With the academic school year approaching, university and college faculty across the US are working diligently to create new course content that is both engaging and collaborative. This year, however, more educators are transitioning to a hybrid approach to teaching, offering both in-person and virtual instruction components in their courses.
With the hybrid approach to learning surfacing as the new norm, it’s more important than ever to ensure students are aware of how to participate effectively so they can thrive. It’s also equally important to ensure students, staff and faculty have the tools they need for access to all digital content being shared in courses and by the institution. As hybrid learning best practices emerge, it’s critical to understand if the educational content you’re sharing in Fall 2021 is accessible and inclusive.
Hybrid Learning’s Evolution Into The New Educational Model
Elements of the hybrid approach to learning have been in use for many years, including the use of digital resources such as eBooks, PDFs and video in learning management platforms. However, the use of digital resources was quite limited prior to the pandemic, with some instructors preferring to exclusively teach in-person and utilize physical, printed resources.
This approach to teaching and learning has considerably changed in the past year, and the previous “one-size-fits-all” approach that some instructors may have touted in the past is no longer practical.
Hybrid learning has now become the new educational model for K-12 and postsecondary institutions across the US. Hybrid methods are also being implemented in workplaces and for events and conferences as well.
Institutions are well-poised to lead this trend, offering both online and in-person instruction. In fact, hybrid learning is in line with education’s Universal Design for Learning principles, which were being adopted more readily prior to the pandemic.
Hybrid learning opportunities offer students more choice and flexibility to choose the type of instruction and material that works best for them, ultimately leading to greater chances of academic success. A study by the Flex + Strategy Group (FSM) indicated that flexibility, such as the flexibility offered by hybrid courses, can improve one’s ability to “communicate, create, and innovate with colleagues.”
How to Prepare For Hybrid Learning
There are a few important things for educators and institutional leaders to know when making the transition to hybrid, after 2020 allowed educators to familiarize themselves with more digital-first learning delivery.
- Make training resources available for faculty and students at the beginning of the semester: It’s generally not a good idea to assume that faculty and students will know how to access material right away, so make sure you have a plan to prevent any hiccups during the semester. Having a webinar session or creating a how-to tutorial will be useful to help train faculty and students how to use and manage digital resources in your learning management system. On an institutional level, work with faculty to ensure that they are uploading material ahead of time as well.
- Ensure that any content uploaded to the system is fully accessible: If you’re uploading PDFs for students to use, make sure that your PDFs are tagged so that they are accessible to blind and low vision students. Any video used in your course should also be captioned and audio described so that it’s accessible to deaf and hard of hearing students as well.
- Maintain communication with your students during the semester: Communication is especially important for students with accommodations, who may run across technology barriers at any given time during a class session. A helpful check-in time might be a couple of weeks into the semester, when students have already had a chance to submit their first assignments and review course material. The process for ensuring accessibility at each college and university varies, so you might want to contact your institution’s Disability Services office to learn more about the appropriate steps you should take.
- Ensuring both in-person and online learners are accounted for in hybrid approaches: It’s critical to ensure you’re opening communication channels to get feedback from students learning in each method to ensure they’re supported. Are your remote learners participating virtually, but feeling excluded in reality? Are links being shared with those learning digitally not being shared when in-person? How are remote students and in-person learners collaborating with each other for peer-to-peer learning? Looking for ways to ensure the hybrid method supports both environments and both types of learners will be the key to a hybrid course’s success.
Hybrid Learning Support
Hybrid learning may be new, but it’s likely here to stay. Ensuring that your set up for hybrid learning is sufficient with the right information technology and equipment can no longer be seen as a luxury. Providing equitable access to students is more important than ever, and institutions, faculty and staff should continue to do research on important technology considerations to fuel effective hybrid learning. Video accessibility is one of them.
With education constantly evolving, AST is committed to helping educators deliver on hybrid learning techniques and their video accessibility goals. AST provides a full suite of video accessibility services, such as captioning and transcription, audio description and live captioning, to help you ensure students are supported in the hybrid learning process.