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In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss the an overlooked aspect of the COVID response from higher education. Beyond traditional face-to-face models, and fully online models, there is a vast middle ground of hybrid – the combination of face-to-face and online components. Added this is the concept of Hybrid Flexible as shared in in this blog post.


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly


Phil: Welcome, everyone. It’s great to talk again. And it’s been an interesting week and a half since we did our pilot episode to work out the podcast issues. And here we are, yet another week into the shutdown. How are you guys holding up?

Jeanette: Doing pretty good, I think. I’m surprised that I just realized this marks the sixth week that my kids have been out of school, which seems fast and slow at the same time. But, you know, I think that there’s some maybe sadness that sort of kicking in at the end of your school year. Things are happening, but also just a level of comfort of being home as well. It’s kind of a mixed bag at the Wiseman the household. How about you, Kevin?

Kevin: I think my big problem is I don’t give myself time in a regular circumstance.

And, you know, I’m working on a book about online teaching right now that we’re trying to get to the publisher. Every free moment that I’m not on a Zoom call or doing work for a client is spent doing some other form of work.

Even yesterday, I worked all day. Really nothing has changed much except for not as much business travel.

Phil: But as for myself, I’m the same way trying to deal with a lack of business travel and wishing my family the best in the meantime. Today, what we wanted to talk about is that it seems like there’s been a pretty broad consensus since we last talked that the Fall 2020 academic term in the Northern Hemisphere in particular is now really looking to be in question, that it’s not at all safe to just assume that schools will be back to their normal method of delivery where they’re free to do fully face to face with no restrictions for the fall.

And I’ve definitely noticed a pretty strong recognition of this point, and that’s led to some interesting conversations.

But one thing I’m noticing that isn’t being discussed enough is hybrid education and the possibility of a partial reopening situations, where a school, certain parts of their activity can be done face to face, but certain parts are going to need to be online.

And the challenge of trying to figure out what is the right mix for a school to take, particularly given the fact that there are still so many unknowns about what the reopening are going to look like. And that’s something I’d like to explore in more depth today. But before we get started on what schools are doing, I’d like to check in with both of you.

Have you what have you noticed with the online public commentary or are you noticing the same trend about online versus face to face and not enough about hybrid or what are you guys seeing?

Kevin: It’s only just starting to hit the list serves I frequent in terms of people starting to think about the summer for teaching and the summer for professional development to prepare people for the fall. And you know, I don’t think there’s been enough consideration about the formats other than I think people are preparing to help faculty with a more intentional online presence. And not even considering what you’re hinting at, which is the possibility that even if we go back to the classroom, some students won’t be able to get back to campus for travel restrictions or won’t feel safe.

And when we get to that topic about hybrid, I’m going to insert the concept of hybrid flexible. And I’ll talk about that more when we get to it.

Phil: I like that. Having a teaser thrown in there. Jeanette, how about you? What have you been saying with online conversations, both in terms of recognition that we can’t make safe assumptions about the fall and in terms of whether the conversation is nuanced enough about the different options?

Jeanette: You know, I’ve seen more. I think I’ve been looking at more communications maybe from the instructor level and not as much in that administrative level or maybe even an instructional designer online development. And it seems like instructors that I’ve been reading and following seem to be in somewhat denial of what’s happening. You know, I think they’re thinking that there’s and these are the ones, I think the instructors that maybe don’t have as much experience of teaching online, that they think that, you know, the online transition in March didn’t go smoothly. Some recognition of see how maybe this could work for them. I think I’m seeing frustrations and some of the platforms, especially depending on what a mess they’re using some frustrations on those platforms. But then in terms of fall reading is a lot of people talk about and seems registrations happening for fall. A lot on campus right now. They’re seeing their classes start to fill up and especially those intro classes. And they’re kind of thinking that business, it might be business as usual is surprisingly what I’m saying more than I’m not. And I think that there’s going to be maybe a shock for some of those people fall depending on what happens. I guess, you know, again, there’s a lot of unknowns, but it makes me worry a little bit for those friends of mine.

Phil: Well, one thing that I’ve noticed and you were actually the first one who pointed it out so clearly to me and it got me thinking about it, Jeanette, was if you go more into the planning side, you mentioned just now the intro courses. You were the first one that said to me … If I could easily see it that the intro classes, you’re going to have to be online, but maybe the seminars or smaller sections, that’s what can be done face to face. How did that strike you – or tell us more about that idea when you first thought about it.

Jeanette: I mean, I’m just sort of thinking about planning. And it just seems like if you went to a fairly large school or university, you remember those intro classes and they’re packed and they’re full. And it’s the theater scene usually.

And that’s what’s the first thing that we’re closed down. And that doesn’t seem like if we’re still trained social distance in some way, or at least be careful with it, it’s those classes that they’re going to have a harder time with being able to have in person and that those we’re going to be the ones that are going to go online. I guess I think there’s a lot more resources already prepared for those courses from the publishers, from the course development vendors that we know of where it might be. Also, a little bit easier transition for those courses.

To have them happen online, that it would be for upper level, master’s level courses where the work on the instructor is going to be much. It’s going to be much heavier lifting. They’re going to have to possibly be more synchronous classes, which are going to work as well for the students that aren’t in the same time zone.

It just seems like that might be where they’re going to have to go. You know, and I think it’s not only them thinking about what’s going to happen for middle school and high schools, which I know we are more in Higher Ed. But it seems like how are they going to manage all of the class changes?

It just seems like there’s too many people in these big schools to be moving around in closed areas. That’s sort of how I was thinking of it.

Phil: I think it makes perfect sense. And I guess just following up on your previous comment and I don’t know if you’ve talked to enough people, it makes me wonder if there’s a difference among teachers. If the people who are used to teaching large introductory classes is that subset more accepting and dealing with what might happen in the future. And whereas there is another who tend to teach more upper division classes. Is there a difference on the teacher level on what they’re thinking about or assuming it’s going to happen come the fall time?

Jeanette: The ones that really enjoy the upper division courses I think are more likely. They like that seminar class. They like being able to talk to their students in person. I think there’s more mentoring happening and a lot of cases at that level. And I don’t think they’re hoping that those are going to happen in person. I think the entry level courses, the professors I’ve been talking to, I think are trying to figure out how they can maybe rely on the teachers a little bit more to help in a system with the online course. If that happens, knowing that they can’t do it all themselves, especially maybe the one on one emails or discussions that are happening on the side.

I just I’m a little bit concerned for those people who are thinking this is all going to be over in the fall and not prepared for what could be at least partially online fall semester.

Phil: Kevin, what are you hearing particularly of the professional development work that you do?

Kevin: Well, right now, like I said, it’s it’s early days and people are starting to realize that they need to plan, but they haven’t done the planning and they’re waiting on others the same way. Students in small groups and online courses wait for somebody to make the first post I call it. The online discussions are the same as high school dances phenomenon where you need to see someone on the dance floor before you go do it yourself.

People are asking for ideas and they ask the rest of the world at large.

What are you planning? I can put together a list and steal your ideas. Beg, borrow, steal. That’s the motto and the mantra. But to tonight’s point, you know, at San Francisco State, when I was there full time, we worked with a professor of one of the largest classes on campus, an intro to marketing class. And he had this challenge where he the contract with the local theater near campus broke down so he couldn’t fit a thousand people in one room anymore. We were doing all these things like have TV’s and alternate rooms. And finally, we tried this hybrid flexible thing that I talked about where his thousand students dropped to about 150 in person, which could be spaced six feet apart in a big enough room if it were done in a way that provides maximum flexibility for students to choose how they participate. And in normal settings, non-covered era settings, again, around 15 percent of the students chose to come in person. The rest either chose to watch the lecture live while it was being recorded or watch it asynchronously after it had been recorded. And then they all participated in the online activities that everybody participated in, whether it be quizzes or discussions. To me, that’s the direction we need to consider because it provides flexibility for the instructors. If they start online and move to the classroom, start in the classroom and move online or we just don’t know what’s going to happen. It could be this toggling back and forth if they’re truly going to throttle, how many people are allowed into large settings where people can gather? Groups of 10 to 50. It gives us our best opportunity of success and not having a disruptive experience like we had in the spring.

Phil: And I really like the flexibility part of that, because one thing you know, one thing we’ve been calling out is we see continued turmoil in the fall. And part of that’s just due to the nature of code.

It might be people are talking about flare ups that might happen or there might be an ease and rules and allowing certain situations, let’s say a classroom. You know, we’re six feet distancing is the rule. But then if somebody, you know, test positive in the fall. Trust me, that situation is going to change on a dime. Flexibility seems to be such an important factor that we’re not just preparing for face to face or preparing for online. But we’re preparing to go back and forth as needed. That flexibility seems to be just a real key factor for all planning exercises coming in the fall time.

Kevin: Well, and I would and just to emphasize, Brian Beatty from San Francisco State, where I teach is the one who came up with the concept. But when we talk about flexibility, the context you just provided is institution centric flexibility, whether or not we go in the classroom or go online. And regardless of what happens at the institution level, that the point of hybrid flexible or what I called in my blog post hybrid flexible is the concept of giving the students the choice of whether or not they go online or stay face to face, because in some cases we may see a return to the classroom, but not every student can return. Giving the students the choice of whether or not they attend online, synchronously, in-person, synchronously or online asynchronously. It provides the greatest amount of opportunities for students to succeed. It follows the principles of Universal Design for Learning as well, of which I’m a big fan.

Phil: Well, that’s why I hadn’t really thought about that. But Universal Design for Learning that seems to be a useful concept that frequently gets overlooked, gets overlooked by me, and that it certainly has been a key element for addressing accessibility requirements and challenges in the past. But now it has the opportunity to also address what we’re going to be seeing, particularly in the fall time with this flexibility, need for flexibility. Why is it that that’s still not a well-known framework, if you will, for looking at this? That just sort of confuses me, just seems to be an underutilized resource, if you will.

Well, like my thinking is and people see the work in framework, and they choose not to follow it. Universal Design for Learning implies that you’re providing multiple pathways for learners to succeed, which means you’re doing multiple amounts of work for each part of the instructional process. You’re providing instructional materials in multiple formats like reading. Michael Wesch from K-State reads and records all of the text in his class so that students who are on public transportation need to wash the dishes after putting the kids to bed. They can still listen to the readings almost like a book on tape. That’s a he’s really thinking about the student experience, which very few instructors do. And he makes it so that students can download everything they need for the week with one download that’s light so they can stay asynchronous and offline.

Phil: Jeannette, you and I have talked to at least two different groups recently where it hits on this idea where Kevin brought up. He said, hey, Phil, you’re talking about the institutional perspective, but there’s also the student perspective of flexibility you get to choose. And that raises the issue about how we’re dealing with a very complex thing here. How do we deliver higher education in unprecedented times. This idea of hybrid could be cut in many different ways. It might be in terms of large lecture classes or large lecture portions of the class versus discussions. But there are other ways to divide this up as well. I’ve seen one from, I believe, Alex Usher the Higher Education Strategy Associates. He was talking about lab courses where he could foresee schools doing the theoretical parts of the work in the fall and pushing lab portions into the spring when we might have more time to be ready to do labs. What are some of the other ways that you’ve heard described?

Where you could sort of divide up the face to face and online if you’re taking a hybrid approach, in particular if you want to maintain some flexibility.

Jeanette: You know, aside from doing, I think the entire upper level courses. I think there’s been some.

I’ve seen some discussion of those intro courses, maybe need to take more of the the small group that you see for like an early entry level English one on one class or usually see those as being much smaller, but at typically like a T N level that they’re just not going to be the large courses. I’ve seen a little bit of that. I think it also leads to the flexibility discussion of, you know, what we’re seeing as could potentially be a really large recession coming up or even depression. And typically, when we see those, there’s this push to go and get extra education online.

I think that’s you know what, that flexibility and a worry that I think with the recession. It could be that we get out of it very quickly if people go back to work.

But you’ve already invested so much money into some education, having that flexibility – the ability to either go online and finish up the course or go in person – will add to some potential revenue drivers for schools because they’re able to really market and serve their students that maybe decided to get some education online, how to go quickly back to work and can’t be going to class.

Kevin: Well, and to piggyback on what Jeanette said, Usher and the Higher Education Strategy Associates, also pointed out that micro- credentials may become bigger than we’ve seen in the past because people aren’t quite sure what the future looks like. They don’t want to invest in a long-term program like an MBA, but they might go and get six or eight week my credential and something that will advance them either in their career path or toward some sort of lateral move. I wouldn’t be surprised if some things pop up that help people become more proficient at working remotely. Virtual teamwork in that kind of thing.

Phil: Let’s come back to the professional development aspect again is there’s a lot you know, we’re talking about these flexible models. We’re talking about hybrid models, we’re talking about universal design where you have different pathways and preparing different pathways.

Everything we’re talking about here just further clarifies what a big challenge we have and preparing instructors, instructional designers, TAs, everybody who’s going to be working to do the instruction portion. And it’s at a time where there are already stressed out. If you’re school, this is the challenge you have to face, but it can’t be viewed just simply as a binary. Are we going to be online? Are we going to be face to face? But how can we be in-between in a way that fits our student population? And how do you be prepared for it when it might change during the middle of the term? There’s just a lot of preparation that the schools are going to need to be ready to do from the instruction side and from the learning side, from the students’ side.

If somebody is bringing up these options of, hey, what if you do it with multiple pathways or what if you do it with a hybrid flexible model? Would that be viewed as more or less work? Is that more daunting or less daunting from an instructor perspective?

Kevin: Think a little of both. I think the key thing is what I normally promote is building over time, which we don’t have or building with others, which we do have. If everybody is doing this type of work together, then we can create orientations for students to become more proficient online learners once at the campus level, instead of instructors forced to create their own orientation modules on their own. Even better if we can do it at the district or system level. It’s done once for let’s say in California’s case, one hundred and fourteen community colleges can leverage one orientation. But in terms of the concept of building flexibility into your course because they did some work this spring, then the reusability of the objects that they created as it becomes an important part. And it’s actually one of the four principles of hybrid flexible. The concept on the teacher side is that they need to create a ‘many hands makes light work’ mentality, split up as much as they can pull and other people on the student support side. I advocated in my most recent blog post that they start using work-study money to pay veteran online learners to become mentors to newer online learners so that they aren’t struggling. Because we do know in these large classes the ones that Jeanette has promoted as the ones that should go online in the fall regardless. Those are the ones that have a MOOC-like feel and have a higher level of drop off students who don’t feel they can succeed. Maybe because they don’t feel like they’re part of a community, they’re a part of a virtual cattle call.

Phil: You packed quite a bit in there that I think would be useful to sort of unpack a little bit and take some time to talk about. We’ll set that up as a future episode to go through this hybrid flexible model on the different aspects of it.

I don’t want to just glance past it quickly. We’ll definitely cover it in the blog post, as Kevin has already done. But we’ll also explore this in more detail on an upcoming episode.

Our next one, however, is I actually want to talk much more about the student perspective, what they’re already seeing in the transitions. For our next episode, we’re going to talk more of the student perspective of what’s working and what’s not working and how that’s going to impact us. But we’ll also line up this discussion more on the hybrid flexible model. But for now, we’re still in an area with a lot of unknowns, but that means that we need to be prepared for it.

It’s very important to think not just face to face or online, but to think about hybrid, to think about different ways to set that up. Thanks for joining us today and we will catch you in future episodes.