EngagementHybrid and multi-mode learning

Day 2: Leave no one behind: ensuring a positive student experience in a hybrid environment

Person video conferencing on a laptop

Thinking about the student experience

How do we ensure a positive student experience in a multi-mode teaching and learning environment where groups of students must study off-campus?

Here is a summary of strategies found in educational research to enhance the student experience and outcomes in higher education courses. Some related resources are linked here, and also see reference list below.

What students are saying

The above strategies reflect what students told us in recent surveys of their experience at ANU during the hastily arranged remote learning courses set up for the pandemic, so it is certainly worth exploring some of them over the next two days.  The responses included positive as well as negative student experiences.

Take a few minutes to look at this cartoon depicting how students responded to their experience at ANU (expand to full screen to read text more easily):



Click for an Accessible Transcript


question markDiscussion

 From these student responses, what do you think are some ideas you can take away of what to avoid and what strategies might work for your students, in a multi-mode teaching environment? What other thoughts do you have about this range of student feedback from students surveyed on their experiences during the COVID19 lockdown at ANU? Jump into the Comments and share your thoughts.


Other References and Resources

ANU Coffee Course Blog:  Bringing Discussions Online

ANU Coffee Course Blog:  Issues with engagement and participation

UNSW site Learning to Teach Online

deNoyelles, A., Mannheimer Zydney, J., & Chen, B. (2014) ‘Strategies for creating a community of inquiry through online asynchronous discussions.’ Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. 10(1):153-165. Available: http://jolt.merlot.org/vol10no1/denoyelles_0314.pdf.




22 thoughts on “Day 2: Leave no one behind: ensuring a positive student experience in a hybrid environment

  1. Teacher presence in a course is a key ingredient to students feeling like they are in contact and can relate to their teacher. This does not have to be a big thing a simple regular post in the forum to say hi and ask students if they have any questions is a small, simple strategy. Adding a fun community space like a Padlet where students can share funny photos about a weekly topic for example is another quick easy way to build a sense of presence simply.

  2. The summary of strategies was useful, but ten items are had to keep track of, so I grouped them:

    1. Relationships:

    Teacher presence
    A feeling of belonging or community
    Opportunities to learn directly from experts in the field
    Regular meetings in real time with peers and teachers

    2. Resources:

    Easy access to information about assessment requirements and deadlines
    A course environment that is clear, uncluttered and easy to navigate
    Flexible access to learning materials and activities in the form of recordings and asynchronous discussions

    3. Agency:

    Ability to practice for assessments and obtain feedback
    Engaging course materials and activities
    Giving students a choice about how they learn

    1. Thanks Tom. That’s helpful. I also like the 3 presences mentioned in the first resource: cognitive, social and teaching presences, maybe paraphrased as giving students a sense of learning together, being together and being taught together. These strategies all feed into these different senses.


  3. Hi there,

    I really enjoyed the link above about ‘teacher presence’. This really rings true for me and there are some good ideas there. I am making do mostly with what Wattle has to offer and Zoom. These aren’t the most intuitive or flexible things to use, but having clear goals/expectations and step by step design for activities is a better use of my time for now. I can always adapt goals and activities to other (better) tools later.

    On the issue of student responses – there is so much food for thought there. Some students clearly had a very bad experience of learning last semester, while others really felt the efforts and presence of their teachers. This really doesn’t come without massive time investment. I totally understand the view that a world class university should have staff who are trained up for the task, but this is pretty hard to achieve. Just having a clear, uncluttered, coherent Wattle site is a major time investment. Very much like keeping the bathroom clean in my house.


    1. Susy, some of the teacher presence ideas were okay, such as posting a video introduction. But I worry about workload, both for teachers and students doing all these things. As a student, each time I am asked to do something I have to answer the question: “Will this contribute to me passing the course?”.

      Student introductions and photos can be problematic, where the student doesn’t want to, or can’t share. International students need to be careful what they say in class as it may be reported to their government. Domestic students who have sensitive jobs may similarly be unable to share much.

      Producing a podcast seems a little dated and pre-COVID-19, but I try to make sure my videos are suitable for listening to without the images. I do this anyway for accessibility reasons.

      Regular summaries I find useful, especially when tied to the assessment cycle. Students are more likely to open a post if it is announcing their grade.

      I found the last point on Voice Thread intriguing, but wasn’t sure if this was a technique, a product, or both. Perhaps it would be useful for hybrid learning? All the other techniques seem to be about online learning.

      1. Hi Tom and Susy, thanks for your comments. I agree that there are privacy issues with asking students to upload videos and photos – I guess you could invite them to create an avatar. But also there are the time issues. Which is why I sometimes recommend a quick voice file (not the full podcast but just a file) instead of video – this helps people that are shy about a talking head video, or less tech savvy but able to speak into a mic to make a voice greeting. I don’t think you need to do a lot of things to create “presence” and “community”, just a few targeted and strategic personal touches here and there, and encouraging students to communicate with each other in informal groups. One of our fellows, Wil Scates-Frances spoke to me about how he gained a lot as a student and also his students liked, a reading group that they set up themselves online, to meet and discuss course readings. Also extra-curricular groups of online (remote) students around different interests are a possibility, like the ones that meet on campus. A live Zoom group once per month perhaps, run by tutor/lecturer, to answer student questions and address issues arising in the course is another idea. The mix of strategies you use will probably evolve as you have more experience with what works and what doesn’t work.

        1. Jill, for me recording a voice message is just as onerous as making a video. I still have to prepare a script of what I am going to say and rehearse it many times (the law requires me to provide a transcript along with the video anyway). So this is not something I do on a whim, or ask students to do, unless there is a very good reason for spending the considerable effort this requires.

          I don’t feel competent to, or it is my role, to encourage students to communicate in informal groups beyond the curriculum. If we want students to communicate in groups then we need to teach them why they need to do that, where, and how, as part of a course with assessment. I have read of “reading groups” in the literature, but never seen one actually work and doubt they are more than a fiction, usually set on a sunny river bank in Oxbridge. 😉

          As a student, I turned up for class and then went home to study on my own. As an online student this was again mostly solitary work. There were forums for specific assessed group activities. But this was only in some courses and only for the duration of those specific courses. It would be a good idea to have forums and activities which went beyond an individual course, but these would need to be co-curricular, as for example an e-portfolio for a capstone,

          The most effective group processes I have been involved with are for start-ups and hackerthons. Here there is a timetable, a process and tools for forming groups, and a purpose to it. I help with a similar process for group software projects, where there are tools and techniques for working together for a common purpose.

          ps: I am experiencing an increasing number of “ERROR: Unreadable CAPTCHA token file” faults when attempting to post. Is it just me or does this happen to others?

      2. Thanks Tom. There was a platform or app called Voicethread that was integrated into LMS’s and instead of text you could post a voice file. I don’t know if it’s still around. But we can use the mic to embed a voice file into any text editor in Wattle, such as forum posts. I think occasional voice files instead of text can create more interest and give people a break from long text threads. It also gives more of a feeling of presence via one’s voice.

  4. One strategy I use is to point out to students that I have been an international online student myself, so I know what it is like, and I am trained and experienced in online teaching.

    In practical terms, to check for problems with online access I use a low speed broadband wireless link on an old slow computer, so that I can verify what I am asking students to do will work on the equipment they have.

    In case of synchronous link problems, I provide the students with a recorded video in advance, as well as notes. They can dial in if they can’t get the video link to work, follow along in the notes, listen and contribute.

    While students may prefer real time video based discussions, not all can access them, so I still provide text based forums as well. One option I would like to explore more are multi-mode forums, where a text discussion can move in and out of real time and be supplemented with video.

    To avoid confusing students I prepare all materials in advance of the start date, including all assessment tasks. Also my learning design uses graceful degradation: falling back from blended learning, to online synchronous, to asynchronous, both for public emergencies and student’s individual needs.

    To avoid overloading students I prepare a teaching and study budget, estimating how long it will take to teach and assess each student and how long the student needs to watch, read, respond and complete assessment tasks. As a result of this I have drastically reduced the number of readings provided (down from a dozen to two per week), simplified assessment schemes (using rubrics)and reduced the length of videos (down from fifty to ten minutes for a video lecture).

    To help students do work I have strict deadlines with zero marks for work not in on time. Students can request an extensions in advance, but post-hoc extensions and late penalties just encourage students to poor work practices and increase their stress.

    To make courses easier to understand, I have a regular repeating pattern of activities. At the larger scale the goals and content are aligned with global professional standards, so students know what they are learning will be of use to them in their career.

    However, none of this is about a hybrid environment. That is something I have still to come to terms with. I have built three gadgets to help, including a Twenty Dollar Telescopic Telepresence Robot for the COVID-safer Classroom (click on the link on my name).

    1. In two weeks time I start a short Honours course on Ozone Hole Chemistry – and while I have been “flipping” semester-long courses for over 5 years, I am a little nervous about this one as this is the first time I won’t have F2F, even to start the course off. The course (equivalent of 10 meetings) will proceed with asynchronous ~10 min videos for content delivery and live ZOOMs for problem solving. I think my nervousness is about establishing the social cohesion amongst the students. You see, students will do individualised problem solving with Wattle Quizzes, but the live ZOOM meetings are solving problems that are more difficult and where working with peers is useful. Many important challenges need collaborative efforts from people with different skills, so I like to think we can provide students experience with collaborative interactions. But while you can lead a horse to water, you can’t make them drink. So I was thinking about having student’s generate a word cloud (with key words from their Honours thesis work, but also anything else) and share it on Zoom to introduce themselves.

      1. Hi Edie, thanks for contributing to our discussion. It sounds like you have a great strategy worked out for this course, and some good ideas for building in a bit of dynamism and connection. Everyone is on a learning curve with this, and each time we run a session or a course, we are learning new things and thinking of new ways to provide a better experience. It really is learning by doing! I would be really interested to hear how you go with it.

      2. Edie, your 10 min videos and live ZOOMs for problem solving sounds good.

        I used notes with videos of about ten minutes, along with a quiz and a forum, before each live-to-air Zoom session, then an assignment, some with peer feedback.

        You can make a horse drink, if you give it a salt lick. In the case of students, you can use marks. 😉

        Last year I had 1% of the marks attached to each quiz and 2% to each forum where students were required to make a helpful reply to another student (peer assessed). This year I dropped the marks. About 90% of the students still did the quiz, perhaps because it was easy and gave instant feedback. But only 10% posted to the forum without the incentive of a mark.

        Curiously most students put a lot of effort into providing peer feedback on an assignment, even though they were only rewarded 1% for this. Perhaps because this was in the context of an assignment.

        I am not sure if this leading of horses with marks would translate into a real time activity, and even less sure if it was hybrid mode.

        ps: As I type this at 7:15pm Thursday night, I am on a Zoom video conference with the 200 TechLauncher students. There is a complex process of team formation taking palace, involving dozens of client presentations on Zoom, lists of projects in a Google spreadsheet, individual client discussions in a variety of video tools and Slack text posts popping up every few seconds. It is very exciting, but a bit bewildering for someone who did not grow up with a smart phone. 😉

      3. Hi Edie,
        I like this idea of the word cloud as a means of introduction. It allows students to identify themselves and their interests, without including any information they don’t want or focusing on their appearance. Obviously this particular activity works best for research students, but I like the idea of incorporating visual but lo-fi tools such as these into wattle to make things more personalised and interactive without being time-consuming. I’ve been taking a similar approach in my French course this semester. I use Padlet, wattle quizzes and resources from YouTube and other sites each week, but I haven’t created a huge amount of extra work for myself by trying to create my own videos or anything like that. I’d be interested to know if anyone has been doing this (beyond recording lectures) and found it to be worth the time and energy commitment.

        1. Hi Gemma,

          Is the time and energy commitment of making video’s worth it? For the students, the benefit is that you can then use synchronous contact time in group activities. But is it worth it for you, who is putting in the time and energy? I think that depends upon your local area – they might not support it and prefer that you give F2F lectures. And, furthermore, the time commitment is not only in putting together video, but also designing/running relevant and engaging activities – for me these were problem-solving sessions/project work/Arduino microprocessors. Perhaps you can “flip” a portion of the course (that is, replace a portion of the lectures with videos and synchronous activity) and make an assessment from there. (The stakeholders being you, your local area, and the students).

          I’ve flipped 2 courses (Chem2212, Phys2020) and am currently (and slowly) flipping one on Ozone hole chemistry.

          There is an analogy to make about replacing lectures with short videos: in the arts, its like making live performances available in a recorded format (think TV, Netflix, or even cinema). As a consumer, I still love to attend live performances , but with the recorded format I can engage without as much planning and in bits & pieces. That’s also my aim with providing videos, enabling them to “do” activities work when we meet synchronously. (I think people learn best when they “do”, whether it be problem-solving, hands-on activities, or engage in work with others). Also, there are things you can do with video that can’t do with powerpoint or chalk-board talks – lecturers can animate content, students can revisit content (made easier by videos that are shorter than a long lecture). But one thing videos do not do well – engage people socially or form an active (social) cohort. So its not all video work . . . .

          I’d be happy to show you my process for video making . . . but everyone has their won method.

          1. Thank you for your insight, Edie! It sounds like you’ve thought a lot about this transition and the benefits of the shorter audiovisual format. Now I’m thinking about ways to incorporate smaller videos in the future…

  5. Thanks for these tips. It is really interesting to see the disparate views from last semester.

    I hadn’t heard of Padlets before and this is an interesting idea.

    Breakout rooms worked well for my course on Tuesday which was both in the classroom and online. Those in the classroom joined Zoom to present to the entire class after an activity. I think that the idea of asynchronous discussions is interesting, but I am not exactly sure how to implement it. Do other people set up discussion forums on the topics discussed in class?

  6. Thank you for the interesting resources and the guidelines on how to be effective in online teaching. Thank you, Tom for the grouping of the key elements, as Susy said, it is much easier to remember when you can categorise them into cognitive, social and educational themes. I was happy to see that as the semester went along, and we kept in contact with the students to learn what worked and helped their learning, I was able to adapt to their needs and by the end of the semester, I could tick almost all of the 10 points listed. I had problem with the building of community, especially in my undergraduate class, which I teach for 4 weeks to cover one of 3 themes of the course. Unfortunately, the shut-down happened just as I took over the teaching of the cohort and I guess we were all a bit shell shocked at that time of suddenly moving to online teaching, while trying to achieve the same level of interpersonal connections as we do in our face-to-face teaching. I’m usually very bad with names, but really good with faces, so it was very challenging to interact with a group of students and looking at a large number of muted, black boxes with names, but no faces. Typically, in a class, I watch out for students who seem to be lost or troubled, and able to help them. However, this time I was quite concerned that I will not be able to identify those who need additional support, or just gauge where students are as we go in the session. If they are quiet, does it mean they can follow and understand the content, or do they just hide and suffer in silence not having a clue what I’m talking about? Looking at the video with student feedback, I can see the latter did occur in some cases. How do we identify these students? How can we help? I did try to encourage communication in writing (private messages) if they were more comfortable with that, but I very rarely received any from the quiet students. Similarly, they were less likely to contact me via email as well. I did set up small tutorial groups who worked with the same demonstrator over the 4 weeks, and I suggested to the demonstrators to ask their group to ‘show their faces’ in the small group sessions. Once they started to do that, the demonstrators reported a significant increase in student engagement. I still had quiet (muted, black-boxed) students in the larger group sessions, but I felt by providing the small group discussions and asking the demonstrators to report on how the session went, what did students find hard to understand, I could discuss these with the whole cohort without the need for individual (shy) students to raise their hands and ask questions. I guess that replaced a discussion board activity.

    1. I’ve had the same problem with students black-boxing (not turning cameras on) during workshops/Zoom rooms. With my class of >70, it did get better with time during Sem1 so that at the end only 2-3 had no camera; but I dealt with other students being angry with the black-boxes as they felt the students behind the black-boxes weren’t contributing. Tutors (and myself) spent alot of time talking over strategies to get the cameras on.

      But two things told me to back off on trying to “solve this problem”:
      1) Having school meetings/seminars where MOST of the attendees turned off their cameras. Is this because they didn’t interact with students on Zoom and didn’t understand the frustration that can arise. ? Or perhaps they feel strongly that this impedes on their privacy (think cultural norms etc). I also attributed it to, perhaps, dividing their attention (its very busy times) and not wanting the camera to pick up the top of their heads as they beaver away on something else.
      2) Having a student want to “bow out” of a workshop as they “not in the right head space” and did this by hiding (this was in the class where we worked to get cameras on). It was great that he told me this – and I went against my normal advice to students and told him to turn off the camera and stay with it if he was comfortable. He did for at least some of the workshop . . .

      So my latest approach is to try to offer material that is SO interesting, they want to turn their cameras on. I don’t think I hit that hurdle as consistently as I would like to think.

      1. Hi Edie and all

        Thanks for raising this. The issue of cameras-on is a real dilemma for me. I’m encouraging students to have videos on and I’m recording my seminars. I try to remember to pause the recording when we have more open discussion so people aren’t inhibited by the fact that their face will appear on a downloadable recording that we have little control over. Sometimes I then forget to turn recording back on. I also know that some students’ internet connections aren’t good enough to handle the video. In general, I would say that students are pretty good about having videos on if they can – better than staff actually. But, I feel a bit ethically torn about this issue because I don’t think it’s ok for us to be recording classes with students faces appearing and no consent for this, but I don’t have a good solution other than to pre-record ‘content delivery’. In terms of interaction – it is already quite a big deal to ‘unmute’ and interrupt in a class of 70. We have none of the subtle signals of the F2F class (tentative hand raise, pop a question in at a pause, grab a moment when a teacher is looking around to gauge understanding). To also have your face enlarged on everyone’s screen AND recorded, is really very inhibiting.

        Advice gratefully received!


  7. I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer here. I encouraged students to turn on cameras, but did not make a big deal about it if only a small number did that. As both Edie and Suzy mentioned, there could be a number of reasons why students might not turn cameras on, some of these could be out of the students’ control (not having a working camera, bad internet connection, cultural or psychological reasons). To remove the ethical issue of recording without consent, I did not record our sessions. The material we discussed were provided to students prior to the session and I provided responses, points to consider and concepts to apply after the session, to help them in their exam preparation.

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