In Session 2, 2020 we return to on campus teaching for small group classes such as tutorials and seminars, but students will have the choice of an online option for those unable to return or who choose to continue their studies online. Advice has been provided for teaching on-campus in a socially distanced classroom and in laboratory spaces.

This has prompted us to provide a set of recommendations and guidance for a those who find themselves having to be in two places at once using a blended synchronous teaching approach (i.e. online students participating in an on-campus session remotely). This concept has also been labeled “HyFlex” (Hybrid flexible) and even “Zoomflex” by others. The aim is to outline what is achievable whilst providing a good learning experience for on-campus and online students.

Before we get started – a word of caution: Before jumping in boots and all – it is unlikely a solo novice teacher will be able to deliver a satisfactory student experience in a blended synchronous environment by going in “cold”. Preparation is critical, seeking advice from more experienced colleagues, testing the technology, team teaching and keeping interactive components discrete are good ways to minimise problems.

Blended synchronous teaching: on-campus and online

Tips for blended synchronous teaching:

  • Pre-session preparation of technology for teachers and students is needed – let students know what to expect and how to get ready. Test the technology and practice using the technology before you run a class.
  • Plan lessons in advance. Include a buffer time between activities. Include deliberate check-points to pause and check for questions from online students. Be overly specific about task instructions. Put all your learning materials, slides, task instructions, worksheets etc online for easy access by students during the lesson. Blended synchronous sessions take about 1.5 times the effort to prepare and deliver compared to single mode classes.
  • Use supported technologies such as Echo360 livestream interactive presentations (now possible via Universal capture on your computer). Use Zoom (including breakout rooms) for discussion style sessions.
  • Present content via the online platform (e.g screen share in Zoom) and project that screen via a data projector in the room. That way on-campus and online students can see the same material.
  • Use a headset or microphone to ensure both groups can hear you. Audio is critical. If connecting via a lectern PC you may need to mute PC or room speakers to avoid a feedback loop.
  • If all students can be engaged within the virtual platform, this will reduce the need to relay instructions, questions and responses between on-campus and online students.
  • Text chat can provide a common platform for students and it minimises issues associated with relying on audio alone.
  • Assign groups and report back for discussion rather than attempt whole class discussions.
  • Using random group allocation for each class session is easier to manage in online platforms such as Zoom.
  • During COVID-19, on-campus students cannot share computing devices. If not all have a device, plan the session with that in mind. e.g. groups to assign a scribe (typist).

Further details

See “Returning to campus: small group classes with an online option” (requires Macquarie login). Detailed advice on blended synchronous teaching for Macquarie University staff is available as a living document. We will update the advice as new information comes to hand. The document outlines when blended synchronous teaching may be needed, the technologies available and required, how to arrange student groups, scenarios for different teaching contexts including lecture spaces, tutorial rooms and computer equipped spaces. Links to references and sources of help are also provided.

See also: ‘Teaching online‘ targeted at tutors and sessional staff.

More resources by others: UTS “mixed mode classes” (blog and workshop session recording). USyd “talking through masks and mics” with practical tips and activity examples. Mike Caulfield’s video explainer on ZoomFlex is enlightening from a design thinking perspective, where the session is designed for collaboration via Zoom and then on-campus students are added.

Live workshop: 11am Thursday 20th of August, 2020 see further details of this session. [The session recording is now available]

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Posted by Mathew Hillier

Mathew has been engaged by Macquarie University as an e-Assessment Academic in residence and is available to answer questions by MQ staff. Mathew specialises in Digital Assessment (e-Assessment) in Higher Education. Has held positions as an advisor and academic developer at University of New South Wales, University of Queensland, Monash University and University of Adelaide. He has also held academic teaching roles in areas such as business information systems, multimedia arts and engineering project management. Mathew recently led a half million dollar Federal government funded grant on e-Exams across ten university partners and is co-chair of the international 'Transforming Assessment' webinar series as the e-Assessment special interest group under the Australasian society for computers in learning in tertiary education. He is an honorary academic University of Queensland, Monash University and an adjunct academic at University of Tasmania.

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