closed captioning can help ELL students that may have struggled understanding instruction when done in-person.
  4. Finding tools that work in both environments – Teachers selecting tools that can easily adapt to either the blended in-person classroom or the remote environment can provide some powerful insight into the learning of students. Tackling some of the pains of reduced curriculum and lack of participation in learning means finding the right tools that can capture learning even when the student isn’t physically present in the classroom. Using a digital portfolio tool like bulb gives teachers true insight into the learning process while also providing evidence of growth throughout the school year. As it’s a web-based tool, it can be used on any device and also provide an increased opportunity for student reflection, which has a huge impact on learning.
  5. True personalized learning – With pre-recorded video lessons, flexible schedules, increased accessibility, and the use of tools that capture student thinking and reflection, we are finally starting to see personalized learning taking place. Empowering students to pursue their interests at their own pace without time taken out for classroom transitions and roll calls means that more time can be spent on deeper learning and reflection.

The pains of hybrid learning are real and should not be taken lightly, but through these pains we might actually see some gains when it comes to personalized student learning. Teachers that are given the opportunity to utilize tools like video for instruction and portfolios for reflection during hybrid learning will not only feel less stressed in managing daily instruction, they will also be able to really see the growth of their students no matter the learning environment.

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