Researching the challenges and opportunities of hybrid teaching

Hybrid teaching image
Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

This blog post was written by Jane Secker with Miranda Melcher and Rebecca Wells. It summarises the experience of undertaking a literature review on hybrid teaching to help inform the guidance that LEaD has developed for teaching staff.   

When I heard that City were planning on investing in hybrid teaching, I admit to being skeptical about the wisdom of this approach. As a Senior Lecturer in Educational Development, I teach on the Masters in Academic Practice, and I am module leader for our technology modules – Developing Digital Education (formerly known as Technology Enabled Academic Practice) and Digital Literacies and Open Practice.  I know that developing a fully online module requires specific skills, including a purposeful approach to learning design and a lot of resources. Meanwhile, teaching in person and devising learning activities requires different skills. Many of the lecturers I have been teaching at City use blended learning and so our main message has been not to just ‘bolt on’ technology, but to integrate it properly into modules and programmes. Blended learning can involve both online and in-person activities but is distinct from what City was planning in that it does not have students in both modes participating at the same time. I immediately thought combining face to face and online learners was not going to be an easy option. 

Hybrid teaching is where you have a group of students in person in the class and others from the cohort joining online. James Rutherford, Senior Learning Technologist in LEaD is the project manager for ISLA (Inclusive Synchronous Learning Activities) and is very clear about when hybrid teaching should be used by staff, and in developing some evidence informed guidance. Knowing you can’t just transfer an in-class activity online, without some redesign, made me wonder how lecturers would adapt to teaching in this dual mode. I recall thinking that surely this was going to end up being the ‘worst of both worlds’ for the students online and for those who turn up in person. That was aside from the huge investment required to kit out the classrooms to allow students online to be audible and visible to those in the room. Lecturers would need to become skilled at multi-tasking, managing the online space and the physical room. In my view, it sounded like a recipe for disaster. However, intrigued and keen to play devil’s advocate, I agreed to become the academic lead for the ISLA project and to help undertake the literature review that would be used to inform the technical and pedagogical guidance we planned to write for those brave souls planning on using hybrid in 2021/22. The literature review as well as informing our guidance and CPD, was a useful way of benchmarking City’s approach to hybrid teaching with others in the higher education sector. 

To undertake the literature review I was delighted to team up with Dr Rebecca Wells, Senior Lecturer in Food Policy. As well as taking several of our modules, Rebecca had recently completed a systematic review for her Academic Practice dissertation. We were later joined by a relatively new recruit to the Digital Education team, Dr Miranda Melcher, who was awarded her PhD from King’s College London earlier this year. Miranda was going to help write the guidance for staff and was keen to ensure this was ‘evidence-based’ rather than just a simple web page of do’s and don’ts. Between us, I knew we had an excellent team and what we produced really was the product of a collaborative effort.   

Undertaking a literature review on hybrid teaching proved to be an interesting challenge, partly due to the language and terminology. One suspicion I had from the outset was when lecturers said they wanted to use hybrid teaching, they were unclear what the term actually meant. The term ‘hybrid teaching’ was being used at City quite widely in spring 2021, but scoping out the literature by carrying out a few rudimentary searches soon revealed that much of the literature about ‘hybrid teaching’ was actually talking about what I would call ‘blended learning’. The term used in the literature, coming from the work of Beatty is ‘hyflex’ or ‘hybrid flexible’ teaching. Sometimes it’s called ‘dual mode’, and sometimes it is called ‘hybrid,’ but amongst the hundreds of articles we found on hybrid teaching, only a small percentage were relevant to the study. 

Working with Rebecca, who is in the School of Health Sciences, one of the first questions we asked was whether to undertake a systematic review or a more traditional literature review. We felt that given the currency of hybrid teaching, it made sense to try and identify all the literature and to do this in a structured way. It meant we used the PICO framework to define the parameters and scope of our search. We decided to limit the study to research conducted since the pandemic but were interested in studies relating to staff and student experience. We were also fortunate to enlist the expertise of one of City’s research librarians, Diane Bell, who ran the search for us once we had defined our terms and scope. She was able to create a spreadsheet of around 100 articles, including their bibliographic details and often an abstract. The next task was to devise some inclusion/exclusion criteria and work through the spreadsheet to read the abstracts of the 100 or so articles. It proved to be a less painful process than I expected, and I quickly found that a huge number of the articles were in fact focusing on blended learning, so they could be excluded.  

Once we had excluded articles not focusing on hybrid teaching, we were eventually left with just 13 articles which was a manageable list to read between the three of us. We read the articles with the final output in mind, which was evidence to inform the practical guidance for academic staff involved in hybrid teaching. Consequently, we created a table where we could summarise each article to note the following: 

  • Benefits of hybrid teaching 
  • Challenges of hybrid teaching
  • Recommendations and strategies for success 
  • Other observations (including the sample population, any other points of relevance in relation to the study) 

However, on reading the articles in full, it became clear that the parameters of our search, where we had limited the study to only research undertaken during the pandemic, meant we had missed some of the core literature which many of the papers we read were citing. In particular, this included the work of Brian Beatty, who had coined the hyflex approach and had published an open textbook in 2019. With Miranda’s help, as she was starting to draft the guidance, we also reviewed several other websites from other UK universities experimenting with hybrid teaching. This yielded several more articles that were subsequently added to our final selection. This also included a number of papers which had been missed from our search as they were not peer reviewed, such as an Educause guide and an article in Inside Higher Education. The full list of literature that we used is therefore reproduced at the end of this post. 

Hybrid Teaching Guidance 

Work then commenced on drafting the guidance for staff where Miranda took the lead. Several academic staff on the ISLA Steering Group had asked us to ensure the guidance was clear, concise, and directive. Staff would be limited in the amount of time they had to read long case studies. This made us focused on ensuring the guidance explained when to use hybrid teaching, when not to use hybrid teaching, how to plan activities for students involved in hybrid teaching, tips for success and to make sure all the guidance was evidence based. One of the key pieces of evidence from the literature was the need to use hybrid teaching for active learning, and for this to be successful to ensure that the class size is kept below 40 students. We also wanted to ensure staff who tried out the hybrid approach were aware of the challenges it might present both to students and to themselves as staff. This has been clearly flagged up in the guidance we drafted. On the positive side we have included tips for success when using hybrid teaching and gave some examples of activities that work well with this type of teaching.  

Our ISLA Guide is available online and complements a programme of training for staff at City that covers both technical and pedagogical aspects of teaching in hybrid mode. From the outset, the guidance makes it clear when hybrid teaching can be used, but also when other technologies such as live lecture capture might be more appropriate.  

In conclusion 

As an academic and Senior Lecturer in Educational Development, the literature review was an opportunity to reflect on current evidence about the use of a new approach to teaching. I started off skeptical about the benefits of hybrid teaching; I remain convinced it should only be used in very specific circumstances and that there are many challenges associated with the approach. However, I think what has been possible is to write some clear guidance to staff, so that those who are considering using hybrid teaching go in with their eyes open to both the challenges and opportunities that it presents. 

It was great to be part of a wider team that has been involved in rolling out hybrid teaching at City, University of London. I’m aware it has not been without problems this term, particularly as supply problems have meant equipping the rooms has proved extremely challenging. However, hybrid teaching has been going well for some staff, who have received positive student feedback. Rebecca will be writing a follow up blog post to share her experiences later this term.  

If you would like to hear me and Rebecca talk more about hybrid teaching and the literature review, we discussed this as part of the Teaching Here and There podcast series with James Rutherford and Dom Pates.  

Hybrid Teaching: the evidence 

Below are the results of our literature review and the evidence we used to inform our guidance for staff. We particularly wanted to thank several universities whose guidance we also reviewed and found valuable to supplement our research. These include: King’s College London, London, Durham University, and Vanderbilt University. 

Bartolo, N.S., Pizzuto, M.A., Wirth, F., Szijj, J.V., Serracino-Inglott, A., and Azzopardi, L.M., 2021. The shift from class-based to online learning during COVID-19: A student and academic perception. Pharmacy Education, 290–296. 

Beatty, B.J., 2019. Hybrid-Flexible Course Design. EdTech Books. 

Bevacqua, J. and Colasante, M., 2019. No lines: Observations from a pilot project to re-imagine,design and implement a flexible student-centred approach to study mode selection. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 16 (1). 

Binnewies, S. and Wang, Z., 2019. Challenges of Student Equity and Engagement in a HyFlex Course. In: Blended Learning Designs in STEM Higher Education. Springer. 

Colasante, M., Bevacqua, J., and Muir, S., 2020. Flexible hybrid format in university curricula to offer students in-subject choice of study mode: An educational design research project. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 17 (3). 

Cox, J.M., Posada, J.P., and Waldron, R., 2012. Moodle Workshop activities support peer review in Year 1 Science: present and future. ASCILITE-Australian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education Annual Conference. 

Educause, 2020. 7 Things You Should Know About: The HyFlex Course Model [online]. Educause. Available from: https://library.educause.edu/-/media/files/library/2020/7/eli7173.pdf [Accessed 2020]. 

Ferrero, M.A., 2020. Hybrid Flexible Class: A Professor’s Guide to Hyflex Teaching [online]. Medium. Available from: https://medium.com/the-faculty/hyflex-teaching-d1347143ef3d. 

Kauppi, S., Muukkonen, H., Suorsa, T., and Takala, M., 2020. I still miss human contact, but this is more flexible—Paradoxes in virtual learning interaction and multidisciplinary collaboration. British Journal of Educational Technology, 51 (4), 1101–1116. 

Kohnke, L. and Moorhouse, B.L., 2021. Adopting HyFlex in higher education in response to COVID-19: students’ perspectives. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 1–14.  

Lieberman, M., 2018. Introducing a New(-ish) Learning Mode: Blendflex/Hyflex [online]. Inside Higher Ed. Available from: https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2018/01/24/blendflex-lets-students-toggle-between-online-or-face-face. 

Manciaracina, A.G., 2020. A tool for designing hybrid learning contexts in higher education. ID&A Interaction Design & Architecture(s). 

Miles, C.A. and Foggett, K., 2016. Supporting our students to achieve academic success in the unfamiliar world of flipped and blended classrooms. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 13 (4). 

Miller, J.B., Risser, M., and Griffiths, R., 2013. Student choice, instructor flexibility: Moving beyond the blended instructional model. Issues and Trends in Educational Technology, 1 (1). 

Naffi, N., 2020. Le modèle de conception de cours hybride-flexible (HyFlex) : une stratégie pédagogique gagnante en ces temps d’incertitude. International Journal of Technologies in Higher Education Revue internationale des technologies en pédagogie universitaire, 17 (2), 136–143. 

Pathak, B.K. and Palvia, S.C., 2021. Taxonomy of higher education delivery modes: a conceptual framework. Journal of Information Technology Case and Application Research, 23 (1).  

Raes, A., Detienne, L., Windey, I., and Depaepe, F., 2019. A systematic literature review on synchronous hybrid learning: gaps identified. Learning Environments Research, 23 (3), 269–290. 

Raes, A., Vanneste, P., Pieters, M., Windey, I., Noortgate, W.V.D., and Depaepe, F., 2020. Learning and instruction in the hybrid virtual classroom: An investigation of students’ engagement and the effect of quizzes. Computers & Education, 143. 

Raman, R., Sullivan, N., Zolbanin, H., Nittala, L., Hvalshagen, M., and Allen, R., 2021. Practical Tips for HyFlex Undergraduate Teaching During a Pandemic. Communications of the Association for Information Systems, 48 (1), 216–226. 

Sadoux, M., 2021. How to flip it… never again? Towards agile models of work. Languages at work, competent multilinguals and the pedagogical challenges of COVID-19, 89–95. 

Sartor, V., 2020. Digital Age Pedagogy: Easily Enhance Your Teaching … [online]. American English. Available from: https://americanenglish.state.gov/files/ae/resource_files/etf_58_3_pg02-09.pdf 

Taylor, J.B.J., 2020. Could ‘HyFlex’ make the difference for disadvantaged learners? [online]. Jisc. Available from: https://accessibility.jiscinvolve.org/wp/2020/07/23/could-hyflex-make-the-difference-for-disadvantaged-learners/

Tila, D., 2020. Shifting to blended online learning and its impact on student performance: A case study for students enrolled in economic courses prior to COVID-19 emergency remote instruction. The Central European Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, 86 (4), 62–71. 

Vogel, M., 2015. Peer review with the Moodle Workshop activity – a close look [online]. Digital Education team blog. Available from: https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/digital-education/2015/02/13/peer-review-with-the-moodle-workshop-activity-a-close-look/ 

Weissmann, Y., Useini, M., and Goldhahn, J., 2021. COVID-19 as a chance for hybrid teaching concepts. GMS Journal for Medical Education. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

One thought on “Researching the challenges and opportunities of hybrid teaching

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.