Enabling Hybrid Teaching and Learning Opportunities

Face-to-face learning may feel like a distant memory for many, especially with the first anniversary of the initial US COVID-19 lockdowns just behind us. However, a partial return to in-person teaching is an option for some as hybrid teaching is an increasingly viable and accessible option for Northwestern instructors. Hybrid teaching models are possible thanks to the collaboration of two Northwestern IT teams and their partners. While the Media and Technology Innovation team focuses on enabling classrooms with enhanced technological capabilities, the Teaching and Learning Technologies team offers complementary training in instructional design.

Approximately 140 Northwestern courses throughout Fall and Winter Quarter 2020–2021 used a hybrid teaching model, inspiring the Northwestern IT teams to continue identifying the best way to support future expansion.

"Instructors have put an incredible amount of care and ingenuity into adapting their teaching to online and hybrid modes," said Ken Panko, director of Media and Technology Innovation. "A lot of faculty members are looking beyond instructional resiliency and are thinking about instructional innovation."

So far, the team has installed new audio and visual equipment in approximately 30 classrooms, five of which were modified to include ceiling microphones and cameras pointed towards the in-person audience. This setup allows students participating remotely to see and hear both the instructors and the in-person student attendees and facilitates participation between all students.

The team also partnered with the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences (WCAS) and McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science IT units to customize technology offerings in specific classrooms and to make portable Zoom carts more readily available.

Instructors have put an incredible amount of care and ingenuity into adapting their teaching to online and hybrid modes. A lot of faculty members are looking beyond instructional resiliency and are thinking about instructional innovation.

Ken Panko
Director, Media Technology and Innovation

With added technology comes the need for support. The Media and Technology Innovation Audio Visual Support team contacts all instructors scheduled to teach hybrid courses before the start of each quarter to offer one-on-one orientations. These consultations allow the instructors to become familiar with the classroom technology ahead of the start of classes. This level of service for instructors needing assistance is also available throughout the quarter, and those interested can call 7-ROOM (7666) for just-in-time support.

Similarly, Teaching and Learning Technologies has greatly expanded their training model to prepare instructors for new teaching modalities in the past year. The team has led hundreds of real-time workshops and individual consultations for more than 2,000 instructors. Learning designers also developed a set of on-demand training courses to help instructors gain proficiency in Zoom, Canvas, and Panopto. Additionally, the team partnered with the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching, WCAS IT, and the Northwestern University Libraries to develop the Practicum in Foundations of Online Teaching.

Spurred by the foundational practicum's success, as well as evolving demand, the teams collaborated to create the Advanced Practicum in Hybrid Teaching to prepare instructors for teaching in a hybrid modality. While the practicum in hybrid teaching familiarizes instructors with available classroom technology, the primary goal is to focus on instructional design, encouraging faculty to think through how they want to structure and deliver their hybrid courses.

"We ask the instructors to think about why they want to teach in a hybrid mode and what would be best done in a face-to-face engagement," said Vicky Getis, director of Teaching and Learning Technologies. She noted that hybrid teaching models can be difficult to navigate, but they provide unique opportunities alongside the challenges. Part of the practicum's aim is to offer clarity and guidance around whether or not a hybrid model is the right fit for any particular course.

Since the shift to remote learning last spring, the ongoing question centers around what teaching and learning changes are here to stay, even post-pandemic.

"We've heard from many students that they really like having lecture recordings available and hope that Northwestern instructors will continue to make them after the pandemic is over," Getis said. "Several practicum alumni have also indicated that they will continue to use Zoom to invite guest speakers to their classes."

Looking ahead, Getis believes Northwestern will use this opportunity to review the University's goals for the future of teaching and learning.

"It would be great if we could have an institution-wide conversation about what we'd like to do to support excellent instruction and amazing learning and put in place the systems we'd need to reach those goals in a new way," Getis said.

Getis and Panko both noted that Northwestern IT will continue to collaborate on innovative solutions to best enable the University community to realize its goals.