Teaching Continuity at Caltech  /  Advice & Guidance  /  Challenges of Hybrid Instruction

Hybrid Instruction

Challenges of hybrid instruction

Synchronous dual delivery or hybrid teaching is appealing since it potentially offers both in-person and online students a full learning experience. However, including both in-person and online students in the class equally is a significant challenge that requires innovation in both technology and pedagogy.

Caltech's Committee for Reconstituting Classroom Instruction (CRCI) has advised against hybrid teaching when Caltech returned to in-person instruction during the 2021 fall term, in large part because Caltech is not currently equipped to offer the technological support and pedagogical training that typically prepares faculty for success in this mode of instruction. It is instead recommended to provide course recordings and extra online office hours when students need pandemic-related accommodations.

If an instructor undertakes hybrid teaching in an emergency context to keep all students engaged in classroom learning, we encourage faculty to anticipate and plan for the following challenges:

  • A small number of classrooms on campus are equipped with equipment for this kind of teaching (including Chen 130, Annenberg 105, 201 E. Bridge, and Hameetman Auditorium). If you are not able to teach in one of these spaces, you will need to develop your own customized solution for streaming video and audio. Specific technological challenges may include:
    • If teaching includes slides, board work, or demonstrations, these need to be accessible to both in-person and online students.
    • Online students need to hear/see questions and comments from their peers in the class, and vice versa. Audio echoes and signal feedback are common issues.
    • The preparation and operation of this technology can be labor-intensive, and faculty should consider how to keep TA labor manageable if they are involved in this work.
    • Recording and posting of class sessions may also be needed when students are too sick to attend a live class session or for other pedagogical reasons. The synchronous solution should produce recordings that can be posted for asynchronous viewing.
  • If the course includes elements beyond lecture, a lesson plan must account for how online and in-person students interact and how the goals of class activities must be adapted from what they would be for an in-person class.
  • It is worth carefully considering if and how hybrid teaching will diminish the learning experience that students in the classroom will have, especially if the goal is to support a small number of students who must temporarily miss class meetings. An alternative model is to provide class recordings and online office hours to students who miss class. This compromise keeps the level of in-person instruction high while providing adequate, temporary accommodations for students who will be out of the classroom for a limited period of time.
  • When teaching in a new mode, it is a good practice to check in with students to see how innovations affect their learning. Plan for using time in class or creating surveys to receive this student feedback.

A final note—Caltech is only allowed by our accreditor, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), to offer dual delivery hybrid courses by special permission for reasons of health and safety. It is anticipated that for the 2022 fall term, this mode of instruction will no longer be permitted.