By Kyleen Gray
Over the past year and a half, nearly every school on the planet has upended its format of delivering education. Some have stayed in classrooms with significant physical distancing restrictions, while others have completely left the physical classroom in favor of full distance learning. Many more have found a (somewhat) happy medium in hybrid learning, with some students learning in the classroom environment while others learn from home, either due to illness or a desire to stay safe in a physically distanced environment.
Since it is clear that COVID is not making a swift departure, as previously hoped, educational institutions must continue to adapt to ever-changing circumstances in order to effectively deliver curriculum and assess student learning. Could sustainable hybrid learning be the answer to this dilemma? If so, what needs to be in place to sustain an effective hybrid learning environment for both teachers and students?
Technology Accessibility and Training for Students and Teachers
The most important element of a sustainable hybrid learning environment is technology accessibility and training for both students and staff. Schools need to be prepared for all students and staff to have access to their own technology devices that can be easily moved from home to school at a moment’s notice.
In addition to accessibility, school boards need to ensure that all students and staff have internet access at home; for some this may be an economic or locational issue that would need to be addressed as a first priority, to ensure equitable access to education.
Finally, students and staff need to have both training and opportunities for trial-and-error on the digital platform(s) the course will be using. Ideally, this would occur before any distance learning pivots take place.
Teacher Training for Engaging Hybrid Lessons
Once access to technology is established, teachers need to be trained in how to engage both the students in their classrooms and those at home. To fulfill this challenge, they need to be trained to plan lessons with both audiences in mind, and to develop effective communication methods for students both at home and at school.
Some effective ideas for hybrid lessons involve using a live feed via an application such as Google Meet for online students, as well as using technology applications that encourage students at home and school to interact. This might involve discussion posts or collaboration through applications like Google Docs or Slides.
The goal should be for students at home and school to feel that they are equally part of the classroom community.
Equitable and Authentic Assessments
Another element required for hybrid learning models to remain sustainable is equitable and authentic assessments.
Conferencing is one assessment method that can be adapted so that all students can participate equitably. Because one-on-one conferencing can be achieved with more or less the same authenticity and effectiveness whether it’s in person or over a video call, it is a great option for equitably assessing all students’ learning.
If teachers choose to use testing for assessment methods, they can consider using Google Forms, which when adapted to “quiz” mode in settings can lock out any other windows. Using Google Meets, teachers can ask students at home to share their screens and turn their cameras on to create a testing environment that is similar to the classroom with regard to supervision. This method of assessment ensures authenticity of student work, as well as equitable opportunities for students to complete test assessments from home or in the classroom.
Benefits of Hybrid Learning
Although hybrid learning began as a band-aid solution to COVID schooling, it can easily be adapted to become a sustainable method of education that provides greater flexibility and, therefore, equity. As long as teachers and students have access to appropriate technology and training, this educational delivery and assessment system allows schools to keep up with the dynamic nature of our current world.
With hybrid learning as an option, students and teachers don’t need to always be “at school” in order to participate in learning. They can access, or deliver, the same education from home, or elsewhere, when necessary. Considering that the goal of most schools is to remain open as we move forward, adopting a hybrid model that enables students to learn from home when that is the best solution—whether because of a natural disaster that closes buildings, or a surge of infections that removes some student from classrooms –allows for their learning to continue without interruption.
Kyleen Gray is a teacher and literacy program leader at a small, rural school in Ontario, Canada, with 15 years of teaching experience both in the classroom and on e-learning platforms. Her teaching style focuses on using 21st-century teaching methods, literacy development, and cross-curricular learning.