Hybrid lessons: overcoming the challenge of simultaneously teaching both physically present and remote pupils by James Garnett
Using conversations with colleagues and parents as a guide, it is clear that the Covid-related need for many pupils to isolate at home has resulted in significantly different outcomes for children, irrespective of geography or socio-economic background. Some schools only concentrated on those in class, whereas others attempted to support those at home with varying degrees of success dependent on teacher confidence and technology to hand. The former does a significant disservice to those children affected and with concerns running high about the Omicron variant and the difficulties this can bring as education settings reopen, I hope this updated blog post can demonstrate how to improve the latter experience for both teacher and pupil. (As a reminder of the DfE’s expectations, schools are required to provide remote education in line with this guidance.)
We have come a long way and learned a lot in the pandemic, and I think it’s reasonable to expect all schools to have the technology and practice in place to ensure that those unable to attend get the best near-classroom experience possible. The experience of the pandemic has shown that this is possible when schools leverage the benefits technology can bring, and there is no reason why hybrid lessons – teaching simultaneously to the classroom and to those accessing remotely – cannot be the norm in every classroom, should it be required.
When developing a hybrid lesson strategy, the focus should be on lifting the experience for those at home without compromising the experience for those physically in the classroom. The teacher’s priority should always be those in the classroom but modifying their delivery sufficiently to enable those at home to have the best experience possible with the resources available.
Audit technology and staff skills: The starting point will be an audit of what tools, technology and connectivity you have at your disposal, as well as a good understanding of staff ability and where there are gaps in either confidence or skills. Within this technology audit will be classroom equipment as well as provision for isolating pupils, making use of the DfE issued devices from the last eighteen months and providing connectivity solutions for those without home access. All teachers should be familiar with remote teaching from the last period of lockdowns, but dual delivery requires adapting those skills to a hybrid environment and training will be needed to do it effectively.
Plan for isolation and be ready to implement it when pupils and students need to isolate. This may include: a list of pupils without home access, a ‘go bag’ with appropriate technology for those without technology who need to isolate, to have replicated the timetable as online lessons (using the recurrence feature in Teams and similar tools), reminding pupils and parents of expectations should isolation be necessary, reminding staff of expectations and where to seek support.
Use existing tools and update skills to match new features: There should be no need to buy additional software as both the Google and Microsoft platforms that nearly every school has provided the video conferencing platforms needed for hybrid lessons. Screen sharing allows the teacher to share their screen, interactive whiteboard, PowerPoint/ Slides, etc., with both the class and those participating remotely. Each school will want to review the policies they created for previous remote learning scenarios and revise them in light of product enhancements. Correctly configured by the school’s IT service, it should now be possible to decide at teacher level if pupil microphones or cameras are enabled, if chat is allowed and only allow into the lesson those authorised.
Understand the end user (pupil) experience: Some retraining will be required to help teachers understand the limitations and considerations around capturing their voice with sufficient clarity and volume, and the most effective ways of using screen sharing to deliver their explanations and modelling to the far-end. This can easily be done by delivering a test lesson to colleagues in the next-door classroom. Taking on the roles of a teacher and a remote pupil is important so that the teacher can understand the limitations and possibilities of the tools they are using, and departments and schools can work collaboratively on how to make the experience as beneficial as possible without adversely affecting the classroom experience. Getting the audio right, by using audio headsets (guidance here), will be key to a good experience for remote pupils.
Upskill pupils and remind them of the rules: Pupils will also need some support in using the tools effectively so that they get the most from these remote lessons and understand what is expected of them. This will range from how to ask questions, how to inform the teacher they cannot hear or see what is being displayed, use of microphones, chat and cameras, expectations on clothing and any differences from the previous remote learning guidelines. Setting out these clear boundaries for pupils, as is done in class, should enable a much better experience for everyone. Setting aside dedicated time for the remote pupils to have induction to remote learning and to ask questions - technical and social - with support staff should also improve the experience and remove troubleshooting from the teacher.
Consistent approach across all departments and staff: There is a need for consistency across all departments and staff where practical; pupils understand that it is not easy but get very frustrated when some staff can do it and others do not seem to try. If there is a consistent approach, the pupils know when they should be able to ask questions or seek support, reducing interruptions to the class teacher and improving lesson flow. Teachers need to know how to ensure remote users can ask questions and the importance of the teacher repeating any questions asked by pupils to ensure the class and remote pupils know the question the teacher is answering.
Recording lessons enables the teacher to make these available to pupils who were unable to connect and, if modelling key concepts, easily crop a copy of the recording down to the salient points and share with the whole class. This enables those who did not fully understand in class to revisit it, as well as a resource for revision in the future. It can also be used as evidence should there be any behavioural issues from remote pupils.
Going further – more confident teachers can begin to move beyond the sharing of the interactive whiteboard or slide deck to incorporating their visualiser for modelling or sharing work from pupils in the class. They can ask those joining remotely to share their screens or photograph their work and share it via chat, email or shared spaces like OneNote. If more than one pupil is isolating, breakout rooms can be used to allow paired or group work. It is even possible to pair up a pupil in the class with a remote one by using any spare devices and a headset.
In conclusion, isolation, or an inability to attend school should not preclude a pupil or student from being part of their normal timetabled lessons, except perhaps PE and the practical element of some subjects. It is not simple, but neither is it particularly difficult and need not come at the expense of those in school. Planning, preparation, and training will ensure that the school and teachers are ready for the inevitable and those unfortunate to have to be out of school, experience as limited as possible disruption to their learning.
Feel that you need additional support and advice to make this happen? If this all feels too difficult or you are unsure of where to start, the DfE’s free EdTech Demonstrator programme can support you with implementing an appropriate dual delivery strategy. The peer-led support can also look into the future and support you to develop a long-term digital strategy which enables you to leverage edtech to enhance teaching and learning, support collaboration, management and support functions and get the most from the tools you already have.