Academic Continuity
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by Dr. Jennifer Cook

Working around technology limitations for hybrid course discussion

Why is this needed?

This semester many professors teaching hybrid have run into difficulty in the ability to facilitate conversation between online and in-person students during synchronous classes. It is especially difficult to have full class discussions. The microphones in the classrooms (both small classrooms and large lecture halls) are not equipped to handle this – there is either too much echo, feedback, or too much background noise (such as the HVAC system) occluding the ability of Zoom students to hear anything their classmates say. If it is just the professor lecturing, the solution is for them to wear a microphone and mute the ceiling mic. For discussion courses or courses where the entire class frequently asks questions, this requires more creative solutions.

 

I tested out several fixes over the first three weeks of classes and finally settled on the best option. The fixes I attempted were repeating everything that in-person students said, and several iterations of attempting to use the ceiling microphones. The best option is to have all students present on Zoom, even the in-person students. Below are directions for how to effectively implement this strategy.

 

Directions for Implementation

  • Every in-person student needs to bring a device capable of logging on to zoom, preferably a laptop or a tablet with a keyboard. At the start of class, I set up my laptop at the front of the classroom – I do NOT hook into the system speaker, I instead stay on my laptop only.
  • I start the zoom session – both online and in-person students log in. Every student has their microphone muted upon entering.  I instructed my in-person students to also mute their device so that no sound came out – this was to avoid feedback.
  • During discussion, my laptop is in front of me. My microphone is ON, but my computer sound is muted. The microphone and speaker in laptops are generally two separate systems, so this is possible. Students are far enough away from me that feedback wasn’t an issue, and it was important that students could hear me call on specific people.
  • When I call on an in-person student, they can either click the button to unmute themselves, OR they can hold down the space bar for the duration of their comment. Either works well. Remember – your laptop speakers are muted, so the in-person students voice does not come out of your laptop.
  • I told my online students that when they would like to jump in, to raise their virtual hand so that I can call on them and ummute my speakers. I had my speaker volume at around 80-85 percent of max and it was plenty loud for a decent sized lecture hall (LSB 105). I also regularly look down at the chat to make sure I’m not missing comments – if they want to type their question/comment instead of raise their hand and talk, I will read their comment aloud.
  • After class I asked my students what they thought and they all agreed it worked well – my online students could hear me and the in-person students, my in-person students could hear my online students, and we avoided feedback/echoing. On that note, many students commented that the issue of online students not being able to hear anything was a huge issue in almost all of their hybrid courses – so if we can fix this issue that will be very helpful across the board.  

 

Limitations and/or Complications

  • I haven’t run in to this, but if a student doesn’t have a working device capable of getting onto Zoom, this will be an issue
  • I needed to remind my in-person students to unmute themselves a handful of times, but for the most part they caught on very quickly
  • This does make it where you mostly need to call on people – we will see if I can get to a point with this where its easy to have free flow without hand raising, but right now its working well and I have no issues with participation.
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