Most college professors have spent the majority of their careers teaching students in a classroom, where engagement is necessary for an effective learning environment. Due to the pandemic there has been a large shift toward virtual learning, which inhibits communication.
In May, the University of Georgia released guidelines for the fall 2020 semester in response to COVID-19. Outlined in the guidelines was the introduction of the hybrid model; a structure that combines online and in-person learning components. Instructors would soon be tasked with finding effective teaching strategies that align with this model.
Daniel Brown, a risk management and insurance lecturer in the Terry College of Business, was faced with the question of how he would structure his course based on this model. Brown taught in person until the university went completely online in March, and he taught an online class over the summer.
He would soon find joining hybrid instruction rigorous due to the layout of his course meeting three days a week. Students were given the option of attending class on select days because of social distancing guidelines. Brown would notice attendance dwindling by the week.
Kevin Jones, an assistant history professor, found navigating the hybrid structure more difficult to manage than a completely remote class.
“My Maymester course went much better because it was purely online. Everyone is doing the same thing,” Jones said. “Whereas in the hybrid model, I have no idea who's going to show up on that given day. You're doing two different things with two different groups.”
In the English department, instructors were presented with different hybrid options from which they got to select. Of the options, Assistant Professor of English Jason Payton found the hy-flex model the most beneficial for his students.
“This model allows you to do parallel courses, which are delivered face-to-face and/or online,” Payton said. “It gives the students the choice about which avenue they want to engage in if students want to sign up for face-to-face sessions and attend or do they want to get the content online. It gives students a lot of flexibility.”
Even with instructors having a say in the model of their choosing, some felt the university should have gone completely remote.
“We faculty were railroaded into teaching activities that sound more like in person. Only Georgia Tech dared to stand up and oppose this coercion,” said John Hale, a linguistics professor. “If the USG were guided by health concerns they would have gone 100% online as cases spiked.”
Another prevalent issue that arose from the hybrid model was the lack of engagement and connection between instructors and students.
When in a traditional classroom setting, Brown would assess student's facial expressions and gestures to determine if they are understanding the material. However, with blank screens and face coverings, he couldn’t look to facial expressions for help. Not having the opportunity to interact with students has been another strenuous adjustment, Brown said.
Janet Frick, a psychology professor, voiced the same concern.
“The challenge with hybrid teaching as an instructor is your attention is divided between multiple places. I have my in-person students, online students, I'm wearing a mask, and I’m trying to watch the chat,” Frick said. “I'm trying to monitor several streams of information — it can become difficult to be fully immersed in whatever is happening in the classroom environment.”
Payton sensed that in the fall, students were potentially dealing with a multitude of differing course structures because each professor approached the hybrid model differently. Consequently, this led to confusion and undue stress for students trying to navigate a variety of course environments.
“Students need to know how their courses are going to operate and they need to know that there is going to be consistency from one class to the next,” Payton said. “I think whatever happens going forward, clear communication is key.”