Dr Josephine Chau (Department of Health Sciences) took a researcher’s approach to solving the challenge of teaching synchronously in-person and online. Here, she shares the tried-and-tested strategies that emerged from her investigation.
With the return to face-to-face teaching since the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, academics have had to adapt teaching synchronously in-person and online, also known as hybrid, hyflex, or blendsync teaching. I found it challenging to connect and engage with students in this synchronous hybrid context.
I felt uncomfortable and lacked confidence that I was being an effective and engaging lecturer teaching students face-to-face in the classroom and online via Zoom at the same time. I reflected on my experience during session 2 in 2020 and discussed the challenges with other teaching and learning colleagues.
I then put on my researcher hat and embarked on a teaching self-improvement journey.
First, I researched possible solutions to my problem by reaching out to different teaching and learning academics at Macquarie University and at external institutions. I consulted with the Department of Health Sciences Director of Education, who advised me on my self-improvement plan and suggested other options and resources for me to look at (shout out to Dr Morwenna Kirwan for her support and guidance!).
I also attended open lecture sessions to observe other University lecturers in action (grateful to Dr Prashan Karunaratne for opening up his classroom for observation). I also had a peer review, Associate Professor Mark Hancock, who gave me feedback about my online components and shared his experience engaging with students online.
Finally, I drew upon the public health education community of practice and presented my problem at the 2022 Annual Learning and Teaching Forum of the Council of Academic Public Health Institutions in Australasia. At this forum, I workshopped strategies to trial in my own teaching practice.
Here are the strategies I tried and found helpful. I hope you can find a combination that works for you.
- Know the technology: Familiarise yourself with the technology available for use in the physical classroom (e.g., lectern, microphones, cameras, screens) and with the videoconferencing platform (e.g., Zoom MS Teams). I found it useful to do a trial run when the lecture room was free and record myself to see how things appeared and ensure smoother operation later.
- Shared responsibility: Begin the unit by emphasising to students that the lecture space is split between attendance in-person and online. Everyone is responsible for making sure fellow students have the same time and opportunity to contribute to class discussions and activities. I always greet students joining on Zoom by their name when they appear, similar to when students walk into the lecture theatre.
- Delegate online chat monitoring: I often delegate the responsibility of monitoring the online chat and Zoom panel to another student(s) whose job is to alert me to questions, comments, or raised hands that appear while I am lecturing. This allows me to focus more fully on teaching instead of constantly glancing at the chat or Zoom panels and allows me to stop to address questions at an appropriate point in the lecture.
- Selective use of technology: Try to keep things simple to minimise the need for toggling between screens and for students to navigate multiple new platforms.
- Small break out groups: Create small break out groups online and in-person so more students have the opportunity to contribute to discussions and activities. I walk around the classroom to listen to discussions among in-person students and address any questions, and, similarly, I jump in and out of different break out rooms to do the same for online students.
- Alternate who speaks first: I interchange between asking for student contributions from those attending online and in-person. I feel this promotes greater inclusion whereby sometimes in-person students are invited to speak first, and other times online students speak first.
- Evaluation and reflection: Continual evaluation and reflection of what I tried and their impact has helped me improve and refine my hybrid teaching practice. In the second half of 2021, I asked students for feedback on whether I delivered engaging lectures for students in the classroom and online, and whether I was attentive to their needs in the classroom and online during lecture. I was happy to receive average ratings of 9.5 and 9.6 out of 10, respectively.
Overall, this experience has improved my understanding of synchronous hybrid teaching and I feel more confident to continue delivering lectures in this mode in the future.