The fourth topic “Design for online and blended learning” incorporated all the previous topics into a practical, current, and timely scenario to work with. We would get useful tools and executable practices out from this.
Challenges in communication. We saw that as the most difficult thing in online teaching. How to encourage the students to communicate? How to facilitate fluent communication? Why do the students hide behind the black screen and muted mics? The larger the number of students, the more challenging the communication becomes. Our group recognized that building a community is important, maybe the most important, for the learning process in online or hybrid environment. We got inspiration from an informative article written by Fiock. We decided to build a handbook for this, from which we then could get support when building hybrid courses. As it is difficult to have very generalized guidance, we selected a case of a large hybrid course (100-200 students) over seven weeks for 2nd year undergraduates.
When processing this I realized that I had not yet done pure hybrid teaching yet but blended and online only. For laboratory exercises hybrid really does not work but blended we already did to decrease the number of physical lab hours and number of people in the lab, to meet the restrictions due to covid-19. I had heard about hybrid exercises at our department: there was limited number of people onsite, and there was also an online channel open to the same space. The online channel was not very popular, the only active proportion of students were really the ones onsite. On the other hand, on my purely online exercises, there were a few people in the beginning of the course but less and less towards the end. Obviously, the current format in our school for exercises: a weekly set (mostly calculation problems) which students can discuss with others and get help from teachers at the exercise sessions, does not transform to online environment. At all.
We produced a “manual” for facilitating community as a function of time over the course. We see that community building and fostering the learning community requires a well-planned and clear structure, with awareness and active participation from the instructor. See the whole manual at: https://www.sutori.com/story/pbl-4-design-for-online-hybrid-learning–TMuFWTfjFUUiopdSZJmvbsgj
How will I put our findings into practice then? At least one aspect will be a more defined building of small groups. This far the groups for lectures and exercise sessions have been “ad hoc” which really does not build the community and this format works poorly in online environment. Maybe the exercises could be group assignments? I feel that this needs to be designed very well, communicated to the students, and actively supported. At least for the lectures, groups for group assignments shall be set for the whole course.
 H. S. Fiock, Designing a Community of Inquiry in Online Courses, International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 21(1), 2020. http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/3985/5296