Presenting and Teaching

Learnings from Teaching a Hybrid Course

30 Mar 2021  

I recently wrapped up the winter quarter and this week I’ve been reflecting on what I learned. It was a new experience because I was teaching my Marketing Strategy course in a hybrid format, with some students in the room and some elsewhere. Back in the fall I had a mix of in-person and Zoom classes.

In my hybrid class, I taught from a classroom. I stayed in a small area at the front of the room and looked at a camera that was about three feet in front of me. There was a video screen just below the camera, showing the Zoom participants, along with the chat and participant list.

The Zoom students saw the usual mix of me, my slides, the chat, other Zoom students, and a stream of the students in the classroom. Students in the room saw me in the center of the room looking at a camera and wearing a mask, the Zoom students projected on the wall behind me on the left side, and my slides projected on the right side.

The quarter went surprisingly well. My student evaluations were good and consistent with my scores for in-person and Zoom teaching. The scores weren’t perfect, of course, but that is always the case. Try as I might to be charming, my style doesn’t work for everyone.

I was particularly happy that, judging from the comments, the course had a big impact on some students.

Here are a few of my learnings from this hybrid quarter.

Hybrid is Draining

I suspected that teaching in a hybrid format would be challenging, and it was.

The core issue is that teaching effectively in-person involves wandering around, using the room to its full advantage. Eye-contact is critical. Teaching effectively on Zoom means you are standing in one place and speaking directly to the camera. The behaviors are completely different.

In addition, when teaching a hybrid class on Zoom, you need to be watching the students in the room, the students on Zoom, the chat board, the participant list and your own image, all while leading a lively discussion that is somehow related to the slide you are projecting at any given moment.

Focus on the Students on Zoom

In a hybrid format, you have a choice: focus on the students in the room, or focus on the camera? It is impossible to do both.

If you are concentrating on the students in the room, the Zoom attendees become observers. If you spend your time talking to Zoom students through the camera, the students in the room basically watch the proceedings.

I decided to focus on the Zoom group and spent most of my time looking at the camera. I only occasionally looked at the students in the room. In class discussions, I would usually call on Zoom students, and once in a while I would call on someone who was there in-person.

I think this was right decision. Most students were on Zoom; I might have 20 students in-person and 45 on Zoom. More important, the Zoom experience was more challenging. Simply being physically present made the time more interesting for those students. I suspect they enjoyed watching me struggle to navigate everything.

In a sense, I treated my class like a late-night talk show. There is an audience but for the majority of the time the host is working with the camera. The audience watches the proceedings but is not the focus.

Be Careful to Engage Everyone

One of the things I struggled with was calling on all the students. In the student feedback, several people noted that I tended to call on the same people. Some students speculated that this was because I had favorites.

I suspect there were different dynamics at work. One is that it is easy to call on Zoom students that are on the first screen. Moving to the second screen to call on someone is more difficult. I’ve never been clear on Zoom determines who ends up on the first screen. Is it alphabetical? Most recent comment? Whatever the methodology, some students appeared on the first screen frequently and I called on them more.

Another dynamic is that some students are quick with the hand-raise function. If I see a hand up, I tend to go to that student, and I don’t call on students who are slower with the hand raise. Once I’ve gotten a couple answers to a question I tend to move on, so the consistently slow hand-raisers can feel left out.

This is something I need to work on. One of my daughter’s professors designates a few students to be in the “front-row” each class, and then he calls on these students a lot. The students change each class. I might adopt that approach.

Be Careful with Zoom Audio

One of the things I like to do in class is respond when students make a comment. I might say, “So why do you feel that way?” or “So you don’t agree with Susan’s point at all!” or “Right, this really is a market share battle.”

It turns out this is a bad approach. The problem is that Zoom will cut to whoever is speaking, so my comments ended up cutting off the student. This was annoying for some students.

Looking Ahead

This spring I am happy to report that I’m not scheduled for any hybrid classes. Instead, I’ll be teaching in-person, as I did in the fall, with masks and distancing and all the rest. I’ll also have a Zoom class.

The big question: what will the course mix look like in the fall? In-person teaching is certainly the best approach for many students. However, Zoom has a lot of appeal, too, since it lets students attend from anywhere. Students in Kellogg’s Saturday program, for example, might decide the convenience of Zoom is worth the lack of the in-person experience.

I suspect we will end up with a mix: some courses on Zoom and some in-person. And perhaps a few hybrid, despite the challenges.


1 Response

  1. David Rose says:

    This sounds very very difficult. You put alot of energy into it and obviosly care. I would suggest you focus on the room and let the zoom attendees “watch” the proceedings. I think everyone would get a more authentic and better Tim experience. Hopefully you will not have to do this bogus hybrid teaching again. And everyone gets back to getting their moneys worth of a legitimate lecture class. It makes me wonder what chemistry lab students are doing.
    Have a great day n keep on teachin!

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