Thursday, August 06, 2020

Hybrid sessions: the new norm?

In July we completed the Design and Facilitation of Blended Learning course. As teachers, we are proud of the beautiful designs for online lessons, online workshops, interactive videos and coaching programs, which were already already implemented in many cases. It was an intensive course: interrupted by corona. The second live meeting was canceled and we went online. Although we were quite comfortable doing the program online, we missed something. Since the course is already blended, it shows that we really get energy from working with the group. In the live session in Utrecht, the theme (design, tools or facilitation) is put into context and the online experiences fall into place. 

I notice that the course is already well balanced in its blend: each block has two weeks online and one morning in Utrecht. It gives a lot of energy to see each other. Without the live session you miss part of the group process. Fortunately, the last session could be a live session, although two people immediately wanted to participate online. At the last minute we received two more emails ... they prefered online too! We suddenly found ourselves in a real hybrid meeting: half online, half face-to-face.

Will hybrid sessions be the new norm?

Is hybrid the future? I would not know. Maybe we will have more online learning trajectories than blended. It is interesting that one participant did not bother to travel because it would save her time. The standard could also become to organize hybrid session. Firstly, because we can accommodate fewer people or students in a room (we had to cope with a maximum of 9). Secondly, it gives participants the freedom to decide for themselves whether they are willing to travel and meet others. In any case, we thought it gave a lot of energy to be together like this, even for the online participants!

How to organize a hybrid session

We have quite some experiences with one participant online. In this case we have her face embodied on the laptop via the webcam and carry her around. In this case we had four online participants. We asked in advance about the tool options (many are not allowed to zoom): the preferences were Skype and Zoom. We decided to put people on two laptops. Mainly, because having two laptops with each two people made the organization of the groupwork easier. In the session, it also proved to be fun to have two laptop groups, so that it is not 'us in the room' versus 'them online'. It is a challenge, however, to ensure that the online participant's experience runs smoothly. Some tips from our experience: 

  • It helps to experience it for yourself, so offer to join as an online participant at a live meeting or meeting.
  • Make sure the online participants are clearly visible. That can be on a big screen or as a 'laptop head'. This way you avoid to forget them. 
  • An external webcam can ensure that the room is clearly visible to the online participants. This is especially nice with an online speaker, as he / she also sees the reactions of the audience.
  • It can be more difficult to break into a discussion online, but this can also apply to the live participants. Therefore, agree how to ask for the word, eg by raising your hand. As a facilitator you may structure the important more by giving turns, so everyone gets their change.
  • Work regularly in subgroups, mixing online participants with face-to-face (better with headset). Or create a group of two online participants who may exchange online together.
  • The audio was not always optimal for the online participants. A speakerphone might improve that and is something I would like to try next time. 
  • Divide the care for the online participants. Who is watching who? You can divide the tasks between facilitators or apply a buddy system whereby everybody  who is present face-to-face is the buddy of an online person.
  • With large groups both face-to-face and online, it is good to have a face-to-face and online facilitator who work together and occasionally work with their own group.

The group dynamics in this blended session

The group dynamics were fine after all, because they want to stay in touch! One person never met the others face-to-face but clearly felt comfortable.  I felt there was no real difference between the online and life participants (except that we had our coffees together in the sun :).

A participant: "Never had such a steep learning curve. And today, I experienced firsthand how  hybrid learning works. It went really well: beyond expectations!"

More tips?