Hybrid Pedagogies: Platforms and Tools for Virtual Learning

"Concentration, distraction, stimulant." Photo by Flickr user askpang

This week, in our weekly Brittain Fellow Research Methodology seminar on Hybrid Pedagogy, we discussed using Twitter as a tool for creating a “back-channel” of conversation at conferences, lectures, and in the classroom.  Our conversation constituted the “face-to-face” component of our own hybrid classroom; our session technically began last week when we all attended the Emory DISC lecture “Seeing Time” by Edward L. Ayers during which we used a twitter back-channel (#discayers) to have a synchronous discussion about the talk.  We then continued our conversation asynchronously on TECHStyle by commenting on Robin Wharton‘s write up of the event “What Should a Hybrid Classroom Look like?” during the week leading up to our Wednesday evening Research Methodology seminar.

In our “face-to-face” discussion, we shared our experience using the Twitter back-channel during the talk, and many of us expressed feeling distracted by the effort to listen to the speaker, compose tweets, and read the conversation that developed on the #discayers thread.  Some of us felt that it appeared rude to be typing on our phones and computers during the talk (although Robin confirmed with us that she had asked permission for us to do so), and we worried that our behavior might be distracting to others. (During our discussion, Melanie Kohnen tweeted a link to guidelines for Twitter etiquette at conferences, demonstrating in real-time how Twitter can be used to quickly share information with a group).  To continue thinking about this issue and the ways we can productively harness “distraction,” I highly recommend reading Jason Farman‘s timely post on ProfHacker, “Encouraging Distraction: Classroom Experiments with Mobile Media.”

Despite some of the reservations we had about the distraction of the back-channel,  our discussion turned to the potential for such a simultaneous commentary (as Kate Tanski suggested it be called) to turn into a deeper, more critical discussion of the speaker’s argument (which Robin discussed in her post).  We also considered how tweeting the main ideas of the lecture allowed an external audience to follow along with the talk, which could translate in the classroom to a broader notion of audience and internet discourse.  While many of us saw the potential for the use of Twitter as a pedagogical tool (and several of us shared ways in which we are already doing this), we debated the best way to use a back-channel to promote deeper attention rather than distraction. As we noted, students are already invested in tools which allow them to engage with participatory media, so we will continue this conversation next week as we discuss a monograph by Henry Jenkins (et. al) “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.”

Additionally, we will be moving our conversation to discuss other platforms that allow synchronous and asynchronous participation and which extend the classroom space into the virtual realm (one that already came up is Piazza).  As we do so, we will begin to discuss how we can assess these initiatives using empirical and ethnographic methodologies.

Please comment below on tools/platforms for hybrid pedagogy that you have used or that you would like to learn more about!

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Kathryn Crowther

About Kathryn Crowther

Katy received her PhD in English with a certificate in Women's Studies from Emory University. Her work focuses on the relationship between 19th-century print culture and technology and the Victorian novel. She also writes about contemporary Neo-Victorian novels and Steampunk literature and culture. In both her teaching and her research she is very invested in the use of digital tools and in the broader applications of technology in the humanities.
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  1. I’m curious to know how the seminar is defining “hybrid” pedagogy. I’ve used technology in the past to both replace face-to-face meetings, as well as enhance face-to-face, both of which sound “hybrid” to me. You mention here how face-to-face can be disrupted by technology–is the seminar also considering the low-tech side of the hybrid equation, the ways of making face-to-face more meaningful?

    This recent article in the Chronicle addresses this question to a certain degree. http://chronicle.com/article/A-Tech-Happy-Professor-Reboots/130741/?sid=wc&utm_source=wc&utm_medium=en I wonder if some of the challenges the group is facing (twitter as a distraction, rather than a boost) might be connected. In other words, if the tech is not an organic extension of good face-to-face teaching practices, the tech is more likely to hinder learning.

  2. I’m curious to know if you’ve discussed the source of the perceived distraction or disrespect of tweeting during a conference paper. I’ve always taken notes of some sort during conference presentations. Is it the presence of the computer/device that causes concern, or perhaps the added keyboard noise?
    To bring this question back to the hybrid classroom, is the issue with how we as lecturers/presenters feel about/prepare for increased students use of computers/devices while we lecture? Certainly I feel disrespect when I know students are using their computers for purposes other than taking notes (which we’ve all experienced). If they are engaged in providing Twitter feedback, I have never felt put off by this – in the same way I am not put off when students take notes using whatever technology (old or new) is at hand.

  3. A really important point, Leeann. Often the word “hybrid” is used to describe a perfect blend of online and on ground learning; however the term, for me, suggests a fluid movement between the two and, even more, an intentionality about how we conceive of the classroom as a space. A “hybrid” classroom is one we move easily in and out of, one where the boundaries around where and when learning happens are breached. For example, service learning is, by my definition, a form of hybrid pedagogy. It might also be useful to have a discussion about the distinction between “Digital Pedagogy” and “Hybrid Pedagogy.”

  4. Here’s an example of research tools in use. “Georgia Tech study shows certain words, phrases predict if messages sent up/down the org chart.” Check this link: http://www.gatech.edu/newsroom/release.html?nid=109151

  5. Kathi Inman Berens ( http://kathiiberens.com/ ) responded to my tweet soliciting advice on hybrid pedagogy tools/platforms. Check out her answer here: https://twitter.com/kathiiberens/statuses/169147910099976192

    • I checked out Katy’s link to Kathy Inman Berens’ suggestion for using Google docs and Google hangouts as methods for digital collaboration in our classes. I’ve never used Google hangouts, but I am familiar with Google docs, though I have never used them in my classes. My students have suggested using Google docs, but I am not sure how that would work with 75 students working in different small groups and individually throughout the semester. Has anyone used these either of these Google options in their classes? If so, I’m curious about the logistics. It makes sense to use programs with which students are familiar and about which they are enthusiastic, but I also want to use programs that don’t create logistical nightmares when it comes to grading and participating in virtual projects and discussion. Perhaps we could discuss the potential for using Google Hangout and/or docs and maybe even use them in lieu of one of our seminar meetings?

  6. djakacki: I’m one of the easily distracted. I simply can’t follow a talk and tweet at the same time. I have some minor hearing issues, so listening takes a great deal of concentration. Usually, I don’t even take notes because it’s so easy for me to lose track of the talk. If I do, it’s on paper or a word processing document–something I don’t have to look at. “Looking at” gets at the other type of distraction that tweeting might hold: if someone next to me is tweeting, my eye will be drawn there. It’s not that I’ll try to read what that person is writing and reading. I simply can’t help looking when something out of the corner of my eye looks more shiny, colorful, and “fun” than the talk on which I’m trying to focus. Someone brought up the fact that, at MLA, there is space reseved in the back for tweeters. That sounds like a great idea.

    I wanted to pose a question last week but never found a space in the conversation to do so: where does the space for reflective silence go in such a virtual space? The name “Twitter” evokes, for me, not one bird but a whole flock of them twittering away. If my students are engaged in an activity, in tweeting about that activity, and in following the twitter feed, where’s the space for them to concentrate on one idea and take some time to mull it over? That space is there if they create it, of course–they can check out of the conversation to toy with an idea, then jump back in–but how realistic is that? We tend to want to avoid falling behind in coversations, and we worry about our ideas no longer being relevant to the discussion once we’ve figured them out, do we not? I’m sure we’ve all had, and savored, those moments when someone poses an idea in a discussion, and everyone sits in silence for a moment. Perhaps, after that reflective moment, that idea kindles and grows into a four-alarm analytical discussion. Or, perhaps nothing more is said about that idea, and we just take a moment to appreciate it.

    Is there a way to encourage, or at least preserve a space for, productive silence in a digital or hybrid classroom (which may or may not be the same classroom, it seems)?

  7. Like Leeann and Jesse, I think we need to be open to a definition of “Hybrid Pedagogy,” that re-imagines both the space and work of the classroom. We should think about strategies for optimizing the face-to-face interaction as well as the virtual/distance/asynchronous components of a hybrid course. We should think about how our collective presence, together, in the same physical space contributes to and perhaps influences our choice of desired learning outcomes. And, we should also be willing to consider the possibility that face-to-face interaction may be desirable, not necessarily because it’s a better method for delivering content (it might not be), but because it contributes to a shared sense of purpose and community. What do we learn from watching one another learn? What things can only be accomplished by a group of people working together in a shared physical space?

    Drawing upon my experience as a dancer, I have an intuitive sense of how students learn from one another in a studio environment. I also know that, no matter how well-trained the participants may be, creating a performance demands that everyone–dancers, set and costume designers, stage hands, the orchestra–come together in the same space in order to accomplish a shared goal. I think that may be why I am so intrigued by Jesse’s film production project, Leeann’s invention mobs, and Diane’s experience with staging early-modern drama (Hugh Crawford also uses big, collaborative building projects with a great deal of success). All of these exciting experiments involve strategies that depend to one extent or another upon presence in the old-fashioned physical sense. They don’t, however, necessarily require presence in a traditional classroom space, and they certainly stretch the boundaries beyond traditional classroom work. And, as I think Jesse, Leeann, and Diane would all acknowledge, these strategies pose some challenges to traditional assessment models.

    As I turn this line of thinking back to the methodologies seminar, I’ve begun to consider: what are the desired learning outcomes for the seminar? How do we assess whether they’ve been accomplished? Which of them can be accomplished asynchronously and which of them demand face-to-face collaboration/engagement? I think most of us agree that we would actually like to do some research, perform the methodologies about which we are learning. In order to do that, we all ideally need to be IRB certified. So let’s take IRB certification as a desired outcome for the course. That is certainly one that can be accomplished individually and virtually through Tech’s online certification system. As for assessing it, that seems fairly straightforward, either we have all become certified, or we haven’t. In lieu of one meeting, therefore, I’d like to propose that we all agree to complete the IRB certification course.

    In addition to IRB certification, in order to perform a methodology one has to be aware of it. So perhaps we can add demonstrating an awareness of accepted research methodology for assessing the effectiveness of a particular pedagogy or pedagogical strategy to our list of outcomes. How can we do that? Well, we can do that virtually as well. So in addition to the IRB certification, I think that week’s work might include reading and creating an annotated bibliography entry for a peer-reviewed article on a hybrid learning study. We can create a category on TECHStyle with which these entries can be flagged, and that way, building a shared and public resource becomes an integral part of the assessment model. It’s not just assessment for assessment’s sake.

    Finally, to return to the question with which Leeann begins, if this is a seminar on hybrid learning as well as research methodologies, then perhaps demonstrating an awareness of the ways in which hybrid learning has been defined an applied should be one of our desired outcomes. We could fold assessment of this outcome into our assessment of the preceding one, making sure that in our annotations, we give attention and space to the way the studies under discussion define, either explicitly or implicitly, “hybrid pedagogy” or “hybrid learning.”

    What do you think?

    • I am intrigued and inspired by our discussions/impressions of what exactly constitutes hybrid learning. Somehow, my preconceived notion of a hybrid seminar was limited to a mix of face-to-face interaction and asynchronous, technology-based communication (and akin to Britta, I worry a lot about the revved up pace of some of these forms of engagement and the requisite sacrifice of focused, solitary contemplation). It simply had not occurred to me that meeting “outside the classroom,” as it were, does not necessitate a dip in qualitative interpersonal exchange. Jesse’s definition of a hybrid classroom as “one we move easily in and out of, one where the boundaries around where and when learning happens are breached” is definitely something I am interested in exploring. I also appreciate his suggestion that service learning is itself hybrid. I have always thought about my role as an educator as a position of civil service and civic contribution, and so I hope that in our weekly gatherings, we can continue to find ways to think outside the box of ironically narrow definitions of the hybrid classroom itself. Hybrid = creative. I am totally behind that.

      • The definition of “hybridity” is going through the same kind of evolution that we see in virtually every educational practice. When a concept/practice is introduced, it has a bounded, sometimes rigid, and often binary definition (e.g., hybrid = half in class and half distance or half FTF and half digital). As the concept/practice becomes more widely used, is embraced by educators with a range of philosophies, and begins to have a research foundation, the definition becomes more complex and nuanced, so now we talk about “blended” learning, where, for example, students use FTF and digital approaches in the same physical space, at nearly the same time. For an interesting way to think about time-space-place, take a look at this time-space matrix.

    • The two goals that Robin has proposed for the class – 1) that all participants earn IRB certification and 2) that we investigate existing research methodologies for assessing hybrid pedagogies – seems reasonable in terms of what can be attained within the class’s time frame (one semester). I have no doubt that everyone in the class will attain both goals. My concern, though, is this: even if we are able to examine and evaluate a number of hybrid learning pedagogies, how can we place the results of our conversations into practice? This question applies both in the classroom implementation (experimentation) and our scholarship (the results of whatever studies we devise).

      I call our attention to the practical side of things for a number of reasons. First, this type of study takes time. Let’s say each of us becomes IRB certified and creates an awesome research question by the end of the semester. Would we have the foresight to submit an IRB proposal and get it approved and be able to collect data for our hybrid experiments this semester? I don’t know. Perhaps. But it would take a ton of planning and organization. My suggestion would be to brainstorm research agendas this semester, use the summer to plan how we might collect data and frame our research questions/proposals to the IRB, and then design our fall classes in a way that aims to answer the questions we have proposed.

      • I have to agree–even though this is a research-oriented seminar, this doesn’t preclude brainstorming and examining hands-on strategies. I think we should set aside some time to research other scholars’ experience in hybrid pedagogy to understand which platforms and strategies have worked, and equally important, not worked for them. For example, a Media Studies colleague of mine, Kelli Marshall, has documented her use of Twitter as a backchannel in large lecture classes over several semesters.

  8. Rachel Dean-Ruzicka
    Rachel Dean-Ruzicka

    I’m currently experimenting with twitter backchannels in the classroom. Or simultaneous commentary, if you like. I am showing three films this semester: Whale Rider, Persepolis, and Darjeeling Limited. I wanted a more ongoing conversation about these films than merely waiting until the end of the movie and taking 30-50 minutes to discuss 2-3 days worth of class content. Thus, twitter commentary! I’ve just finished day one of Whale Rider (beginning day two in about 90 minutes). Overview of the project:

    -We covered a bit about film and film criticism before the movie started. This led into my encouragement of what to tweet about. I suggested considering formal cinematic elements (setting, lighting, camera work, etc.), thinking about what cultural values are represented in the film (theme of course overall), and thinking about their own values and how that factors into their reception and response.
    -We spent a day practicing for the movie tweeting by doing “twitter essays” (http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/Journal/files/Twitter_and_the_student2point0.html) on several stories we read. This allowed for questions and gave students the chance to get accustomed to @ responses, etc.
    -Requirement is to do 3 tweets and 3 responses for this film. I may bump this up in subsequent films.
    -So far students are doing an excellent job thinking about thematic elements of the films, particularly gender roles in Whale Rider. This is a clear theme of the film, but is also not something we’ve extensively discussed in class so it was interesting to see them go there first.

    However, I want to experiment further with what twitter/film/hybridity will look like in my classrooms. The second film we will watch, Persepolis, will be screened outside of class time. However, the twitter commentary is still a (graded) requirement. I chose to do this because Persepolis is subtitled and I want students to be able to pause if necessary so they don’t lose the thread of the film. I’m curious what their experience is like when tweeting on their own and how the interactions differ.

    Finally, a student suggested that we try using T-Square’s instant message tool to converse during a film. I’ll most likely try this with Darjeeling Limited at the end of the semester. Students seem familiar with the tool and interested in using that instead of twitter. I hope to come to some conclusions by the end of the semester about which method leads to the best discussion of a film and how it changes the attention students pay to a film shown in class (instead of tuning out or falling asleep).

  9. I found last week’s discussion of the possibilities of both synchronous and asynchronous discussion via different platforms useful and generative, but I still feel uncertain when discussing hybrid learning. The term “hybrid learning” lacks clarity for me. I often thought that we could have been using the term “multimodal” rather than “hybrid” in our conversation, and I am not sure how these two terms differ in our use of them. How does assigning a blog post to replace face-to-face class time differ from assigning a blog post as homework? Is the difference in our desired outcomes for the project?

    I agree with Jen’s suggestion that we test out some of these platforms in our conversations so that we can evaluate them and discuss their strengths and weaknesses.

  10. Amanda and I were talking about this post earlier in our shared office (face-to-face communication!). In my experience, the biggest challenge in creating a successful hybrid classroom is not related to which platform you use or which goals/outcomes you set, but in convincing students that the digital extension of face-to-face classroom encounters is worth their while and something they have a stake in.

    After all, our students communicate via digital and social media platforms all the time–Facebook is probably the best example. Why do students (and let’s not exclude ourselves here) spend hours and hours on Facebook? From my perspective, it’s because they have an emotional stake in the conversations and connections that happen on/through social media or other digital platforms. In other words, there’s a community to which they (and we) feel we belong. Trying to recreate these investments in a classroom setting is perhaps the biggest challenge we face when we create hybrid pedagogies.

  11. The evocation of space in relation to the notion of hybrid seems to me the most productive. I had contemplated using twitter in the classroom but it felt too linear and unwieldy to me. Roughly three weeks ago, thanks to a tip from Kate Tanski, I adapted the platform Piazza in my ENGL 1102 class.

    The name of the platform is in itself cool and evocative. In Italy, the piazza is the visible heart of the city and it’s unmistakable. Look for the cathedral, the town hall, groups of tourists, and locals congregating and you’ll find the piazza. Grab a gelato, sit on one of the benches, and before long you’ll acquire the measure of the place. It quickly becomes apparent that the piazza is the space where community is delineated and reified.

    In the roughly three weeks I’ve been using it, I’ve found the educational platform Piazza not unlike this. Part wiki, part social media, my class Piazza has quickly turned into a space where my students congregate. They ask each other questions, continue discussions outside of class, make jokes with one another, and freely and generously help one another with assignments and readings. Often at 2 am. I watch. I occasionally jump in but mostly it is self-generating. It’s really fostered a sense of community. Now if we could just get a good gelateria to move in on the corner….

    • I would love to work with Amanda on exploring the uses of Piazza in hybrid pedagogy. When I suggested some kind of social media/asynchronous discussion platform, my LCC 3403 students suggested Piazza, since they use it in other CS courses. In fact, they suggested I use Piazza before I even suggested the use of this platform.

      So far, I’ve used it in serious and non-serious ways, testing the waters. I’ve:

      * posted discussion questions
      * edited student responses
      * edited student questions
      * posted announcements
      * responded to students’ questions and follow up questions
      * created a non-serious post about vocabulary words in one of the readings
      * created hashtags for course-related posts

      My students have, in turn:

      * posted in-class discussion questions
      * responded to in-class discussion questions out of class
      * edited each others posts
      * edited each others questions
      * posted anonymously asking for calendar clarification
      * posted under their own names asking for assignment clarification
      * posted their work to the website asking for peer review
      * created hashtags for course-related posts
      * created hashtags for inter-course friendships/rivalries

      It’s been surprising to me to see the social and inter-course relationships develop, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it supplements their overall participation as we continue to use it throughout the semester.

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