Here is a note that was sent to all faculty in my department at Teachers College, Columbia University just before Thanksgiving (US holiday).
Not knowing exactly how things would be in our region (NYC-area) and how exactly we'd need to update our usual Spring semester course, Don Buckley and I had to make a quick decision based on limited information. The urgency was defined by Spring registration for students starting on December 7th and our course historically being enrolled to capacity every year on the first morning of registration (it's capped at 23 students). We chose "hybrid" for MSTU4029: Managing Educational Technology Resources, understanding and having confirmed that hybrid was being defined as a mix of synchronous and asynchronous instruction (all remote, nothing in person).
A helpful planning exercise for a situation like this is to identify all of the things that are less in your control and that are more in your control. Below is what we identified, finding an opportunity within each constraint:
Announcement Deadline / Learning Objectives
Less Control: November 23rd is when we were informed about needing to make a decision; we assumed it needed to be decided prior to Spring term registration on December 7th.
More Control: We knew that regardless of the course mode designation, our learning objectives for our students should not materially change. We chose the path of 'hybrid' without fully having fleshed out our Spring term plan based on this format because we knew we could use our objectives as the guideposts for all of our ongoing planning and adjustments. We can also define how progress towards those objectives will be assessed.
Number of Students / Individual-Group Work Balance
Less Control: This course is has an enrollment cap of 23 students, though we have usually allowed 1 or 2 more students to enroll with special exemptions or simply as auditors. This numbers been defined both by the physical room size we prefer to be in, but also due to the types of group activities we wants our students to do and to be able to meaningfully share about. We have found that more than 5 groups sharing their work can lead to 'sharing fatigue'
More Control: Knowing that we'd keep to this enrollment cap and assuming that we'd be fully enrolled has made it a little easier to plan. One of the benefits of being in an in-person setting is the opportunity to be physically close to your peers and develop certain interpersonal skills that benefit from being proximate. When we have 25 people in front of us, we want there to be a reason that we're all together. If it was 2 hours of just Don and I lecturing at the students each week, it would be very fair for students to question why we are gathering at all. We want to have similar social, small group opportunities that we have had in person, but they require set up and planning that may not always yield the best result.
Semester Dates / Pacing
Less Control: The Spring 2021 semester starts on Monday, January 11th and concludes on Monday, April 26th. The start and end dates are earlier than usual, most likely because the university may be planning on a longer-than-usual summer semester.
More Control: Normally, this is a face-to-face, in person class that runs on Tuesday evenings from 5:10-6:50pm for 15 weeks in a row, one of those weeks being a no-class week for Spring Recess. While the start and end dates are fixed, we do have some choice for how we structure the time in between. Knowing that at least once a week there will be a time that all students can get together (or small groups can get together) provides a lot of flexibility and choice for how experiences will designed. What we decided to do is have first two weeks be synchronous in order to establish norms and define expectations while also supporting students' onboarding and community building. That is followed by a few weeks of asynchronous instruction that has typically in the semester been quite content/reading heavy and does not necessarily require a live lecture. We have also planned two weeks where we might meet twice within the week on two consecutive weeks (so 4 x meeting in two weeks) in order to develop some momentum for a particular portion of our course (problem solving with design).
Seat Hours / Synchronous vs. Asynchronous
Less Control: Somewhere in a faculty handbook is the definition of expected "seat hours" per course (or credit) in order to meet certain academic excellence standards. It's probably in the realm of 23-24 hours of class time plus another 15-30 hours of in-between work (readings, assignments, etc.).
More Control: Utilizing both synchronous and asynchronous instructional modes, we can continue to meet this criteria without it being defined by traditional seat time.
Location / Instructional Modes
Less Control: Usually, we expect all of our students to be in the same time zone as us (NYC - Eastern Time) as they are expected to be attending our class in person. Since both Don and I are on the east coast and have other commitments, we do need to generally operate with a schedule that works for us. However, we also understand that there are students who may not be able to have a convenient time zone alignment (e.g. anywhere in Asia).
More Control: For synchronous instruction, we plan on a mix of mini-lessons, digitally 'hands-on' whole class activities (using collaborative spaces like Mural, Google Docs, Padlet, Explain Everything, etc.), and small group break-outs. For asynchronous instruction, we also plan recorded mini-lessons, readings, and small group and pair activities. It's all about balance, a balance which is not definable without having gotten to know your students even just a little bit. We will some of use our scheduled class time for synchronous small group meetings (i.e. our final project) as it is often hard for groups students to find convenient times to meet outside of class, especially when time zones come into play.
Standard Tech / Add-on Tech
Less Control: There are only a few platforms that we know the all of our students use. The two most important ones are our Learning Management System (Canvas) and our Email system (G Suite). Now, G Suite provides access to a ton of other tools that we do use regularly (Docs, Slides, Sheets, Maps, etc.) but when it comes to regular communication its just those two: the LMS for course content and announcements; Email for notifications and individual communication (though sometimes mediated by Canvas's messaging module).
More Control: We do not want to introduce routines and habits that will confuse students who may be taking anywhere from 1-3 other courses this semester. Instead, we look to defining how we will use other platforms in conjunction with the above mentioned default systems. The image below highlights what we'll be using and for what primary purpose(s).
It's impossible to be totally comprehensive and all-encompassing in a blog post. The intent here is to make visible the thinking behind our process given the constraints and opportunities that we happen to have.
I'll be facilitating a free webinar on Wednesday, December 30th at 4PM ET to talk through all of these elements and respond to any live participant's inquiries. The webinar will be recorded and available on demand as well.