Having to deal with social distancing guidelines has meant many educators have had to teach online and in-person simultaneously. This is something of a juggling act as it’s a real challenge catering to two audiences while trying to ensure an engaging learning experience. Faced with the prospect of having to teach students both in the classroom and online, I asked the wonderful academic community on Twitter for their experiences of simultaneous teaching:
Does anyone have any experience of simultaneously teaching students in the physical classroom and students who are remote learning, via live stream? There are undoubtedly challenges in engaging two groups of students. #AcademicChatter #AcademicTwitter— Dr Jonathan Wilson (@WilsoJS) October 3, 2020
Here are a selection of the responses:
I recently gave a seminar with a life and a zoom audience. The major challenge was in finding the balance between in person communication and online. Especially in energy levels from me, engagement levels for both, and not appearing like a raging lunatic or boring chump to either— Zach Isaiah Chia (@LionCityBoyZach) October 3, 2020
My colleagues @tundeva & @DrSaetnan have both been doing some work on this, it is certainly challenging (especially where the physical & digital infrastructure hasn’t been designed for it) but possible for those staff who feel confident in doing so.— Simon Thomson (@digisim) October 3, 2020
I decided to teach twice, rather than do simultaneous in-face and online. I don’t think I could cope.— Richard Cobley (@DrRichardCobley) October 3, 2020
It is good to have an extra person (teaching Assistent) taking care of tech and of the chat. You can‘t do that in addition to physical classroom teaching. Make sure the screen with zoom students is placed in a way you can always see their faces— Nadine KL (@ProfNK4) October 3, 2020
It is the policy to pursue this approach at Uni of Sussex this term. And it is clear from the experience that it is challenging, especially in ensuring that both sets of students feel they are being addressed and involved.— Alison McGregor (@AlisonMcGregor) October 4, 2020
The vast majority of posts commented on the challenges of simultaneous teaching. However, it’s clear that there are a number of steps educators can take when teaching online and in-person simultaneously. The first step is deciding on the approach.
Approach 1: Adapt to online engagement
Rather than trying to produce the same learning experience for both online and in-person students, this approach accepts that adaptation can be beneficial to students learning remotely. You can use the fact that students are online as an opportunity when it comes to engaging with the entire class.
Prior to the session, students learning remotely can be assigned roles or tasks where they can share their screen with the class. For example, one of the tasks I ask my students to do in my research class is an expressive technique whereby they draw how they view a particular brand. Similarly, you can ask students to create a mind map on their module subject. This is an ideal task for ‘pulling together’ everything that they have learned on a module. There is also an opportunity for those assigned roles to share their screen and speak directly to students.
Literature search tasks
As remote students are online, you can ask them to engage in tasks that require searching for the answers to specific questions. This task works especially well as part of a research methods class, whereby students are tasked with locating a particular article or source(s) of information.
You can give all online students the task of finding answers to a set number of questions and then share their answers to the class during a live session. Answers can be posted in the chat box or shown via a shared screen. Awarding a prize to the student who is able to find the answers the quickest makes the task that little more competitive!
Approach 2: Standardise in-person experience
The aim of this approach is to standardise the in-person experience. In other words, those students learning online feel as though they have a similar learning experience to those learning in the classroom.
Using a chat monitor
This was a comment made by @ProfNK4 – ‘It is good to have an extra person (Teaching Assistant) to take care of the tech and of the chat.’ From the educator’s perspective, it can be difficult to read the chat box while also teaching students in the physical classroom.
Assigning a chat moderator to read the questions helps to ensure that contributions from students learning online are not missed and that they carry the same weight as those students in the physical classroom.
Encouraging online students to engage with the chat function can be a challenge. To address this, try to avoid questions that require lengthy answers. Interesting questions that require short answers work best. For example, I often start my sessions with an icebreaker question e.g. ‘What is your favourite brand logo?’ This often helps to promote engagement when asking questions later in the session.
Introduce interactive tasks
Introducing interactive tasks helps to ensure that both sets of students are treated equally. For example, in your PowerPoint slides explicitly posting a question that requires an answer in the chat box, means online students also have an opportunity to respond to questions. Again, use the chat moderator to read out any answers to the class.
Interactive tools such as Kahoot! – a free game-based learning platform, makes it easy for all students to engage in the same learning experience. I’ve used Kahoot! as a formative assessment tool as it’s easy to implement, offers free analytics on student performance and is flexible in terms of the type of questions that can be used in its quizzes. In addition, it can be used to compare the performance of students learning online to those learning in-person.
Which approach works best?
The issues to consider before choosing your approach to simultaneous teaching are three-fold. First, how many students are likely to be in the physical classroom compared to those learning online? Second, consider the digital and physical infrastructure when planning your session. Having a second person available to read the chat box is likely to offer a greater number of options when it comes to structuring your session. Finally, what is the nature of the module design? If it’s largely focused on authentic learning, then develop authentic tasks that promote student engagement for those learning in-person and online.
Having to teach to two audiences does present something of a pedagogical dilemma. There is no doubt that teaching online and in-person is a challenge. However, by considering the points highlighted here, there is no reason why both sets of students cannot have an engaging learning experience.