Students on First Day of Class 2020-21

Students come back to campus for the first day of classes on Monday, August 24, 2020 at the Texas Tech University Library.

After a few weeks of being on campus, Texas Tech students and professors are understanding what it means to have a hybrid class amid the pandemic.

For professors who are teaching hybrid classes, how courses are conducted could vary.

Michael Faris, the assistant chair of the Tech Department of English, said the term hybrid is a fuzzy term. 

While hybrid courses look very different across departments, Faris said the most common method of hybrid instruction is splitting the students in half and alternating days where they go in-person or attend virtually. This is the method ENGL 1301 and 1302, which Faris oversees, is using.

Bryan Wheeler, an art appreciation professor, said he is taking a different approach to his hybrid course. He said 95 percent of his class will be taught online with bi-weekly, in-person discussion sessions.

While the hybrid format may be confusing for students at first, Wheeler said it will be beneficial by allowing students to choose their own method of instruction. He said it also will be easy to transition the course to a fully online format if the university needs to close.

However, some students may be less optimistic about their hybrid courses. 

Catherine Agarwal, a junior chemistry major from Richardson, said while she appreciates the effort from Tech, she has her doubts about hybrid instruction.

“I’m not really sure how much more effective it is or how much more conducive it is to learning, and I don’t think it’s particularly safe,” Agarwal said.

Agarwal’s hybrid courses follow the split model, where students are divided by last name and assigned a day to come to class, she said. But problems arise when video services, such as Zoom, have problems connecting, or material in junior- and senior-level courses are too complicated to teach online.

A better model for hybrid learning would be a flipped classroom model where students watch lectures online and come to class on designated days if they have questions or need extra help, Agarwal said.

When half of the students are in class and half are watching virtually, the professor essentially has to teach to two audiences at once, which is distracting to students and difficult for the professor, Agarwal said. This is not the fault of the professor but the fault of the circumstances.

“To my professors, I would definitely say thank you for trying,” Agarwal said. “To keep all of this together, logistically, I can’t imagine how complicated this is.”

Roger McNamara, an assistant professor in the Department of English, also emphasized the difficulties of hybrid learning. He said the trickiest part is teaching students in-person and virtually simultaneously, especially considering his hybrid course relies heavily on discussion.

“Our classrooms are not set up for that,” McNamara said. “And I’m not blaming anyone for that at all, it’s the situation with COVID-19.”

Hybrid instruction may be even more complicated for certain departments. 

Thomas Schnaible, a freshman musical theater major from Allen, said his hybrid courses in the School of Theatre and Dance have been difficult.

Living in the dorms is an obstacle when it comes to hybrid learning, Schnaible said. The majority of his classes are very interactive and require a lot of vocal and physical work.

“We’re supposed to be expelling loud breaths and just shouting to get our energy out, but you can’t do that at eight in the morning when your roommates are asleep,” Schnaible said.

Because everyone in the department acknowledges the difficulties of studying theater and dance virtually, Schnaible said his professors give a lot of grace, but the downside is a lack of motivation to do his best. He said he feels he would be held to a higher standard in person.

“It’s a little, in some ways, underwhelming,” Schnaible said. “I think I just expected more – and by more, I mean what are they doing to help us learn better from home?”

While Wheeler acknowledged the success of hybrid instruction will vary across disciplines, he said hybrid models of learning could potentially be more effective than traditional face-to-face instruction, particularly for lecture-heavy courses.

“The old model of students coming in and passively receiving information, particular for Tuesday, Thursday classes when it’s 80 minutes of just sitting there, I just don’t think that we’re engaging students as well as we could with that old format,” Wheeler said.

The key to an effective hybrid model is determining what needs to be taught in person, versus what can be taught asynchronously online, Faris said.

“'What’s your goal with your students?” Faris said. “What do you want your students to be able to accomplish in that week? And what sort of evidence do you need to gather that they’re learning?'”

While hybrid instruction can be done well, Faris said many teachers are struggling during this semester in particular because of the disproportionate number of students unable to come to class due to a positive case of or potential exposure to COVID-19.

One section of ENGL 1301 has 35 percent of students in quarantine, Faris said, and every section of ENGL 1301 and 1302 has at least one positive case.

“I think the current rates of quarantining and positive tests are, one, scary, but also make it a challenge to teach meaningfully,” Faris said.

When students miss class in a hybrid course, professors often have to reteach a lecture or Zoom with a student individually to catch them up, Faris said, which creates a lot of extra work for professors.

Despite this, Faris said it is important for professors to be charitable and compassionate, because many students are struggling, especially first-year students.

It is just as important for students to be gracious to their professors, as they are struggling just as much as students in some cases, Agarwal said. But it also is important for students to realize their responsibility.

“Just try your best, learn what you can, try to stay optimistic,” Agarwal said. “These are unprecedented times. No one really knows what’s going on, and it’s not anyone’s ideal situation."

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