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Hybrid Teaching and Weathering the Storm

The P3 Collaboratory is pleased to continue “Teaching Tuesdays,” our ongoing series on pedagogy in higher ed and on the RU-N campus. This week's entry was written by Dr. Elena Lahr-Vivaz (Spanish and Portuguese Studies, SASN).

Image of palm trees blowing in hurricane winds

Last fall, after more than a year of teaching-from-home, I was ready to go back to campus. On the first day of class, with rain in the forecast, I packed my bags and umbrella and trundled off. My husband and two children, ages 10 and 15, were at the beach enjoying the last days of warm weather, and I was solely responsible for myself and our two cats. I had no other commitments or appointments, and as much time as I needed. I felt as prepared as I could be for the Big Return.

I drove home excited, feeling that the day had been a success overall. Teaching in a mask was less strange than I had anticipated, and it was exhilarating to be back with my students. Then, just as I pulled in my driveway, my phone pinged with a weather alert: Tornados coming. Take cover. Over the next few hours, in-person classes were canceled (again) and we were back to remote instruction due to severe flooding on campus.

Clearly, the new normal was not quite what I had hoped.

As the pandemic ebbs and flows and the virus perhaps approaches something resembling endemic, we continue to negotiate what Brené Brown has cogently termed the Great Awkward as we return to work, which, in my case, is to campus and to the classroom. While I agree with Brown that we’re not going to be able to navigate this moment entirely gracefully, I’m increasingly an advocate of hybrid classes as one way to allow ourselves and our students much-needed flexibility and the opportunity to pivot as necessary.

I’ve been teaching Hispanic literature, film, and culture for almost two decades now, and during this time I’ve taught courses fully in person, fully virtually, and as hybrids. In the fall, I taught two hybrid courses: Introduction to Latin American Literature (a requirement for the Spanish major and minor) and Critical Approaches to Films from Spain (a general education course). Hybrids can take many forms, but by definition are taught partially in person and partially online. In my case, both classes met once a week on campus, and students also completed weekly activities asynchronously on Canvas.

Hybrid classes are designed to function in a dual modality, so switching between online and on-campus is built in from the start. With my classes taught partially on campus in the fall, I found I was more able to readily connect with students than when I taught fully online, and that students were able to more adeptly forge ties with their classmates. With the classes taught partially online, I found that both the students and I were able to pivot more readily when needed: we could all make it work just a bit more easily when we or our family members were ill or needing to quarantine; or when the school bus came late (or didn’t come at all).

Hybrid classes thus offered a modicum of grace for a moment in which we sorely needed it.

Hybrid courses also continued to offer a way to more fully engage students with a rich diversity of learning styles and languages. Students who were more reluctant to speak up in class could expand on their ideas in online discussions, for instance; and students who were still learning the target language (be it English or Spanish) had time to compose their thoughts before posting online. The hybrid format also encouraged students to employ a variety of communicative modes through exercises online and in person, and gave them the ability to slow down (or speed up) lectures and videos, or to use captions (or other tools) as necessary.

I am now contemplating how I might further adapt hybrid courses to weather the storms that will inevitably come. When I taught Introduction to Latin American Literature in the fall, for instance, two students needed to take the course to graduate in the spring but couldn’t fit it into their schedules. With a slight adjustment to the syllabus and Canvas site, I built additional assignments into the existing course to enable it to also function fully asynchronously. This allowed the students with scheduling conflicts to take the course in the fall and graduate on time; and, as an additional benefit, allowed students who had to miss on-campus sessions to more readily catch up.

Parenting and teaching both require thinking on your feet and remaking plans on the fly. While not a panacea, hybrid teaching holds real promise for allowing us all to balance our many responsibilities—to weather the storms—while remaining boldly committed to both educational excellence and diversity.


Featured P3 Workshops:

Session Description: Grades and grading often put educators in contention with students to the point where instructors lament everything about the grading process. In an effort to reemphasize the learning process that is at the core of grading, educators across all disciplines have turned to ungrading and other alternative grading approaches. This workshop asks educators to consider when and how they might use alternative grading in their course offerings (irrespective of size / modality). This session, led by Dr. Courtney Sobers (SAS-N, Chemistry) will present traditionally graded and ungraded versions of large enrollment Chemistry courses.

Listening well can help foster connection, collaboration, and more constructive conversation. This workshop is an opportunity to practice listening and speaking, so participants should come prepared to engage in interactive storytelling and listening exercises. Working in pairs and small groups, participants will practice listening at different levels and experience the impact of being heard on multiple levels. Participants will leave this active learning / engagement workshop with frameworks for full spectrum listening and a deeper understanding of the relationship between our intentions as listeners and the impact of our listening on our relationships and communication.


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