Moving Between Worlds: Making Hybrid Learning a Reality in Schools

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By: Ms. Supriya Atal – Director of Studies

Will schools be the same again after a prolonged period of forced closure that pushed educators towards hybrid learning?

Caught between connectivity issues, distractions at workspaces and the absence of a transition period to learn about hybrid teaching, 2020 will be remembered by teachers as a renaissance year. Amidst a state of feeling overwhelmed and drained, teachers discovered that blended learning was a necessity, not a choice. Many educators realised in the course of the year that creating an online version of a normal school day was far less effective than modifying remote teaching based on students’ age, learning style, time of day and the curriculum. Collaborating with fellow teachers and strengthening lines of communication with students’ families helped them fortify blended learning.

Most educators who had to adopt online education would agree that a single definition of blended learning is hard to construct as there are varied proportions in which face-to-face classroom time and online lessons can be blended. For teachers, blending learning is characterised by:

  • digital content as alternatives to books
  • applying knowledge to real-life contexts
  • knowing where and how to find reliable information
  • providing specific guidance, clear direction and feedback on asynchronous tasks
  • giving time flexibility and agency to students to complete assigned work
  • playing the role of discussion moderators in synchronous classes rather than disseminators of knowledge
  • viewing learning as a continuous process that is not confined within the brick and mortar of schools

In my view, the big challenge at schools in 2021 is not blended learning: it is operationalisation of an appropriate version of this model in every school’s context. How do schools provide hybrid workers with a place that strikes the right balance between online and in-person, social distance and creative proximity? Which adaptations of working from home that symbolise 2020 should outlive the pandemic?

I see three challenges in operationalising blending learning post-Covid:

  1. Parents may resist a hybrid model – For many parents, physical attendance may be the only option for children living in a two-income household. For them, school is not only a place of learning, but also a safe space that provides adult supervision while they work. While flexibility makes blended learning a viable model for the future of schooling, school leaders will need to take several factors into account before arriving at decisions for a post-pandemic school community.
  2. Teachers’ management of virtual classrooms – An online learning portal is still a ‘classroom’ and teachers need to keep students focused by setting online routines, rules of conduct, an appropriate dress code and reward systems. Additionally, teachers need to explore new tools to keep students engaged with study material. Balancing syllabus completion along with allocating teaching time to create opportunities for live connections with classmates has been challenging for teachers.
  3. School policies – The return of teachers to a physical workplace could mean long term modifications to school structures, processes and policies related to Leave, Health and Safety, Work from Home.

The pandemic has raised many existential questions for us. While 2020 will be remembered as the year that forcefully accelerated the use of technology at schools, 2021 will be remembered as one where teachers have the added benefit of experience with blended learning. We must remember that if the hybrid model is here to stay as a viable long term one, schools that invest in training and support for their workforce, students and parents will gain rich dividends in the future.

As schools start opening their gates, we can look forward to abandoning ‘Zoom’ classes that have abrupt student exits into silence unlike in-person ones that fill our corridors with student chatter. So, will virtual classes provoke enough nostalgia to justify the continuity of online synchronous teaching? Groups on social media are already ripe with teacher returners posting how they relish dressing up for work and engaging in lunch room conversations with colleagues including details such as reminiscing about the hurried cleaning of one’s food crumb-filled keyboard while they were teaching from home!

Supriya Atal, Director of Studies, Bombay International School