Reverse hybrid teaching

'Reverse hybrid' is instructors remote, students local - possibly spread among different locations in small groups.

November 07, 2022 - Richard Darst

Part of a series on the Future of Teaching

In 2020, we went to remote teaching. In 2022, we are talking about hybrid so that we can keep accessibility benefits of being online, while returning to some of the benefits of interaction. But does this work? There are plenty of issues with hybrid, mainly the inequality of the people in-person and those who are remote. What can we do about this?

We've found a surprising solution which we call reverse hybrid. Surely others have thought of this, and maybe there is even a proper name.

Let's do a thought experiment in a large course. There is one teacher and hundreds of students. What's the benefit to students doing this in-person? It's probably not being in the same room as the teacher, since most students don't have time to ask a question, or even approach the teacher after the course. The benefit is how students can interact with each other beside the lecture. The downside is that making good, accessible online material in a lecture room is hard.

I wouldn't quite say it's accidental, but we have started this reverse hybrid strategy: the teachers are online, and students can be in-person in small groups. We started this by encouraging students to meet up with their friends or colleagues to work on exercises, while we teach online. As things became more relaxed, we had some staff organize official in-person exercise sessions - while the current instructors kept teaching online. This has worked surprising well - students who want interaction can get it (and actually interact, without disrupting the whole course), and those that don't can still attend no matter where they are.

But what do we lose? Do we lose interaction with instructors? As our posts on co-teaching and parallel chat show, no! When you get to these large courses, students can't interact with instructors without technology anyway. In-person interactions aren't as anonymous, so that solution doesn't motivate all learners to be active.

And what do we gain? The course isn't bound to one location, literally anyone in the world can attend. There are high-quality materials that everyone can review afterwards, so that the audience has the time to relax and interact. By being able to scale up, we can have more staff, which allows us to interact more via parallel chat or co-instructors. It's even possible to go as far as we go and make each course an international collaboration with local breakout rooms, and plenty of staff to manage everything.

Is "reverse hybrid" for everyone? Clearly not. I think it could work for small courses too if a teacher really promotes the use of technology to make interaction, but it might feel a bit weird - though I think it's worth trying! I think the biggest advantage is that it allows you to scale up in a way that you are no longer have to teach alone, which is a mindset change more than anything.

In practice, does it work? In several cases where we had a structured in-person session, it has worked well. We know of cases of groups of friends or colleagues joining together to watch and do exercises for each of our courses, but we don't have a way to say just how many. We do have a report of it not working so well - because the online interaction dominated the in-person interaction. But is that really a negative about in-person, or an overwhelming message about how engaging our online courses are?

See also


CodeRefinery is a project within the Nordic e-Infrastructure Collaboration (NeIC). NeIC is an organisational unit under NordForsk.


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