Combining Face to Face and Online Teaching

Technology Enhanced Learning recently hosted a webinar which aimed to share a range of simple but powerful approaches to combining face to face and online teaching. The session featured five contributors from across the different academic Schools who shared examples, drawn from their own disciplinary area, of how we might enable students studying online to join and participate in an in-person teaching session.

In this blog post Kitty Horne, Learning Technologist, and Sarah Watson, one of the University’s recently appointed Academic Developers, share a summary of the event.

Dr Jessica Horst: Setting expectations for the students

Jessica Horst

Jessica reminded us that clear communication is paramount as we enter into the fertile, yet relatively uncharted, territory of combined face to face and online teaching. She explained how this  will help students feel more in control of their studies and reduce the number of recurring questions via email. Jessica highlighted the following communication tools:

  • Canvas Announcements facilitate a transparent form of communication, as those enrolled on a module can revisit posts at any time and use the search function to find specific content. Canvas Announcements also allow tutors to schedule posts in advance, meaning messages are released in a timely manner to optimise enthusiasm and engagement for the course. For more information on how to utilize Canvas Announcements, see Canvas Know-how 2: Making Use of Announcements
  • Canvas Discussions enables online class conversations and, just like face to face discussions, these need structure and guidance from the tutor. These conversations should be structured around specific teaching groups or topics in order to avoid an overflowing inbox and help students find relevant information. For more information on how to utilize Canvas Discussions, see Canvas highlights 7: Discussions

These communication tools can be used to explain to students what to expect from each session, such as the teaching methods used and the activities involved. Where possible, information should be concise so as not to overwhelm students. 

Jessica ended her talk by reminding us that strong communication channels are equally important between teaching staff within the University and she urged her colleagues to find out how others are teaching and what tools they are using. There is a great deal of innovative teaching happening at Sussex and, despite working remotely, it would be wonderful to maintain an open and collegial atmosphere where best practice can be shared. 

Professor Mary Krell: The BC in BC-IC-AC (before class, in class, after class)

Mary opened her talk with a reassuring reminder that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel when combining face to face and online teaching. Teaching staff at Sussex already deliver module content in ways that can be easily transposed onto this new way of working.

Reflecting on her BC-IC-AC (before class, in class and after class) approach, Mary explained how important the BC is within blended learning. Mary sets her students tasks to undertake before class, such as readings, collaborative projects and fieldwork, to engage students with the material before the session. Chiming with Jessica’s message, Mary perceived the BC aspect as an opportunity to explain to students what to expect in class. Again, this ability to manage expectations was stressed as a key factor to ensuring student satisfaction.

Susan Smith: Utilising your students to help you when teaching solo

Susan’s talk addressed the very valid concern of multitasking in the combined face to face and online sessions. She asked, how do we keep on track of what we’re teaching, while interacting with both the students physically in front of us and those studying online?

Susan suggested appointing a student as a notetaker and, in advance, sending them a template of the session so that they had a clear understanding of what the session would cover and therefore what needed to be recorded. These notes could be utilised by students unable to attend a live session. Susan would also ensure the chat box was monitored by another student, who would group questions/queries and feed these back at appropriate points within the session. 

Utilising her students in this way, Susan promotes a collaborative atmosphere within her sessions that breaks down hierarchical structures between tutor and student, whilst generating a community between those studying in person and those studying online. For more information on building online learning communities, please visit the Building Online Learning Communities section of the Teaching Online, Learning Anywhere Canvas site. 

Dr Mark Paget: Polling for engagement

Mark started off his talk by advising staff to keep things simple and not try to use many different technologies at once. This avoids sessions becoming overcomplicated for both you and your students allowing them to concentrate on subject content. One technology that Mark recommended making use of was Poll Everywhere, an online polling and quizzing tool which the University has a licence for and that can be integrated into PowerPoint presentations. Poll Everywhere can be used to add interactivity into sessions by posing a variety of question types to students including multiple choice questions, word clouds and clickable images. 

Mark suggested creating activities to check students’ understanding of different concepts, for example by running a short quiz on a specific topic. Poll Everywhere can also be used to gather feedback from students which can be used to generate a post session response. Mark mentioned a couple of alternative tools which could be used such as the polling tool within Zoom, though this has limited functionality in comparison to Poll Everywhere, and the online collaboration tool Padlet. Mark also stressed the importance of introducing these interactive activities to students, particularly for those who will be joining online.

Dr Graeme Pedlingham: Facilitating collaboration and discussion with collaborative software

Graeme focussed on how we can facilitate shared discussions between students in different locations. As others mentioned, key to setting up these activities is the importance of providing instructions and access to resources early on so that students are aware of what they will be doing and what is expected of them. Graeme suggested using Microsoft Word Online, a tool included in Sussex students’ Office 365 accounts, to create a collaborative artefact during discussion based activities. Word Online allows a number of individuals to collaborate in real time within a single shared document.

Small group discussions can be facilitated in the classroom as well as online by using Zoom breakout rooms. The Word document could then be shared on the Smartboard, for students with the classroom, and via a link for students joining online, with students contributing verbally or with written contributions to feedback the thoughts and ideas that they had during their small group discussions. This collaborative document would be a record of their thoughts which can be returned to as a resource for asynchronous learning and for revision. This approach would hopefully foster a greater sense of ownership for the students. For more information about creating collaborative activities, please visit the How to construct collaborative activities section of the Teaching Online, Learning Anywhere Canvas site. 

Further support

If you have any questions about the points raised in the panel discussion and if you would like to explore any of the ideas presented please contact You can watch the full recording of the webinar.

Posted in Blended learning, Learning Design

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We are the Educational Enhancement team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

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