Can Hybrid Classrooms Increase Interaction?

Last week, I posted an infographic about a flipped classroom model that’s being used in high schools. By “flipped classroom,” I’m referring to a model of learning that puts the instruction part of a course (such as lectures) online, freeing up class-time for hands-on work. Essentially, what was once done in the classroom is done at home, and what was done at home is brought back into the classroom. This puts the instructor in the role of facilitator, rather than the sole keeper of knowledge. Students can work to understand the material on their own time and at their own speed, leaving class time open for discussion, questions, group work, or individual work.

I think I’ve mentioned on this blog before that I took one online course while I was an undergrad, and I hated it. It was a business writing class, and the instructor was non-responsive to emails, gave very little directed feedback, and left the class to basically figure things out for ourselves. I hated the feeling of being so disconnected from my professor–so much so that I sought out another instructor in the English department who also taught business writing. He was gracious enough to meet with me to discuss my work, and I’m not sure I would have faired very well in the course without his constructive feedback.

This one experience tainted my views of online courses, and I’ve avoided taking them ever since then. It’s also another reason I’ve been cautious about the idea of teaching an online course. I wouldn’t want a student to go through the same experience that I did. I, like many others, fear that teaching online becomes too impersonal, too distant, too disconnected.

But even a class that meets together in a traditional classroom space can still be impersonal. I think those of us who have taught would agree that our greatest teaching moments did not come while we were standing at the front of the classroom, “dispensing wisdom” upon our students in lectures. These moments came while we were working with our students individually, talking to them, asking them questions, and letting them ask questions of us. When we, as instructors, are “chained” to the lectern at the front of the classroom, there’s no way we can connect our students individually. Though we are still in the same room, we are distant and disconnected.

Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, the two high school teachers who have become huge proponents of the flipped classroom model, commented about why the hybrid teaching model works so well in a recent article on The Daily Riff:

Since the role of the teacher has changed from presenter of content to learning coach, we spend our time talking to kids.  We are answering questions, working with small groups, and guiding the learning of each student individually.

According to them, the hybrid model actually increases interactivity. Instead of being trapped at the front of the classroom, instructors are free to move about, looking at student work, asking questions, talking, coaching.

We all know that the students who come to our office hours, make an effort to email us, and ask questions after class are the ones who usually demonstrate the most progress. Yes, this might have something to do with the fact that they are already high achievers, but I really think there’s something to be said for the interaction and personal connection that comes with this–both for us and for them. By talking to students one-on-one, we get to know them, understand their needs, and make decisions on how to adjust our instruction accordingly.

But how can we have this opportunity in a traditional classroom setting?

The most productive sessions I have with students are when I require them to meet with me several times throughout the semester for individual conferences to discuss their writing. By moving things (such as lectures) online, we open up time in class for more of these individual, one-on-one interactions on a regular basis. We’d be getting to know our students, talking to our students, working with our students. We’d be teaching.

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