Building Connections through Engaged Hybrid Courses
COVID-19 changed many things about the University of Michigan college experience, including how faculty teach their courses and how—and where— students participate in them.
Lissa MacVean, a lecturer III in civil and environmental engineering, has been educating students in two of her graduate courses using the hybrid format—some students in-person and some participating synchronously via Zoom. Those attending MacVean’s class in-person courses meet outside in a grassy spot that has shade and strong wireless internet.
“It was a different experience trying to prepare for this. I felt like I was more or less starting with a blank slate. I had to really come up with how I was going to structure these courses to work in this hybrid format,” MacVean said.
She considered which materials to pre-record, how to spend the synchronous time, and the best ways to gauge students’ responses to the structure. With regular feedback from her students, she is able to identify changes that would be helpful to students and evolve the work as they move forward.
“My students are really coming to these classes with great attitudes and a lot of energy. They’re just really open to trying things, and I feel like we’re all engaged in this big experiment—and they are right there with me engaging,” she said.
MacVean is continuously finding innovative ways to adjust the course format for the graduate students, and her students are embracing the new ideas. One of her favorite examples is creating study groups, which she made based on student availability so they can work together to solve problems and review materials even though they aren’t all there in-person.
“The thing that’s really on my mind is this idea of bringing people in the virtual world to the conversation in a way that they’re really engaging and feeling included, even if they’re not physically there,” MacVean explained.
Students aren’t just learning together, they’re rebuilding their community in a new way with a new virtual component. And they’re including the faculty in the process.
“I think that we’re all on the same page with this crazy new world,” MacVean said.
Her advice to colleagues on educating this semester is to be flexible and check in with students often. As she has found, establishing that relationship can have a big impact on the students.