North Hertfordshire College ran a Reflective Exploration project in autumn 2021 funded by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) to help practitioners develop their digital skills, especially but not exclusively for hybrid learning, using resources on the ETF’s Enhance Digital Teaching Platform. The project focused on creating a hybrid teaching model, combined with use of video to facilitate different approaches to assessment.
Hybrid learning is when learners are simultaneously attending the same delivery session from different learning spaces. Some learners will be physically in the classroom or workshop and others attending the training virtually, using different technologies and connectivity to join. The challenge is how to optimise learning activities for both groups of learners.
To test a hybrid learning model, specifically the methods and technology tools and their impact on more traditional synchronous online remote classes.
To investigate how effective the use of video recordings could be in supporting formative assessment and potentially summative assessment.
Participants were supported by ETF EdTech Mentor Sarah Simons.
Phillip and Hafssa both undertook training using the bite-size EdTech training modules on the Enhance Digital Teaching Platform focusing on modules in the following categories:
They gained 1-star digital badges for completing modules. Hafssa gained a 2-star digital badge after submitting a reflection in response to the module on the nine protected characteristics from the Equality Act 2010. Reflections and resources for awarded 2-star and 3-star digital badges are featured on the Enhance Awarded Practice Wall.
This involved running two pilot hybrid sessions with a small cohort of nine learners. Each session lasted 45 minutes. The intention was for Hafssa to teach the session and Phillip to provide learning technology support, but Hafssa undertook the first session alone as Phillip had to isolate under Covid restrictions.
The first session threw up several challenges which provided valuable learning points. Both sets of students – those in class and those working remotely – gave positive feedback with remote students saying they preferred the hybrid model rather than a traditional online class.
Prior to the sessions, Phillip and Hafssa explained the experiment in detail to the learners, including what would be involved, potential benefits for them specifically, for other learners and for teaching staff. They also ran a small demonstration with full equipment for them to understand exactly what to expect from the hybrid session.
Students were free to decide amongst themselves who would be in class and who would take the first lesson remotely on the understanding that they would swap for the second session. In practice, some students wanted to stay in the physical classroom so were allowed to choose. They were also given the freedom to choose whether to switch their camera on or to keep it switched off.
The hybrid sessions required new equipment and extra time to plan and set up. Specific tools required included:
Students used Microsoft Teams to connect to the lesson remotely. They needed laptops with working cameras and microphones. Tools used during the lesson included a collaborative whiteboard and MS Forms for quizzes.
Below Hafssa describes how she ran the first session, where she was working alone:
“At the beginning of the session, I set up the camera (a 360-degree range, 4K) and the microphone (a Yeti Nano). Despite encountering some technical issues at the start, I managed to run the session and record it. There were four students attending the physical class and five attending remotely…
I used Microsoft Teams as it is our default for online delivery within the college. The meeting was set up on two devices, my laptop, and the main class computer/projector. The screen was shared and was split into two: one side had the presentation and the other had a collaborative whiteboard. I also shared the presentation so remote students could open it individually and follow as we went along…
Throughout the session, and when it came to activities, students were invited to write on the collaborative whiteboard. Those in class stood up and came to the front and the remote students were also able to write their answers on the same board. This created a sense of equality between both cohorts, and no one felt left out. When asking questions, I tried to alternate, so that one time I would ask someone from the physical class to start and the next time it would be the remote students’ turn.”
Hafssa identified three issues during the first hybrid lesson which were then addressed during the second lesson:
“During the first session I found it difficult to monitor the comments on the chat or the use of emojis. They were coming on my computer where I started the meeting and were not clearly visible to me. To overcome that, I asked one student who was close to my laptop to keep an eye on the comments and report to the class. After reflecting on this, I did not think assigning that task to a student was right because that must have distracted her from the lesson and reduced the quality of the lesson she had received in comparison with her peers.”
During the second lesson, Hafssa joined the meeting with her mobile as a third device and held it in her hand as she moved around the class. This enabled her to keep track of comments or questions and respond quickly. Phillip and Hafssa concluded that for a larger cohort it might be better to have someone assigned to monitor comments.
Students commented that the quality of the experience was improved by using the headsets.
Some students in class were hesitant to stand up and walk up to the board because they were reluctant to be seen on camera and they asked if Hafssa could input their answers on the board for them. In the next session, Hafssa reassured them that the class camera was only for the other students to see them and for Hafssa’s use.
Students said that they understood the lesson well. They commented on delays in hearing or seeing comments, but they enjoyed the lesson, especially seeing their peers interacting with them from a distance.
When remote students were asked whether they would prefer a hybrid session over the traditional online lesson, they all agreed that they would choose hybrid. They said they felt as if they were in class, and the fact that they could see their peers and the lecturer and interact with the lesson in real time made a difference as it provided them with a sense of belonging. Phillip and Hafssa conjectured that remote sessions could be held in a virtual reality-style format such as AltspaceVR where there would be a representation of being in a physical space.
One student who is dyslexic said that sharing the presentation slides with her and being able to go through these in real time helped her as she often spent a long-time taking notes. This allowed her to focus and benefit more from the lesson.
Responding quickly to comments on the Microsoft Teams chat function helped remote students feel more included without the need for them to unmute themselves to contribute. It was notable that students asked more questions and contributed more to class discussion during the second session.
“Finally, I can say that executing a hybrid session is feasible with minimum and simple tools. However, it requires good preparation beforehand and readiness to deal with unexpected challenges.”
The objectives of this activity were to:
The exploration was focused on one class. Learners were introduced to Flipgrid, their usernames were created, and access was granted. Hafssa posted an introductory activity to introduce the learners to using video when responding to tasks. Phillip had recorded a sample video of himself responding to the task to demonstrate to the students the ease of use.
Generally, students were reluctant to engage because of the need to be recorded. Students said they were conscious about how they looked. They did not like the idea that their responses would be visible to other people if using peer review, nor did they like that the videos would be seen by other people outside of their classroom as part of formal evaluation.
Students were also reluctant to make recordings. Hafssa said;
“To show them how simple it would be I gave the example of Snapchat or Tiktok. They explained that they would use those applications but only to be seen by friends and family and not for something as formal as homework or anything related to their studies.”
Even when Hafssa suggested audio as an alternative, the students still said they felt self-conscious about how they would sound in a recording.
Some students also found it difficult to take instructions from video. They found that closed captions went too fast for them to understand so they had to keep replaying and wanted a transcript – undermining the need for video.
Hafssa and Phillip concluded that some of the issues related to the class profile, as some students had lower-level literacy and language issues, and some had special inclusion needs and neurodiversity needs. They felt that other curriculum areas and levels might have found video or audio recording a useful method of assessment, but this was beyond the parameters of this exploration.
The hybrid delivery exploration generated a number of learning points about the infrastructure required – both physical and online – as well as the techniques needed to ensure effective learning by those working remotely as well as in class. There was a positive reaction from both the learners and the teacher so this will now lead to further trials in college. In particular, remote learners felt a greater sense of belonging and class-based learners enjoyed interacting with remote peers.
Project Lead Phillip Ruffell commented:
“In the current climate, where students may be required to be absent from classes, it is recognised that having a hybrid delivery model will mean that students can still take part in class with minimal disruption. An unexpected outcome in feedback from the students was that joining a hybrid class remotely felt more like a traditional classroom than the purely remote experience.”
With further exploration, this could lead to teachers who run remote classes delivering from a physical classroom, or looking further ahead, the exploration of using virtual reality environments in remote classes. The institution will be looking at this in the future and running a trial.
The outcome from the assessment exploration was unexpected, with a strong adverse reaction to use of video recording for assessment by the learners involved. As a result, it was not possible to explore different methods of providing feedback in a more inclusive way using video and audio recording.
The Project Lead is considering how the idea of video or audio recording could be introduced to students at the start of the academic year to set their expectations and overcome lack of confidence.
The key learning points from the case study are summarised in the introductory section.
North Hertfordshire College is based on two main campus sites located in Stevenage and Hitchin. It also has a dedicated engineering and construction campus in Stevenage. It serves a local population of around 200,000 people. The college provides study programmes and adult learning programmes in most subject areas, apprenticeships in a large majority of subject areas, and traineeships, and has provision for learners with high needs.
Staff are supported to develop their edtech skills using the ETF’s Enhance Digital Teaching Platform and Microsoft Education Community and there is a substantial SharePoint site that includes weekly updates on emerging tools and techniques. In addition, the College’s Teaching & Learning team site shares examples of good practice from curriculum teachers.
In autumn 2021, the ETF’s EdTech team supported 10-week Reflective Exploration projects to help teachers and trainers in six organisations to develop their digital pedagogy by engaging with EdTech resources on the ETF’s Enhance Digital Teaching Platform. The six projects were funded by the Department for Education.
The aim of the projects was to encourage participants to undertake bite-size training on the Enhance platform, apply and reflect on what they had learnt, submit reflections and resources on Enhance to gain digital award badges, and engage in pedagogic dialogue about those reflections and resources on the Enhance Awarded Practice Wall after gaining their badges – helping to build an EdTech community of practice across the sector.
The projects were asked to focus on the digital skills needed for effective hybrid learning environments. As indicated above, hybrid learning is when learners are simultaneously attending the same delivery session from different learning spaces. A more detailed definition of hybrid learning and what it implies can be found in the ETF Enhance Learning Ecosystem slides by National Head of EdTech and Digital Skills, Vikki Liogier.
The six organisations involved in the Reflective Explorations were at different stages of development in providing hybrid learning and the stories reflect this – with some focusing on the building blocks to enable effective hybrid learning such as accessible teaching resources and understanding of a wider variety of digital tools.