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What I Wish I Knew About Hybrid Classrooms Before Switching

opinion

Converting to a hybrid classroom model is tempting for educators who want new strategies to meet the needs of their students. However, if you don't have an experienced mentor to follow there are some serious pitfalls you can face.

In the Beginning, It's Time Consuming

Transitioning to a hybrid classroom is a time-consuming task. Rather than just setting up materials for your class for the next few days, you will be creating your curriculum for entire topics or units of study at a time. Part of this will be setting up the virtual classroom platform you will use to manage your students and course materials. If you have never done this before, be prepared to spend some time just learning to use the software and learn its quirks. As part of learning the software, you also need to determine how to organize student materials in this environment in a way that works best for you and your students. Finding the right software, and then learning how to use it, can eat up a lot of time as you try to put assignments and assessments online. So your first year could mean a lot of long days just inputting classroom activities into the software.

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Choose a Roadmap, or Get Lost on the Interstate

As you work through the hurdle of learning new software, you also need to decide what model of a hybrid classroom you want to follow. You need to be clear. Otherwise, your classroom can easily turn into chaos. You need to figure out what model you want to use because you will need to train students and parents in how your individual hybrid classroom functions. Otherwise, you will have no end of issues with parents and student learning during the school term.

You may choose to follow a flex model where the online part of your hybrid classroom is the backbone of your course. Typically in this model, part of your class time becomes Personal Learning Time (PLT). During this PLT time in class, students would work on their independent tasks. Sometimes called playlists, this is where your students begin to work with the actual course content. The rest of your class time would be designed around cooperative learning, such as labs or projects, small group instruction, or individual tutoring.

Another hybrid classroom model you may consider is called an enriched virtual model. In this model of hybrid classrooms, the content learning begins in the classroom often through traditional sorts of classroom activities. The online component of your hybrid classroom is more of an extension of students finishing their assignments, or completing enrichment assignments on the content. This model has technology on the back end. You use technology to enhance your teaching rather than drive your teaching practices. Picking a clear approach will save you time in the long run. If you don't pick a clear approach, you will struggle to get your students to complete assignments consistently, and frustration from parents on how to help them. So pick a clear model, and spend the extra time training parents and students on how your hybrid classroom will operate and your expectations.

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It's Not Popular With Parents

While the idea of a hybrid classroom is exciting for teachers, your parents may not feel the same way. You may see it as a way to personalize learning for your students. However, in all likelihood, you will face a vocal group of parents who think because part of your class is now online, you are not teaching. Their argument stems from the fact that in hybrid classrooms, your interactions with the students can appear distinctly different than in a traditional classroom. Whereas traditional teaching has you in front of your class regularly teaching using lecture, in a hybrid classroom a lot of your instruction will shift to small groups where you are more of the facilitator. Unlike the conventional classroom, a hybrid classroom model is more of a student-centered model of teaching.

You will have parents who use your lack of classroom lecture time to argue that you are not teaching. Some may even argue that their kids are in front of the computer all day, which is the same argument schools who practice 1:1 computing all day face. Though this may be the minority of your parents, they can easily clog your voicemail and email every day. Sometimes, you may even have ones that like to call the principal and the school board to complain that you are not teaching. The drama hybrid classrooms can cause if you teach in a traditional public school can be stressful and make you question why you ever went down that road.

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So if you are going to be pursuing a hybrid class, know going into it that you will have to retrain your parents in how students learn. Changing parents' mindsets about learning will require effort on your part, and perhaps even your principal and school district. You will have to put in the extra effort to educate the parents about everything in your classroom. Part of your extra effort needs to include how students use technology in your classroom, including the platform you use to run the online side of your classroom activities. Part of making your transition successful to a hybrid classroom will be planning and executing an information campaign to get parents to embrace a hybrid model of learning.

By Rachel Tustin
January 2017
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