As part of the iBSc in Bioethics offered during COVID, Jonathan Ives delivered a journal club in a hybrid mode, with some students present and others remote. Trial and error improved the sessions: better placement of the laptop, mics and speakers whilst remembering to engage two audiences were important. Jonathan feels the sessions were pedagogically effective. Students appreciated them, though would prefer in person, circumstances allowing. This preference may say less about pedagogic efficacy and more about our nature as social beings.
Tools: Zoom, mics, laptop with screen and external speaker
The iBSc Bioethics team reshaped the course in response to the coronavirus pandemic (see separate article). The team were looking to make best use of the modes available with a proportion of the 20 students remote or isolating. The journal club was the element of existing teaching thought most suited to hybrid delivery.
Pedagogically, the delivery did not change; students read a paper on a particular topic and draw out learning through discussion. The discussion would normally happen in a room with everyone present. In any mode, the teaching depends on the engagement of students; have they read and thought about the paper? Are they prepared to discuss the paper in person? With engagement, these are really effective learning opportunities.
Approach taken (what happened)
Jonathan split the group in two (due to room occupancy limits) and ran the sessions twice (back to back). Each session had 10 participants with a varying number of them connecting remotely (depending on who was isolating at the time). Jonathan began with a laptop setup in the class showing the remote learners on Zoom, with the camera pointing to the students in the class. The remote learners could see the class, but not Jonathan. A further complication was that students in the room were socially distancing. Arranging the technology so that they could all see and hear was challenging. The sound quality afforded by the laptop’s built-in mic and speakers was not sufficient.
Perhaps the biggest challenge became remembering to engage the unseen, remote audience. Jonathan points out that it is nothing new for some students to contribute more than others, but in a classroom, visual clues (facial expression and body language) give the teacher and students prompts for engagement. It is easier to tell when a student wishes to speak or remain silent.
With such a small group, it is impossible to be certain, but Jonathan feels the results were comparable with face-to-face teaching. Jonathan was glad they did it the way they did, and students certainly appreciated the efforts in the circumstances. It is likely these sessions would return to face-to-face in the future – as social beings this makes for a happier learning environment for us.
Jonathan learned lessons from the initial sessions. Using external speakers and a mic positioned in the centre of the room improved the sound quality. Jonathan was then also able to position the laptop so that he could see the screen, and the learners could see him, as well as the class.
The biggest improvements came with experience. To overcome the paucity of non-verbal communication, Jonathan developed the habit of continually checking verbally with the remote audience to see if they wanted to contribute. Whilst this was still a little awkward – Jonathan didn’t want to pressure the remote learners – it became less burdensome as it became a habit. The students in the room also became adept at spotting when remote learners wanted to speak, pointing this out to Jonathan, and remote learners became better at signalling when they wanted to speak.
- The hybrid approach was suited to the nature of the learning in a journal club session (ideas and discussion). Topics focusing on equipment, patients and other face-to-face interactions might not work so well.
- With this small class, and the session LOs, the pedagogy was unimpacted. With more students, Jonathan would take another approach; for example, using breakout groups to explore distinct elements and perhaps employing tools like Padlet. Such a scenario would require much more planning and strategy.
- Seek advice on the technology in the room in advance.
- In an ideal world, Jonathan would have three mics in spread throughout the room, and a wide angle camera.