Hybrid education is the future

Author: Bas van de Mortel, Ashita Khandelwal & Daniël Asselbergs
February 16, 2021

Video conferencing platforms like Zoom were the emerging winners amidst this pandemic given that Universities completely turned online for most students. The last academic year was a roller coaster ride for students and faculty. Instead of hopping on your bike and riding to the campus, students now have to sit behind their screens for hours on a stretch. But what is happening on the other side of the screen? How has this online learning environment worked out for our professor? We interviewed some professors from different departments within TiSEM. 

What are the major obstacles that you encounter as a teacher during online lectures? How was last semester different from the spring semester last academic year where there was absolutely no time for you to prepare for the online setting?

Zoom and teams were unfamiliar so it took some time to get started. In the spring semester there was much uncertainty about the extent of use of online platforms.The main problem was having no experience in teaching through pre recorded video lectures. Additionally, live lectures are difficult to conduct and make it difficult to interact with students during lectures. Professor Harry van Dalen misses the discussion regarding current economic issues during lectures. Luckily, cooperation with fellow teachers was very helpful according to Assistant Professor Fatemeh Hosseini.

We experience that during online classes most students don’t turn their webcam on and choose to remain silent. Do you experience this as well? If so, how does this affect the quality of your lecture? How do you manage to engage the students? 

Having no camera turned on makes it difficult for professors to deduce if the students actually understand the material. It feels like talking to oneself into a black hole. Even though it does not interrupt the lecture but definitely affects the level of engagement from the students’ side. Professor Eduard Ponds misses the lack of information from the facial expressions and suggests a penalty for keeping cameras turned off or a bonus for turning on camera.

Did you figure out some technology during this time that actually helped you teach better and you are really excited about?

Pre recorded videos are preferred for lectures and interactive live sessions for tutorials by most professors. According to Professor Harry van Dalen breakout room sessions are nice but they are time consuming and people keep their camera turned off anyway. Professor Fatemeh Hosseini also discussed some promising programs that could improve the online education experience, these are however still in their development stage. She uses www.miro.com for one of her master courses, this site provides students to work in an online visual collaborative whiteboard platform. The site promotes creative thinking and brainstorming, it is also really easy to see what you colleagues are up to. www.ment.io Provides an AI-discussion platform for engaging and assessing students in hybrid classrooms. Professor Hosseini mentions that this tool is also very usual for teachers, it gives information about which students are participating.

How do you experience the process of online examination?

A nice benefit of online exams is that it is easier to read typed out answers compared to illegible handwriting. However, it was nerve wracking when students asked questions regarding technical difficulties to professors. But fortunately, the IT and canvas team did great. The lag in reporting grades was quite stressful for both professors and students. According to Professor Hosseini, online examinations in general put a lot of pressure on all parties involved as they create quite some managerial issues. 

We have talked quite a bit about the negative effects of online teaching. To focus on the bright side, what were the benefits of an online learning environment according to you? 

Professor Hosseini experienced that except for the benefits of working from home - saving time and money - innovation in teaching was really pushed. The last couple of years, there were several meetings to discuss how teaching could be improved and innovative. Now, there was the actual need to change fast and break the resistance of especially senior teachers to get out of their comfort zone. Furthermore, Hosseini sees a shift to more hybrid education with a combination of large online lectures and small tutorials at university. We can make these tutorials more personal and go more into depth. Hosseini believes that the university learned a lot from this online experience.

Also Professor Ponds thinks that the use of video clips is a benefit of the online learning environment.

Professor Van Dalen sees another benefit of the online Zoom sessions: “I am bad in remembering names, this is solved with Zoom.” Next to that, he thinks that peer pressure may no longer be present when you are behind your laptop.      

Due to the covid measures, students have reported experiencing loneliness, social isolation and lack of motivation. Do you have any advice for these students?

“That’s a hard one, as everyone has a different way of coping”, says Professor Van Dalen. He thinks that having one-on-one talks, or online gatherings in small groups with friends at regular times during the week, may ease the loneliness. 

Also Professor Hosseini sees the problems of the students and she gives coaching sessions, with approximately three students at a time. These sessions gave her the impression that the spirits and motivation of students are down. It is easy to just say something, but giving helpful advice is difficult. She too believes that students should get together in online zoom meetings, with friends but also other students. Hosseini also believes that the university itself should organize meetings if students do not organize them themselves, which she thinks would work better. Last but not least: “Take it easy during these difficult times, it is okay to struggle. And reach out if you need help.”

To conclude, what according to you is the best learning environment : completely online, completely on campus or a hybrid of online learning and face to face interactions? And why? 

Both Professor Hosseini as well as Professor Ponds believe in a mixture. A hybrid learning environment would be ideal. The use of video clips is really a takeaway from the covid period. Professor Van Dalen thinks that on campus would be his first choice because real face-to-face interaction remains essential. However, he believes that online teaching for small groups or supervising on a one-to-one basis has the benefit of flexibility and would therefore come close to first best.  

We would like to thank Professor Eduard Ponds, Professor Harry van Dalen and Professor Fatemeh Hosseini Tash for taking the time to participate in the interview.

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