Staying focused during hybrid work and education

Working from home and following home education has regularly been pretty frustrating for the past year and a half. But now that things are slowly going back to the old, we have to admit that it also had its advantages. No travel time, less distraction from colleagues or classmates and – sometimes – higher productivity. A recent survey by the General Employers’ Association of the Netherlands (AWVN) shows that most employers and employees want to stick to hybrid working with two working days a week from home. And schools are also increasingly investigating how they can shape hybrid education.

Nadira Saab: “With good hybrid education, both the technology and the didactics are in order.”

NEMO Kennislink spoke with Nadira Saab, professor of e-Didactics of primary and secondary education at Leiden University and strategic advisor at Kennisnet, about the challenges and possible solutions for hybrid meetings.

Hybride of blended?

The terms ‘hybrid learning’ and ‘blended learning’ are sometimes confused, but they are fundamentally different. ‘blended learning’ occurs when physical education is enriched with ICT: for example, the pupil receives an explanation in class and then practices online at his own level. In ‘hybrid learning’, several students attend the same education at the same time, with one sitting in the classroom and the other attending the class online.

Why hybrid?

“In fact, hybrid education is nothing new, only it is now happening on a much larger scale,” says Saab. “Before corona, it mainly took place among children who were unable to attend class due to illness or other circumstances.” She sees other applications for the future, also outside possible corona measures. “Consider, for example, the increasing teacher shortage. Or if a teacher is ill and there is no replacement available.”

Just before the corona pandemic, the Flemish educational expert Annelies Raes and her colleagues published an overview study in which they compared 47 studies into hybrid education. In addition to the advantages that Saab mentions, this study also points to the possibilities for small courses, which thus have a greater reach, and for very large courses, where the same subject is now sometimes given several times for different groups. Hybrid education also makes it easier for students to combine education with work and family, and foreign experts can easily give lectures.

austerity?

In higher education in particular, there are concerns about the emergence of hybrid education: is it not simply a cutback effort imposed by the board? “We must indeed watch out for that,” Saab agrees. “Hybrid education is a solution to a problem where someone else cannot get an education at all. But if the technical and didactic preconditions are not in order, it will not be a fully-fledged replacement for physical education. Organizations need to be aware of that.”

It was already possible in the business world to attend meetings from home. This was usually not much appreciated, but after a year and a half of corona measures, that sentiment seems to have changed for good. This increases the need for good facilities for this. What are those amenities?

Technical guidance

The Hybrid Learning Theater of the University of Amsterdam.

“First of all, of course, the technology is essential,” says Saab. “If the audio does not work properly or the speaker is always out of the picture, the online participants will immediately drop out.” Some organizations have therefore built special spaces in the past year, such as the Hybrid Learning Theatre from the University of Amsterdam. In addition to a few dozen attendees in the room, participants can also connect online. A fast internet connection, good microphones and a technical team ensure that the right person is always in view and intelligible.

Saab: “Such technical guidance will not be possible at every school, but it would save the teacher a lot of work pressure. This cognitive load is already higher during hybrid education, because the teacher has to focus on two different groups at the same time, which require different didactic approaches. It makes a difference if you don’t have to deal with the technology as well.”

Raes’s research also shows that, ideally, an operator should be present in the classroom to provide technical support. In addition, she advocates good training and helpdesk for teachers before they start providing hybrid education, and clear instructions for students. She also points out that it is always good to have a plan B ready, so that the student knows what to work with at home if the connection still fails.

The Meeting Owl has been specially developed for hybrid meetings and films in 360 degrees.

For the business community, where hybrid meetings are also becoming more common, more and more technical facilities are also coming onto the market. From fully equipped conference rooms with large screens and microphones that pick up sound from all directions, to the Meeting Owl which you place in the middle of the conference table and portray the person who is speaking.

When watching television

In addition to the technique, the didactics also deserve extra attention. “The purpose of hybrid education is actually twofold,” says Saab. “On the one hand, you want to ensure social cohesion: involving online students in the classroom – especially in primary and secondary education, this is very important. And on the other hand, you want to teach the students something. These goals are not separate from each other: an engaged student also learns better. This already applies physically in the classroom, but certainly online.”

This requires a didactic approach that differs from a purely classical lesson. “What you still see too often is that the teacher mainly gives instructions and explanations. Especially for the online group, that looks too much like watching television: passive and uninvolved,” says Saab.

How should it be? Saab: “Pay explicit attention to the online group from the start of the lesson. Welcome them and clearly indicate how they can ask questions. It can also help to designate students in the class as a buddy for the online students – you already saw that happen pre-corona with a sick student. That buddy can then monitor the chat, for example. That ensures that social cohesion and at the same time reduces the teacher’s workload.”

Interaction between the participants

But the most important didactic tip is to regularly actively involve all students in the lesson and thus create interaction. This can be done, for example, by means of flipping the classroom”, suggests Saab. In this ‘reversed lesson structure’, the students themselves go through the new lesson material before the lesson with the help of the book or an explanation video, after which they can ask questions during the lesson and get to work with the material. Raes also recommends this method in her overview study and advises using breakout rooms in class, in which online and physically present people work together in mixed groups – if this is practically possible.

With interim polls and quizzes you also keep the online participants involved.

“And also build in various interaction moments during the lesson, for example with polls and quizzes,” adds Saab. This can be done as a lesson opener, where students respond to a current statement, or as a formative test, where teacher and student test whether they have understood the material. A follow-up study by Raes shows that online students feel more involved with their classmates as a result of such quizzes and therefore also feel a greater intrinsic motivation for the lesson.

Interaction is also essential during hybrid meetings in the business world to make online participants feel involved. For this it is important to think carefully beforehand who should really be present. The threshold to allow everyone to participate online may be low, but that comes at the expense of speaking time per person. A good moderator can then stimulate mutual interaction with, for example, stimulating questions and the use of chat, breakout rooms or an online whiteboard, such as Miro, on which all participants can share their input.

A keeper

However you look at it, attending a class or other meeting online will always feel different from actually being there. From behind your webcam you still miss the atmosphere and the non-verbal interaction between the participants in the room. But both in education and in business, and even in healthcare, hybrid meetings seem to be here to stay after a year and a half of corona measures. And then it is best for organizations and the participants to be well prepared for this.

Sources

  • Hybrid education and distance education in primary and secondary education, website Distance learning.

Source: Kennislink by www.nemokennislink.nl.

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