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Rutgers faculty discuss thoughts, plans for hybrid instruction in Fall 2021 semester

Charles M. Roth, a professor and vice chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, said that for the remote instruction element of hybrid learning, he prefers a flipped classroom model, and for in-person instruction, he uses the time for discussions and practice problems. – Photo by Rutgers.edu

Rutgers—New Brunswick Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy recently announced plans to implement hybrid instruction for the Fall 2021 semester. Faculty shared their thoughts regarding hybrid learning and some ways they are incorporating it into their teaching plans for the fall.

Charles M. Roth, a professor and vice chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, said he has previous experience with hybrid instruction and that it will be one of several modes of instruction he will use in the fall.

For the virtual component, Roth said he favors utilizing the flipped classroom technique, which involves presenting lectures asynchronously through slideshows with voiceovers, along with posting readings and videos. Synchronous portions of class time in previous semesters were devoted to in-person class discussion or going over problems, he said. 

“By having basic lecture material online and asynchronous, students can work through it at their own pace. If they already have mastered a lecture topic, they can fast forward through it and look to see if there are elements new to them or ones they want to review,” Roth said. “If a topic is very new to them, they can rewind and listen to a part of the lecture multiple times, or they can pause it and look up a term that they don't understand.”

David Barker, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, said that although he hasn’t taught a hybrid course before, he has had experiences with them as a student himself. 

He said having the opportunity to see what worked well for him in his own undergraduate education has allowed him to easily implement online learning, and he looks forward to finding the right balance with hybrid learning moving forward. 

“I value the University's commitment to safety, and I see this as a logical decision as part of a cautious, but pragmatic, approach,” Barker said. “Rutgers has been very smart in its approach and (has) done a better job than many universities.”

While there are many different versions of a hybrid course, he said he would prefer an implementation that would reduce classroom density and exposure. Though in hybrid courses, where students can choose to be either in-person or online, the instructor is forced to juggle technology and the physical classroom, which may be difficult, Barker said.

“I would enjoy having one online lecture and one in-person lecture per week, with alternating groups of students at each 'in person' class (or something to that effect),” he said. 

Lauren Goodlad, a professor in the English Department, also said that she had never taught virtually before the pandemic and had to learn how to do it as she went along.

“I've always been interested in the idea of the ‘flipped’ classroom,” she said. “(I) hope to use the hybrid model as a way of experimenting with various ‘flips.’” 

Goodlad said that in the hybrid environment she may utilize online lectures followed by in-person recitations, where classroom time can be dedicated to developing student interests, and Zoom can be used for a more open-ended purpose.

Both she and Roth said they would likely use the in-person component of hybrid instruction for discussions, demonstrations and group work. 

Barker said he believes students would benefit from hybrid instruction due to the in-class social interactions, which he himself is looking forward to.

“They can help bridge the gaps in the material, build rapport with their professors and gain social support for the stress of the university setting from their peers,” he said. “Students have achieved some of this through (Discord) and other online social groups, but I still think that they will do even better with a return to some of the social aspects of learning.”

Barker said that sometimes students learn best in dynamic and unexpected ways within the classroom, which was an element missing from online education. Though, both he and Roth said that there is a practical advantage in the limiting of in-person class time. 

“Since we have finite class space and in-person classes this fall will be at a reduced density, having hybrid instruction will help make it possible to maximize the number of classes that have a face-to-face component,” Roth said.

This way, Barker said students involved in laboratory courses and research can get the hands-on experience that makes these courses so worthwhile and that will help them in the future.

In regards to how the University could ease the transition to hybrid learning, he said that having just one or two uniform delivery formats is critical so that students know what to expect. Additionally, standardizing certain aspects across all classes, like continuing the use of online testing, would help as well, Barker said.

“As easy as it can be to forget, the key is to remember that the primary goal of education is learning and to put students first,” he said.

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