Reduce Anxiety and Foster Innovation in Hybrid Learning
With 2022 around the corner, the world of education remains in limbo as educators toggle between in-person and online teaching and learning. In spring of 2019, educators around the world experienced the sudden shock of transitioning the physical classroom to one that is virtual. Teachers have had to think outside the box to create a dynamic learning experience for students in virtual environments. Even with the light at the end of the tunnel slowly becoming visible, there are lessons to learn from the last year and a half that provide insight on ways to reduce stress and increase educational innovation wherever learning may take place.
Schools continue to define the diverse combinations of physical and online learning they will use moving ahead with many settling on a hybrid combination of both for the 2021-22 school year. The blog post presents three considerations educators might make to reduce stress and increase innovation in hybrid learning: developing an understanding of the parameters of hybrid learning, fostering collaboration among families and colleagues, and improving technology integration.
Understanding Parameters of Hybrid Learning
When the Covid-19 pandemic began, most teachers and schools had to put together an online educational program with little time and less preparation. This forced and rushed transition caused teachers, in particular, to experience anxiety as they sought ways to continue to provide students with a quality education remotely (Duraku & Hoxha, 2020). To take back power from anxiety, educators should mindfully assess and reflect on the context in which they teach. One reflective strategy that has been shown to reduce anxiety is journaling (Fritson, 2008). By reflecting in writing, educators can describe the situation, name the challenges, and take inventory of resources available. Consider these journaling prompts:
Where, when, and how is the educational experience to take place?
What will you and students need to do?
What online program will be used for the classroom?
What are the teachers, students, and your level of technology experience?
What kind of autonomy does the school give in creating the online educational experience?
Once teachers gain a clearer understanding of the hybrid environment in which they teach, they can start identifying the support, technology, and physical resources available. One example of an invaluable resource for hybrid learning comes from the craft store! From a local fabric store, educators can create a makeshift greenscreen to make the virtual classroom more engaging for students. (We will discuss this more later in the post.) Physical props, including small toys, household items, tools, and more that can be easily purchased at discount stores, may increase success for second-language learners by providing objects around which students can concretize understanding (Fadilla, Fatimah, & Akhsan, 2021). In these ways and others, educators essentially create a toolbox for the online environment to enhance student educational experiences and promote academic performance.
Fostering Collaboration with Families and Colleagues
Teaching online is not an entirely independent or asynchronous experience. Yet one of the most difficult aspects of transitioning to online learning is the lack of direct contact with colleagues and students. For example, educators who teach primary school online rely on parents to provide young learners with computer access and to supervise. Having strong teacher-family relationships has been shown to promote student motivation and learning in hybrid learning environments (Steinmayr, Lazarides, Weidinger, & Christiansen, 2021). Teachers can achieve this by fostering collaboration and providing consistent communication with stakeholders at home.
Moreover, establishing positive relationships with fellow teachers and administrators may also be essential for effective hybrid learning. The following example comes from my own teaching experience: When students and teachers at my school in China transitioned back into the physical classroom while I taught remotely, I had to rely on my fellow teachers to set up technology, make copies, as well as prepare and supervise examinations. Due to the pandemic, my colleagues were more than willing to assist me in ways that promoted student success. It was important for me to show gratitude through my words and actions. I found ways to support my colleagues remotely through technology support, words of kindness and support, and even small gifts! My effort to help colleagues and show kindness through simple acts (including sending cinnamon rolls to my team) helped build and maintain a strong professional community in my department. Educators should seek ways to show kindness and care for one another, because effective teaching and learning is a team effort.
Improving Technology Integration
Teachers must challenge themselves to be creative and innovative in the use of technological resources at their fingertips. While basic communication tools and learning management systems are essentials for online learning, educators should explore beyond the conventional tools available and take prudent risks with new technologies to take the classroom to the next level. Collaborative Google Docs, mindful use of school-appropriate social media, video editing tools including Loom.com and Flipgrid, or even makeshift greenscreens can help solve the challenges of online student engagement. In the following examples, I will share how I innovatively used technology to increase student engagement in my online classroom.
One of the challenges of using Zoom to share a PowerPoint as part of a traditional teacher-centered lecture is that students become disengaged after a short period of time. I have found a way to stay connected with students through the innovative use of greenscreens! With a few yards of bright green fabric and free open-source software called OBS or Streamlabs OBS, I incorporated myself into my computer screen like a weatherperson which made learning more engaging. However, taking technology to the next level might not always have to be hi-tech. To make class more engaging during the pandemic, I used my large flatscreen TV and personal whiteboard in front of the webcam to teach. (Students later shared that they preferred my greenscreen innovation!) Educators can also leverage technology students are already using. In my classroom in China, I used QQ and WeChat for discussion questions and posting pictures, videos, and audio clips connected to lesson content. Research ways you might integrate technology into your classroom by watching online videos, reading articles, and collaborating with colleagues around the world in Moreland University’s online and no-cost professional development courses that meet each month!
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown educators the importance of being prepared for learning to happen in diverse combinations of online and in-person schooling. To avoid becoming overwhelmed, teachers must acknowledge that they have the knowhow, the community, and the resources necessary to provide quality hybrid learning.
Edward Johns, Ed.D.