Another Proposal for the "Hybrid" Class

Designate a teaching assistant to serve as a "Zoom Producer" to manage the grid, check the queue, and toggle the screen share.

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Earlier today, I wrote a lengthy post about the difficulties of teaching a "hybrid" class. In any given session, half the students will be "in person" and half the students will be "online," watching from home. This staggered approach will ensure students are able to space themselves out in the classroom. But hybrid classes present serious problems.

I explained that classrooms are not set up for hybrid instruction. I proposed that additional monitors should be added to the podium to ensure that the professor can easily see the Zoom grid, the Zoom chat, as well as powerpoint slides and other visuals. Of course, I recognized that this technological overload may overwhelm professors.

After I wrote the post, a colleague from another school called and proposed an ingenious solution. It is foolhardy to try to teach professors to manage so many displays. Trust me. It's not going to work in two months. Also, it is not feasible to tax IT departments to supervise every class. IT professional across the country have performed heroic work in the last few months. But they cannot do everything.

My colleague suggested a far more simple solution: allow teaching assistants to assist with teaching! I prefer to call them "Zoom Producers." In short, students would handle all of the technical elements of the class, and the professors can do what they do best: teach.

How would this work? The Zoom Producer would sit at, or near the podium. She would monitor Zoom throughout the class. She would (1) check if anyone raises a "blue" hand, (2) poses a question on the chat, (3) disconnects from the class (an absence), (4) reminds a student he is muted, or not muted. Moreover, if a student types a question in the chat, the Zoom Producer can read the question aloud to the professor. That way, the professor does not waste time squinting at a small display. The teaching assistant can also exercise some discretion: not all comments deserve to be read aloud. Trust me, they don't. Students put far less thought into a "chat" question then they would into a "live" question.

The student could also manage the Professor's powerpoint slides or other visuals. This task may involve toggling between a screen share and the grid. Professors will no longer have to struggle with Zoom.

Moreover, the student can also run assessments (quizzes and polls), and display the results for the class. Finally, if there are technical problems, the Zoom Producer can call IT, and quickly get help. The professor can keep teaching without disruption.

This idea is so ingenuous and affordable. And I think a student would gain immeasurable experience by working so closely with a professor.

NEXT: Originalism in the State Courts: Justice Tom Lee of the Utah Supreme Court on the Due Process Clause of the Utah Constitution

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  2. Great Idea! Thanks for passing it along.

    There were a couple of incorrect word choices, however.

    In your third paragraph, I think you meant an “ingenious solution” not an “ingenuous solution”.

    Similarly, in your fourth paragraph, I think you meant a “simple solution” not a “simplistic solution”.

  3. Professor Blackman….I wonder if you could comment on the following.

    Why should a college student who is forced to take classes online pay full freight on tuition?
    Do you see permanent changes coming to College and University pricing?

    1. College students aren’t really paying for what they learn, they are really paying for the piece of paper they get at the end.

  4. “Why should a college student who is forced to take classes online pay full freight on tuition?”

    First, show that such a thing exists. Who is it that is roving the streets, kidnapping people and forcing them to take classes online.

    Then, of course, there’s the fact that it costs MORE to provide classes online.

  5. Ingenuous?

  6. The use of a producer (or technical assistant) during educational content creation was studied in the early 1990s under a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) and the Culpeper Foundation (now Rockefeller Brothers Fund). At the time, the multi-campus arrangement described in the related post was called “near-distant learning” and one conclusion back then is similar to the one made in this post: it is unreasonable to expect the teaching talent to self-produce the content. A related conclusion was that the “teaching bunker” — the array of equipment surrounding the instructor — is a significant negative, as was the fact that a teacher distracted by the demands of the technology was less effective in teaching.

    I mention this because the problems are far from new, yet effective solutions remain scarce: it is interesting that the 30-year span has seen little or no development and embrace of improved techniques in higher education. Posts in this series should inspire today’s entrepreneurs — for the past weeks, I have been asking myself “Why haven’t ingenious souls flooded Josh with renderings and models of effective content-self-production desks?”

  7. This is exactly the same idea pastors have come up with for streaming church services. Albeit, there are fewer questions during the typical sermon than during the typical college lecture, but the idea of having a “technical assistant” is a great way to free the teacher up to do what they are most skilled at and paid to do.

  8. Trial attorneys, with the exception of old timers like me, have been doing just this for years, having an associate or IT paralegal running the projectors and documentary evidence while the trial attorney focused on the substance.

  9. Online education can be taught. But you have an option to read whatsapp messages and make a proper conclusion out of the context.

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