Hybrid teaching at a time of emergency and afterwards

Beginning in February, every campus in China was closed due to COVID-19, from elementary schools through to universities. Most universities have been encouraging their faculty to provide online teaching so their students can learn at home through the internet. Although online teaching is much better than no teaching at all, it is not as effective as expected.

Therefore, I propose promoting hybrid teaching as a regular teaching process to prepare for future unforeseen emergencies in Chinese higher education. Hybrid teaching combines traditional in-class teaching with online teaching. It gives teachers and students specific practice in using online education.

The impact of online education

What is the feedback from teachers and students after weeks of online teaching? Central South University (CSU), one of China’s top universities, conducted a survey that collected 10,178 valid questionnaires.

The survey found that 61% of students are satisfied or very satisfied with the effectiveness of online teaching and agree that online teaching can reach or exceed the effectiveness of in-class teaching. However, 39% of students are not satisfied or consider online teaching relatively poor.

Among teachers, 68% are satisfied or very satisfied with the effectiveness of online teaching and agree that it is as good as or better than in-class teaching. However, 32% of teachers are not satisfied or think it is relatively poor.

In other words, more than one-third of students and teachers are not satisfied with online teaching or think it is relatively poor. This should be taken seriously.

There are many reasons for this. For example, the university’s online teaching network may not operate smoothly, the online teaching platform or software may be unstable or congested and too many outside factors may interfere with learning. In addition, there is some evidence that using mobile phones or computers for too long is not good for people’s health. But the main reason is that both students and teachers are unfamiliar with online teaching so they cannot use the platform and software easily.

Online teaching was not popular before the epidemic. When a campus closed, therefore, neither teachers nor students were ready for online teaching. Universities need to develop a platform to perform online teaching, which requires a lot of expertise and money.

Teachers feel frustrated. They need to redesign their teaching plans and learn online teaching techniques. This could double, triple and even quadruple their work. The students feel bored. Their online courses are not as lively as offline classrooms and it is harder to focus in an online classroom.

Post-pandemic appetite for online teaching

The survey found that 10% of students hope to continue participating in online teaching after the epidemic. Another 39% of students think that online and offline hybrid teaching could be considered, and 46% want to resume in-class learning. Only 5% of teachers hope to continue online teaching after the epidemic, while 68% think that hybrid online and offline teaching could be considered and 25% of teachers want to resume in-class teaching.

To sum up, online teaching is on the right track after the first weeks of the pandemic, but only a small minority of students and teachers hope to continue online teaching after the epidemic. What can we do if universities have to close temporarily again due to other emergencies? Significant numbers of survey respondents – more than a third of the students and two-thirds of teachers – think that a hybrid of online and offline or traditional in-class teaching is worth considering after the epidemic.

The advantages of the two are complementary and could achieve better teaching results. In particular, hybrid teaching can play to the autonomy of teachers and students and fully reflect the initiative, enthusiasm and creativity of students during the learning process.

Hybrid teaching should be part of our regular teaching programme. Universities could provide visual platforms for teachers to build courses. Teachers could provide learning resources on both the universities’ platforms and social platforms and students could use the platforms to enrich their learning in and out of the classroom.

Teachers could even use live broadcast software (such as Dingding, Zoom, etc), or the university’s virtual platform to launch live teaching when they have to travel for work.

Hybrid teaching breaks the limitations of learning time and space. Knowledge is ubiquitous in the electronic world. Students can do their own research outside of traditional class times. Through long-term practice with hybrid teaching, both teachers and students will become more familiar with online teaching.

And if we again need to move from in-class teaching to online teaching during an emergency, all our teachers and students will be ready.

Huili Han is associate professor, Central South University, China, and visiting scholar at George Washington University, United States.