Aug 17 2022

How Community Colleges Are Setting Best Practices for Hybrid Learning in Higher Ed

Schools that offered courses with at least some remote learning aspects before the pandemic have found ways to make hybrid instruction a success.

With nearly 1.4 million fewer students enrolled in undergraduate programs than before the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities looking for ways to boost registration may want to consider offering more hybrid courses, a structure nearly half of students (49 percent) say they prefer.

According to an EdTech Twitter poll, 64 percent of respondents are catering to this preference by offering at least some hybrid offerings this academic year.

While online class components were a new, need-based addition for some universities during the pandemic, many community colleges had already honed the hybrid format.

Hybrid courses have proven to be a natural fit for the schools’ often diverse age demographics, says Fabiola Riobe, associate provost of academic innovation, online education and global opportunities at Rockland Community College in Suffern, N.Y., which is part of the State University of New York system.

“Our student population has different priorities, possibly having full-time jobs, different family obligations,” Riobe says. “With hybrid, the capacity to be agile in the modality of instruction is instrumental to the student as far as timing, what they’re able to do and when they’re able to do it. They don’t necessarily have to be in a classroom.”

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Faculty Training Programs Help Establish a Blended Class Configuration

Pre-pandemic, RCC provided a graphic arts study abroad program that included online work and in-person instruction.

When the school expanded its online offerings during the pandemic, the art program’s instructor and eight other faculty members who had hybrid teaching experience spearheaded workshops and served as resources for other faculty members trying to familiarize themselves with hybrid lessons, says Riobe.

RCC has also implemented an online training sequence all faculty members must complete before teaching online, and it recently launched a concierge service to answer students’ course-related technology questions, a suggestion from one of the college’s tech staff members.

“It’s really taking a closer look at the different stakeholders and what their needs are, because it isn’t a one-size-fits-all model,” Riobe says. “You want to create an environment where everyone feels included and like they could be successful, and that goes for students and faculty alike.”

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Classroom Tech Must Serve Remote and In-Person Students

During hybrid lectures, educators can face challenges addressing an audience that’s both remote and in the room. Some schools have added technology to facilitate inclusivity, such as Pikes Peak State College in Colorado Springs, Colo., which outfitted certain classrooms with microphones, cameras and Samsung monitors.

Katie Wheeler, assistant professor of communication and director of the school’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, has also used an Owl Labs Meeting Owl in classes, which includes a 360-degree camera that pivots to focus on whoever is talking.

“It’s actually my favorite device,” Wheeler says. “I teach communication courses for public speaking, popular culture and organizational communication. My students are constantly interacting, and it’s worked well to have a variety of technological options.”

Wheeler says she has found that including information in her lecture slides on how students should respond to questions helps encourage participation.

“If there’s no structure around how to ask or answer questions, the HyFlex classroom falls apart,” she says. “Adding an instruction box that says, ‘Step 1: I want you to raise your physical or digital hand. Step 2: I want you to wait for me to call on you, or I will develop a speaking order’ makes a big difference.”

Get the checklist and see what questions you need to answer about your hybrid learning program.

Reinforce Physical and Cloud-Based Tech to Advance Education

For any fully or partially online program to be successful, in addition to an effective pedagogy, schools must ensure that students have the necessary hardware and connectivity capabilities to access instruction and course materials.

At El Paso Community College in El Paso, Texas — which has provided remote instruction since the 1990s, initially broadcast from a TV studio and later shared via an online platform — faculty members use a variety of means to convey information, including cameras, ceiling-mounted microphones, Microsoft Teams software and other classroom tech, says Marco Fernandez, interim associate vice president of IT.

Students at the school, which quadrupled its internet broadband capabilities during the pandemic to accommodate its burgeoning online course-related needs, can borrow Wi-Fi hotspots and Dell laptops for a semester to join class sessions remotely.

READ MORE: Maximizing Microsoft Teams for higher ed hybrid work.

Though many schools, including EPCC, may again be offering at least some onsite instruction, online course components won’t go away anytime soon. As a result, Fernandez says, IT departments will continue to play a critical role in shaping students’ educational journeys.

“Access to technology and support of technological needs is essential for strengthening student outcomes,” he says. “Higher education institutions should focus on having robust network infrastructure and internet access, including hardware and software platforms that facilitate remote learning, online resources and training opportunities for students, faculty and staff.”

Like many schools, EPCC has seen an increased demand for remote learning over the past two years, according to Associate Vice President of External Relations, Communication and Development Keri Moe, who says the pandemic helped highlight the value it can offer.

“More faculty are integrating online platforms and resources to supplement and enhance students’ learning experiences,” Moe says. “It provides expanded options that improve the way students and faculty collaborate and interact. Blended delivery allows for the use of multiple modalities, which reinforces engagement, learning and retention. Essentially, it is the best of both worlds: Students get access to materials at any time, while still experiencing the benefits of face-to-face support and instruction.”

NEXT UP: Why Portland State University is committed to hybrid learning.

Illustration by Maria Kovalchuk

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