With 22 percent of LSA classes being taught in the hybrid or in-person format, the disconnect between students in the classroom and students on Zoom coupled with the technological learning curve has proved challenging for hybrid courses. 

LSA sophomore Michelle Ascrizzi is enrolled in a hybrid Honors first-year writing course, which provides students the option to attend lectures either in person or online, with discussions taking place entirely online. Despite living in an apartment in Ann Arbor, Ascrizzi has opted to “Zoom” into lecture every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

“For now I’ve just been attending entirely online, my reason being I traveled to get here so with staying in a hotel and moving in and everything, I wanted to lie low for the first two weeks to make sure I didn’t have any symptoms that I could pass on to anyone,” Ascrizzi said. “Also with everything going on, I felt really nervous, personally, about going to an in-person class right now so I decided I’d rather go online and see how the first two weeks of classes went.”

In-person students don’t use microphones in Ascrizzi’s class, which has created a lapse in communication between virtual students and in-person students. 

“The hardest thing is that for classes that are really discussion-based, you can’t hear what the people in the classroom are saying usually, and that can be helped by if the professor repeats back what they said,” Ascrizzi said. “I feel engaged when people on Zoom are talking but then when people in the room are talking, it’s more difficult to follow the discussion.”

In an email to The Daily, Faith Sparr, communication and media lecturer at the University of Michigan, said she was advised to pass a handheld microphone from student to student in order to allow students on Zoom to hear those attending class in person. 

“I declined that solution and luckily my room is now equipped with an overhead mic system, but I know of one other hybrid lecturer that is still using the handheld mic as a solution,” Sparr wrote. “I attended several training sessions to get ready for the term that were technology-based, not health protocol-based. Health protocol was never really emphasized to me as an in-person/hybrid lecturer and I am still surprised by that.”

LSA lecturer Anne Manuel is currently teaching Political Science 495 in a similar hybrid format as Ascrizzi’s class. Manuel said she prepared for the class by playing around with the technology she’d been using before classes began. 

“First, I did a training with a couple other instructors that took about an hour and then I was able to get into the room, Angell G115, to practice on my own,” Manuel said. “It’s one of those things where it’s both the time to learn the software and the repetition required to adapt.”

Along with navigating technology, Manuel believes equally dividing attention between virtual and in-person students is another new challenge. 

“When you’re in a room where you have some students in the room and some students at home, it’s interesting to attend to the people in the room and attend to the people on Zoom,” Manuel said. “The other tricky thing about teaching now is that there’s a part of your brain that is running the technology and a part of your brain that’s thinking of the content while making sure (I) attend to both groups of students so it can be hard to keep everything going.” 

LSA instructors may be able to switch to a fully remote format if the hybrid format becomes too challenging, according to Manuel. 

“In political science in LSA, my understanding is that we have a lot of control over whether we’re teaching hybrid and remote and we have the option to switch to remote teaching if needed, as long as we notify our department,” Manuel said. 

Manuel thinks one way to possibly ease the disconnect in hybrid classes could be cameras offering a different view of the classroom and students. 

“Right now, there’s just a camera in the room that goes from the back of the room to the front towards the stage, so another thing you could have is a camera going in the other direction pointed on the students so that people on Zoom can see the students in the room and when they’re talking,” Manuel said.  

Business lecturer Amy Angell is teaching two sections of the course Marketing 313, both in the hybrid format. Each classroom she uses has certain limitations on the number of students allowed — a little more than one-third of her students must attend through Zoom — however, she offers flexibility for those who usually attend in-person. 

Angell has experience with teaching hybrid courses and is comfortable teaching in this format this semester, noting great cooperation between the University and students in following safety measures.  

“I’ve taught hybrid before at a different institution so I knew right away it was going to be challenging as it is oftentimes double the work,” she said. “I will say that there have been great efforts with training and enhancing the classrooms with microphones and a large monitor to see our remote students and there’s been great communication by Ross and (the University) so I’m never fearful about getting COVID or anything like that.”

According to Angell, the biggest challenge for her is creating relationships with her students and letting go of aspects of her usual teaching style.  

“(It can get) hot to teach in a mask and it’s confining to not be able to move around the classroom like I usually do to create that personability with my students,” Angell said. “It’s hard maintaining equity between my hybrid and remote students and it’s hard for me to get to know my hybrid students because when they come in person they’re wearing a mask but when they’re online they’re not wearing a mask … it’s definitely a disjointed community.”  

As of now, Angell is set to teach three different courses in the Winter 2021 semester and predicts she will likely request at least one of the courses to be fully remote. 

“With this current class, I’m surveying the students this week,” Angell said. “I told them at the start of the semester, ‘We’re going to try this for a few weeks and then I’m going to survey you all and see what you like, what you don’t like and if we want to keep going in this direction or go fully remote,’ because I want to do what works for my class community.”

Engineering junior Rachel Li is currently enrolled in Mechanical Engineering 395, a laboratory course. Lectures take place twice a week remotely with an in-person lab once a week that is also offered remotely for students who prefer it. 

Li is happy to have the opportunity to have this course in-person, but collaboration has proved a bit difficult with team members being in different locations with different resources. 

“For the most part, I’m really glad that I’m able to do this in person because it is really hard to understand the procedures of the experiments when you don’t get to do them in person,” Li said. “It’s been a little challenging because my group does have one person who is fully remote this semester so sometimes it might not be totally fair in terms of who is responsible for what (tasks) or how much work the (remote student) can and should be doing.” 

As the semester continues, lecturers and students in hybrid courses will continue to learn how to adapt to this unusual semester and make the best of the circumstances. 

“At this point, there is not really enough evidence to make a concrete statement about what is working and what is not working, I think it’s more like we’re just trying to make it work,” Manuel said. 

Daily Staff Reporter Celene Philip can be reached at celenep@umich.edu.

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