For a variety of reasons, you may find yourself teaching a class with both in-person and remote students — what is sometimes referred to as a “blended synchronous” class. In this post, we will offer some tips for making the best of this challenging situation, with a focus on how to engage all your students — whatever the modality in which they are attending your class.
The Challenges of Blended Synchronous Learning (BSL)
When some students are present in person and others are attending remotely via Zoom, there is a natural tendency on the part of instructors to think of the class as two separate groups — sometimes informally referred to as “roomers” and “Zoomers” respectively. Understandable though this tendency is, it can also be pedagogically problematic. Thinking of your class as divided leads to greater cognitive load, as you attempt to, in essence, teach two classes simultaneously. You may also find yourself instinctively favoring those who are physically present, as it is easier for them to see the blackboard, be heard when speaking, and so forth. As a consequence, the remote “Zoomers” may feel neglected and lose interest in the course material.
The Solution: Integrated Teaching Approaches
How can you circumvent these risks? The key is to treat your blended synchronous course as an integrated whole. This requires careful thought and planning; it is important that you take into account how your course is structured, what types of assessments you will be giving, and how these can best be adapted to bridge the divide between “roomers” and “Zoomers”.
The following are some techniques that leverage collaborative technology to support this integrative approach to classroom pedagogy. This list is far from exhaustive; it is intended chiefly to get you started thinking about how you might adapt your teaching to meet the needs of all your students.
- Poll Everywhere: With Poll Everywhere, a Web-based software tool for instant polling, you can do regular concept checks to make sure all students, whether physically present or remote, are engaged and absorbing the material you are presenting. If you use Poll Everywhere for graded assignments, it is a good idea to make them low-stakes.
- Chat: Zoom Chat can be a worthwhile backchannel for “Zoomers” to discuss their concerns and help them to feel heard. At the same time, monitoring the chat can add to the instructor’s cognitive load. Ideally, someone else should be in charge of monitoring the chat and bringing questions to the instructor’s attention. This can be:
- Someone formally assigned — either a TA or a rotating selection from the students in the class
- Someone chosen ad hoc
- Collaborative Note-Taking: Working together to take notes helps your students feel a sense of connection and community with one another. If they use a tool such as Google Docs (which can be facilitated through Canvas Collaborations), both in-person and remote students can contribute in real time to an evolving document. You might then assign a student to summarize the results of the note-taking process; this can be a good participation activity, especially for remote students.
Discussion and Active Learning
- Springboards: Mike Caulfield (Washington State) notes that collaborative Google Docs can also be an excellent springboard to get classroom discussion going. You might alternate calling on in-person and remote students to offer key takeaways from their notes, as a way to ensure that both groups can contribute actively to the give-and-take of discussion.
- New Discussion Modalities: Trying different approaches to classroom discussion can help promote student engagement.
- Jigsaw Discussion: In a jigsaw discussion, students are initially put in groups by topic. Then new groups are formed, with each group containing one student from each topical group, and students share what they have learned with one another. This arrangement is a good way to mix together students from the “roomer” and “Zoomer” groups.
- Fishbowl Discussion: In a fishbowl discussion, a small group of students actively discusses the topic at hand, while the remainder of the students observe and take notes. Derek Bruff (Vanderbilt) suggests that you might have the remote students sometimes be in the “fishbowl,” to give them a chance to have the spotlight.
To bridge the potential gap between “roomers” and “Zoomers,” you may need to give extra thought and attention to your remote students. At each step, you will need to consider how you can include them in classroom activities and how they can be made to feel “at home” in the classroom community. This is a demanding task, but when done well, it can help to minimize the disruptive effect of having your students physically separated, leading to a better experience for all — “roomers” and “Zoomers” alike.
- Design your course once for multiple modalities (Macalester College)
- Engaging Students in a Multi-audience Classroom via Active Learning (Penn State)
- Blended Synchronous Learning (BSL) Checklist
If you have any questions or would like to schedule a consultation, please contact Academic Technology Solutions. If you would like to learn more about the approaches mentioned above, please stop by ATS Office Hours, in person at the Regenstein Library or virtually on Zoom.