DIU goes hybrid - Successfully designing hybrid teaching and learning formats - A report

14. Januar 2021

How can hybrid workshops and learning formats be successfully designed and moderated? How to keep the engagement high among the participants? What might the perfect tech set look like? Which video conferencing platform and which tools for interactions can be used?

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With our hybrid seminar format on the topic of "Corona Update in Medical Law", we aimed to create an inspiring learning experience that supports learning from each other and also allows participants to engage in discussion with each other.

What is helpful in each case is: an appropriate set-up, smart facilitation, good planning of the seminar and, of course, a group eager to learn, whose energy and willingness to learn must be unleashed.

So what needs to happen behind the screen to successfully set up a hybrid seminar?

Short and crisp presentations
Even when a seminar is content-rich and interesting, concentration eventually wanes. There are several factors that explain the phenomenon of rapid fatigue in a virtual space:

Annoying noises that occur when one's own voice is altered by a microphone or ambient noise when participants have not switched the microphone to "mute."
People need the level of metacommunication. Hand gestures, fidgeting and facial expressions help us to better understand others in face-to-face communication. However, these gestures are difficult to discern in the virtual environment where attention is on the spoken word.  Our brains have to concentrate harder to detect cues of such gestures and this can be exhausting.
In addition, looking intently at a monitor for hours at a time is very taxing on the eyes.
These arguments alone justify that an online workshop should be designed to be as short and effective as possible in order to be able to keep the participants' concentration at a maximum high level.

Less important content can be omitted or simply less time spent on each activity. And all of this should be done at a dynamic pace and interspersed with frequent short breaks where everyone can, at best, get up, move around, and, most importantly, rest their eyes once in a while.

Participant engagement
Let's face it: an online seminar like this is just a click away from the next email, flashing notification, or chat window. So how do you keep participant engagement high?
It's actually quite easy. You need the right content for the right people and little "pick-me-ups" in between.
Here are a few tips from our experience:

  1. Increase energy level. 
    Speakers should be much more energetic online. This doesn't mean moving around a lot, but rather playing with your voice and speech. If the voice is very level-toned and the volume doesn't vary a bit either, the participants will quickly be completely elsewhere.
  2. Everyone should be able to see everything.
    The technical support team placed spotlights on the speakers, released presentations and panned the camera so that the virtual participants always had a good view of what was happening on site. This also encourages the participants to be more present and active, just like in a "real" seminar. We are always most pleased when the guests are also visible and turn on the camera, so that direct feedback can be seen. This is much more pleasant for the speaker, as he no longer has the feeling of speaking against a silent black wall.
  3. Participants need tasks.
    Individual, pair or group activities are the most important tools to make an online seminar interactive. The breakout sessions, which our crew piloted via Zoom, allowed participants to engage with the exciting topics in small groups, including working together to formulate questions for a Celebrity Interview (one of the 33 Liberating Structures à www.liberatingstructures.de). Mentimeter queries were incorporated for the interactions (www.mentimeter.com). In the back office, the live result of the queries, which the participants could best access with their smartphone (via the superimposed QR code or via the browser at menti.com), was transferred directly to the seminar. This provided variety in between and plenty to talk about. 

Important: One should always be aware of the relevance of interactions within an event. The activities should be used in a well-considered and measured manner. Bringing interaction into play just to "do something" can quickly backfire and give participants the impression that they are wasting their time.

Technology and Crew
In our example of the "Corona Update Seminar", three of the speakers or presenters were our guests at Dresden International University and used our Logitech Group System and a 65" monitor to broadcast their speeches with image and sound into the ZOOM meeting.

The system has a great swiveling HD camera with 10x zoom, a panel and remote control for programming camera positions and an integrated microphone with clear sound reproduction and a range of 6 meters. Four other speakers digitally joined in and took control of the presentation via "options."

It is a great advantage to have at least one person on board who exclusively takes care of the technical side and, for example, also lets in guests from the waiting room who join later. This is the only way to support individuals with technical problems.

A "technical" moderator should also be part of the crew. This person explains and controls the interactions, for example.

Planning: Online workshop management
A virtual environment requires more planning than an on-site workshop, simply because technically there are so many things that can go wrong: the tools, the sound, a constant internet connection, participant:s who don't know how to log in, etc.

The bottom line is: something can always happen - but if you stay calm, you can handle it well. You learn from every "mistake". So it's important to document everything you can optimize next time. Practice makes perfect.
Nevertheless, at least one test run should be started beforehand, in which the conference is simulated along with the presentations and activities. Here it is decided when the spotlights are set, the camera is panned to which position, the presentations are faded in and the interactions are started or ended. It should be ensured that the planned interactions actually work. And if something does get forgotten, a message in private chat directly to the crew always helps.

The most critical phase is always at the beginning, when all guests enter the conference and something doesn't work right away for one or the other. Therefore, always invite the participants a little earlier so that there is enough time for them to "arrive". The same applies if media are to be changed. Allow enough time to explain the tools or, if necessary, use a split screen to show how the respective tool works. Posting links to it in the chat and referring to it is always a good idea.

Find a topic, make an exact plan, test the technology and simulate the process, and above all, just do it!

If you have any questions, please contact Sandra Uhlemann, Digital Manager at DIU, moderator of DIUtalk and founder and moderator of the Liberating Structures User Group Dresden.