How to Enhance Student Engagement and Interaction in the Hybrid Classroom
Changes and Challenges
In the last six months or so, almost everything has changed in education. These changes mainly radiate outward from the delivery method. While some of these changes— virtual learning, selective in-person instruction, modified schedules, and more—have generally been positive and have increased flexibility for students and families, there have also been challenges. One of the top challenges is how to maintain and enhance student engagement and interaction within hybrid classrooms. Here are a few ways to do that.
Drive student engagement in hybrid classrooms with flexible scheduling.
Hybrid classrooms offer a wide range of learning scenarios. Any combination of in-person learning, computer-mediated instruction, and other forms of programming—internships, co-ops, on- and off-campus enrichment opportunities, and more—fall under the umbrella of the term Hybrid Education. How you structure the experience helps determine how you will work to enhance student engagement and interaction.
For example, let’s say your district has decided on a Hybrid Education model that combines rotating online and in-person experiences for students. A great way to increase engagement, interaction, and monitor and serve student needs would be to build in an “anchor period” or extended homeroom during the in-person component to achieve those goals. By the same token, if your district decides to have a heavier online component, or other off-campus programming, the uniqueness of that schedule would lend itself to different check-in methods, mentoring strategies, and contacts with community partners to help students be successful. And don’t forget your learning management system (LMS)— that’s the “hub” at the center of any hybrid schedule because of its ability to bring everyone together, no matter where they are learning from.
Think in terms of objectives, not just activities.
One of the things we’ve struggled with in our transition to Hybrid Education is trying to stay focused on big-picture objectives and not just activities to fill the time while meeting the needs of students when they are simultaneously online and in-person. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of “ok, I have a block of time, I need to do this, this, and this with them” instead of focusing first on what students should know, learn, and be able to do by the end of each lesson and/or unit.
By staying focused on standards and objectives, and having students set and take action to meet their own goals, you can avoid the activity-based teaching trap. This in turn creates a deeper kind of engagement and interaction in the Hybrid Education environment, because instead of engagement by activities and entertainment in the moment, you’re building a stronger culture of engagement via intrinsic motivation, not the other way around. That’s especially important when you might not see all of your students every day.
Think peer to peer.
The most common interaction I see in classrooms is still primarily a teacher to student presentational style. It’s the old “sage on the stage” model and has probably been the dominant form of teaching since the one-room schoolhouse days of yore. The other common interaction pattern I see typically occurs when a class is engaged in a large group discussion. It’s a teacher-student-teacher-student pattern where the teacher asks a question, a student responds, the teacher comments or asks a follow-up question, and another student answers. These are probably the two most common communications patterns you’ll see in the typical American classroom.
What if, instead, you focused on the holy grail of classroom communication patterns: that of true peer to peer interaction? Whether online or in person, what if you established protocols from day one that encouraged students to ask each other questions and respond to one another’s ideas before looking to the teacher for answers or social approval? It’s easier than you might think.
For example, let’s say you want to encourage peer-to-peer interactions in your online discussion boards right from the get-go. Set the pattern early and incorporate peer-to-peer responses as an expectation on your discussion grading rubric. Show examples of what quality peer to peer interaction looks like and hold students to that standard. Wait to respond to student posts as the course instructor. You don’t want to respond right away and stifle student interaction, and you don’t want to respond too infrequently and discourage overall student participation. Find the happy medium and you’ll find that students will engage and interact more with one another.
Ditch traditional summative assessment.
One of the things we’ve struggled with as COVID-19 forced us into a Hybrid Education model this school year is letting go of more traditional forms of assessment, particularly synchronous, in-person summative assessment - namely paper and pencil tests. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth as teacher after teacher was at first preoccupied with figuring out how they would administer the same tests they always had in, first, an all-virtual environment and, later, a Hybrid Education model combining in-person and online instruction.
The simple answer, of course, was that this was not going to be possible in the traditional sense, and that creating more “versions” of each summative assessment wasn’t going to be the most productive or student-centered solution. We had to start thinking differently about summative assessment (and assessment in general). In a Hybrid Education framework, you don’t have to—and sometimes just can’t —keep your old systems of assessment intact.
Some of our teachers have found great success by eliminating comprehensive summative assessment altogether. Instead, they have almost exclusively moved to a system of short-cycle, formative assessment, individualized student feedback provided via the learning management system, and a retake system. This increases engagement and interaction between students and the teacher. When the teacher combines that with a strong model for peer to peer relationships, it increases student engagement even more.
Other teachers have decided to pursue a system almost entirely based on project-based learning (PBL). All units of instruction surround a central project of some form or another, eliminating the need for traditional summative paper and pencil tests. Instead, students might construct portfolios and make public presentations based upon the findings and solutions they have developed over the course of the lessons, units, and the course as a whole. PBL by nature incorporates and encourages students to have voice and choice within their educational environment and to share what they have learned with others, requiring deep interaction with peers, the course instructor, and the larger public.
The bottom line? You don’t have to assess learning in traditional ways, especially in a Hybrid Education model! In fact, traditional summative assessment may be more trouble than it’s worth in a hybrid format.
Keep engagement and interaction student-centered.
Doing Hybrid Education right can be hard work, especially when you’re just starting out, and it can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders because you want to do more, more, more for kids. However, true engagement and interaction is a student-centered proposition. It’s okay to relinquish some traditional teacher-centered control and to expend your energy building systems that give some of that control to students. With accountability and coaching built into your student-centered Hybrid Education model, you can find myriad ways to keep students engaged and interacting with each other.