The term has officially entered the new COVID-19 lexicon, as it comes up time and time again in university announcements and media reports: hybrid education.
At this moment, almost all of the universities, even those which have announced ‘fully remote for lectures,’ are in reality choosing to go for some form of hybrid model- the mix of face-to-face and remote learning. But what does hybrid really mean?
Let’s go all the way back to April 22nd, when InsideHigherEd predicted 15 potential fall scenarios. Ranging from ‘back to normal’ to ‘fully remote,’ the vast majority of potential scenarios fell in between those two extremes and (except for, potentially, “late start” or “moving from fall to spring”) technically fit the definition of hybrid. From “students in residence, learning virtually” to a “modified tutorial model,” it is becoming clear that most higher education students in the next semester will be mixing remote learning with some form of face-to-face learning.
The European Commission has recommended a reopening of the internal borders of the Schengen area and an easing of restrictions for non-EU arrivals, pushing international students to the front of the queue. While educators and associations still await further details and clarification on which sectors this applies to, the announcement shows the importance of higher education in thinking at the top level. The welcomed news from France to allow international students in from July, the Dutch research universities following ‘on campus if we can, online because we can,’ Universities UK’s survey result that 97% of 92 surveyed universities will provide in-person teaching at the start of term, Norwegian universities opening earlier this month and other European universities getting ready to open their universities this fall are all encouraging. They also all fall within the framework of offering some sort of hybrid model for reasons including: visa procedure, delayed examination and qualification provision, inability to travel to to varied health and safety regulations across borders and flight availability/cost to name just a few.
If hybrid can mean anything from “back to normal” to “fully remote,” the challenge (or, what Forbes is calling “The Great National Experiment”) for higher education institutions and student accommodation providers now becomes how to adapt the physical living, working and learning environments to this whole new range of scenarios- in a way that at once maximises the student experience and keeps everybody safe and healthy. This is of course not an easy feat, as The Class of 2020 Insider participants have found in 3 months of intensive study and discussion. But one fundamental is clear: our students’ futures certainly should not be treated as an experiment.
Some institutions have been pioneering innovative learning pathways for quite some time and can offer foresight as to how to optimize the learning experience by utilizing top-notch technology in a student-centric manner. Nick van Dam, Member of the Board of Directors and Chief Learning Officer at IE University’s Center for Corporate Learning Innovation says that this new ‘liquid’ age which sees a disappearance of structures, roles and institutions “requires flexibility, adaptability and fluidity” (pandemic aside). IE’s ‘liquid learning’ embraces not just a hybrid education through multi-channel engagement online and offline, but also the chance to engage in social learning through didactic methods in multi-cultural environments. The liquid model allows students to have highly personalized learning—choosing any pathway, any pace and via any channel, with the ability to dial the course up or down depending on their situation.
“If you have the right tooling and processes, place doesn’t matter” Marco van Hout, co-founder of Digital Society School says. Indeed, Digital Society School, which focuses on using technology to facilitate cross-cultural practical education, had a great success with a recent traineeship. Other than a short in-person meeting before the outbreak, all the trainees (students and professionals) are following the fully digital learning pathway. What stands out from these innovative pathways is the fact that they are not an alternative offer to face-to-face learning. They intend to offer more student-centric options so students can be empowered to design personalised learning and development pathway depending on their own goals and situations.
Some universities are also considering shortening their semesters abroad to lower visa requirement barriers. All these efforts at national, city and university level, signal that students may have wider range of education options to choose from, even for those who choose mobility to have experience abroad. After all, international education is not about putting different nationalities in one classroom. In the words of Jan Capper, “international education has such an important role in keeping peace in this world. Study as a means to understand differences and develop multicultural sensitivity through direct encounters and experiences is hugely important. In the era of global economy and society, educators should prepare students to better respond to and interact with different cultures, behaviours and expectations.”
As for the spaces in which hybrid education can take place, it remains clear that classrooms need to be adapted with capacity currently only at 50%, which is already an optimistic estimation. Nick van Dam acknowledged that at the moment, there has perhaps not been enough conversation between universities and residence providers to explore how the common areas that PBSA providers have been investing in so heavily in the past few years can maximise the experience of hybrid learning in this time of blended learning, living and working. Marco van Hout pointed out that human touch will remain a significant component of the digital society. Jan Capper shared that the attention is shifting from how education programmes will be delivered to how they can be facilitated in different spaces. All agree that learning will continue, and regardless of complexity hybrid discussion should focus on the positive aspect of providing students with more choices. The role of educators at this time of uncertainty is ensuring students to make well-informed decisions about their future.
We call for accommodation providers to work with them, not only to have a chance to open their doors to different learning practices as the format of education evolves, but also to become an integral part in creating the optimal blended learning,living and working environment for our future generation.