Hybrid meetings in Distance Education

The following text describes my approach to implementing a hybrid meeting in a distance learning context. First, I explain my understanding of a hybrid meeting (1), then my target group (2), followed by my concept (3) and, finally, my experiences when I implemented this concept into a real-life situation (4).

  1. What is a hybrid meeting?

Hybrid meetings are an important concept for work processes of the future (these are already current international work processes, with the exception of Germany). A hybrid meeting combines a traditional “live” in-person meeting with a “virtual” online component. The biggest challenge in a hybrid meeting is the communication design. For example, how do I communicate effectively with the distant participants as well as those in front of me in the room? How can I create the exchange of ideas and communication between participants at the different locations? In my role as a moderator, I am the link between the live participants and the virtual participants.

The attention span of the distant participants is shorter than that of the present participants, therefore the individual speakers must show more commitment than in a face-to-face conversation. They must acknowledge remote attendees and look at the camera. The loss of physical connection requires speakers to develop new skills to engage. So, the participants and especially the moderator (myself) must pay attention to the camera, and remember there are interested people on the other side of it.

      2. Hybrid meetings in higher education

In the semester (WS2018/2019) I offered a hybrid PV (classroom event) to my students at the FernUniversität in Hagen. The aim was to enable my students to get in contact with other students, to get to know each other, to exchange ideas and to collaborate. Creation of connection between students is a big challenge in distance education.

Preparation and planning are very important for this kind of meeting set up. A clear and transparent structure is necessary for the orientation of the students and organizer.

In my hybrid meeting, phases of collaborative work on-site (at the regional center of the FernUniversität in Hagen) consisted of alternate virtual presentations and discussions in large groups. Three regional outpost centers/campuses (Berlin, Munich, and Hagen) were included. The event took place over two days. During planning of this meeting, I considered the experience of my students, both present in the room as well as my virtual students, who were present via different regional centers/campuses online.

I wanted to give the students the experience that they could learn to motivate themselves for different learning processes at any time. For this reason, I chose to implement the hybrid meeting with low-level technology, (although we also have two high tech rooms for hybrid events at the FernUni). The opportunity to create a meeting, thereby, becomes easily accessible to students for future use.

        3. My concept of a hybrid meeting

Before the meeting starts, I informed the students (20 students were present) about the technical basics of the event and appointed a technical manager for each location. With a hybrid meeting, presentation material including slides, video and other background information needs to be pre-prepared, loaded onto the web streaming portal and tested in advance. I used the same curricula for my online audience and my in-room audience.

The tasks of the participants are to use their pre-existing knowledge and transfer it to personal experiences and concrete applications during the hybrid meeting. The content of the hybrid meeting consists of three tasks, which increase in difficulty, as their learning support services are gradually reduced. The 4C/ID model (van Merriënboer & Kirschner, 2013), as well as the five-step model according to Salmon (2013), serves as a theoretical basis for this process.

The 4C/ID represents a model that, in order to increase the transferability of skills, trains students in authentic learning environments. Learning tasks, support resources,new knowledge and, if necessary, the training of simple partial skills (part-task practice) are the main building blocks of the didactic model, which are further developed by the moderator and by the learner (van Merienboer & Kirschner, 2013, p. 12; Ifenthaler & Eseryel, 2013, p.418). Similarly, according to Salmon (2013), in the five-step model, the teacher’s support in online learning processes (e-tivities) decreases.

All three tasks, which are worked in hybrid PV, can be described in general terms as processes of elaboration and subsequent presentation (via Adobe Connect), which build on one another. The elaborations take place as collaborative and cooperative processes.

During the first task, the processing and approach are strongly supported in terms of structure and content, whereas, by the third task, this support service is almost completely omitted.

        4. My experiences and questions

During the hybrid meeting, I learned to endure silence and chaotic discussion. There were minutes when nobody spoke, and I felt I should speak for them. There were also minutes when I thought I should intervene in the chaos of the conversation. But two, three minutes wait on my part brought the communication back into flow. Trust in the abilities of the students, and personal composure, are important key elements.

As a final note, e-learning experts suggest that broadcast sessions shouldn’t be longer than 30 minutes. Not all the content presented at a live event is suitable for a remote audience. Professionals with experience creating hybrid events say that they often adapt the content of their face-to-face events to the needs of there mote audience by, for example, offering shorter sessions.

References:

  • Ifenthaler, D., & Eseryel, D. (2013). Facilitating complex learning by mobile augmented reality learning environments. In Reshaping Learning (pp. 415–438). Springer.
  • Merriënboer, J. J. G. van, & Kirschner, P. A. (2012). Ten Steps to Complex Learning: A Systematic Approach to Four-Component Instructional Design (2 edition). New York: Routledge.
  • Salmon, Gilly (2013): E-tivities. The Key to Active Online Learning. New York & London: Routledge. Second Edition
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