Presentation Open Access

Using active learning in hybrid learning environments

Christophe Demazière

With overall declining student enrolments in nuclear engineering programs in Europe, being able to maintain highly specialized courses alive has become a challenge. As a possible remedy to such a situation, efforts have been pursued at Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden to offer short courses in “hybrid” learning environments. In this paper, a hybrid environment is defined as a learning environment that combines on-site and off-site attendees while preserving full interaction possibilities between both audiences and between each audience and the teacher. Although there is no formal limit between how many on-site versus off-site students there should be, the incentive of the course offering would still be to attract as many as possible on-site attendees, so that synchronous interactions are face-to-face and thus more natural.
In order to make this possible, a special interactive teaching room was developed at the Department of Physics and allows both audiences to share audio, video and digital contents [1]. This room is furnished with movable chairs, tables and whiteboards, also enabling the use of a more student-centered pedagogical approach. In addition, the room is equipped with audio and video hardware and software. The core of the system is driven by a high-end tablet PC running web-based conferencing tools and connected to the room hardware. The audio/video equipment allows synchronous interactions between the on-site and off-site participants in form of digital content sharing, audio interactions, and video communication.
Beyond the design of the room, emphasis was put on favouring student learning, building upon the use of active learning techniques. Active learning techniques were demonstrated to lead to much better learning outcomes and to contribute to a deeper approach to learning compared to traditional teaching approaches [4]. In order to maximize the time when the teacher and the students meet, either face-to-face (for the on-site attendees) or on the web (for the off-site attendees), a flipped classroom pedagogy was followed [2, 3]. In the flipped classroom model, students are asked to do some preparatory work before attending the in-class sessions. In this asynchronous learning phase, the students can choose when and at what pace to study the preparatory course material. The time spent with the teachers can then be used more effectively to engage students in more active forms of learning.
Nevertheless, designing activities favouring student engagement is particularly challenging in hybrid learning environments, when both on-site and off-site audiences are mixed. This paper reports on two short courses arranged along the lines above and assesses the efficacy of the synchronous sessions in terms of student engagement, based on both the teacher’s and the students’ perspectives, for the latter using anonymous course evaluation questionnaires.

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