Teaching Students In-Person and Online at the Same Time

You may be asked to teach a course that simultaneously includes in-person and online students. This type of course is sometimes called a hybrid, HyFlex, concurrent, or mixed modality course by faculty. Traditionally, the phrase “hybrid course” referred to a teaching approach where all the students have a reduced number of in-person classroom hours replaced by online components, but since the COVID-19 pandemic, the term has sometimes referred to a situation where some students are remote and some are in-person.

This page provides an overview of ideas and tips for designing a concurrently taught class. How you do this depends on several factors specific to your particular situation, including the size of your class, the nature of your planned course activities and your student situation including how many students will be learning remotely and what their schedules are.

How To Use This Guide

Despite the variety of factors that can come into play when teaching a course with a mix of in-person and online students, there are some basic principles and considerations that can be used to approach reworking an existing course for this format. You are welcome to visit these topics in order or skip around based on your individual needs. If you need more help after reading this guide, Duke Learning Innovation consultants can help you think through the different variables as you prepare your course. Contact us for a consultation or stop by our regular open office hours.

Topic 1: Overall Considerations
Topic 2: Syllabus, Course Policies and Materials
Topic 3: Conducting the Class

For assistance with technology in your classroom, contact your local IT or classroom support staff. 

Overall Considerations

If you will be teaching a course with a mix of in-person and online students, there are some initial considerations to think about before planning the best experience for your students.

Allow time for class planning. Converting an existing course to a hybrid in-person and online format will require planning time on your part to rethink your course and class session goals, the flow of communication and managing your students, assessments and how you will conduct the class. Do you have enough time before the class starts to devote to this planning? If not, are there ways you can make smaller changes to the structure, course policies, and learning goals to simplify the course to make it easier to manage in this format?

Allow more time for topics. Teaching any course with online students will require more time and coordination to cover the same material as a course with only in-person students. Examine the overall and specific learning goals of your course and class sessions. Are there ways you can pare down these goals and focus on more essential material to avoid moving too fast or overburdening the online students taking the course?

Consider the size and mix of modalities. What size will the class be? Is it a larger course with many students or a small, seminar style class? Do you know if the online students will all be able to participate synchronously with the in-person class in live class sessions? How many might not be able to participate in live sessions? Are there any accommodations that must be made for students with disabilities?

These questions will impact many aspects of planning your course. For example, if you have no idea if all of the students are available for live class meetings, you will need to plan for online, asynchronous activities to encourage communication and group cohesion among all of the online and in-person students. For a larger class, you may need to plan for more TA help to manage the class and live sessions or think how you can more efficiently use TA time while respecting their work limits and availability.

Consider that the experiences will be different. Even with the best course design, a situation where some students are taking the course online and some in person will result in two different communities and experiences. Your goal is to ensure that the course learning objectives are met by all students and how this can be accomplished in different ways.

Be aware of equity. While planning your course, ask yourself which of your course goals will require special attention to translate the experience into something suitable for the online students. Will students be disadvantaged in group work, building community or access to campus resources? How can you make the work equitable for both online and in-person students with the circumstances faced by the online students? 

If you will be running live, in-person sessions with discussions and activities, how can you set up and manage activities to encourage participation from the remote online students? If you have some remote students that cannot participate in the live sessions, will you be able to offer alternatives or should you shift the entire class to more online, asynchronous activities to maintain a more equitable experience?

Due to individual student living circumstances, remote students may not be able to show their camera during live sessions or might be limited on commenting because of the class subject matter. How can you ensure that these students don’t feel singled out or excluded from the class activities?

Be aware of your teaching assistants. You might have a teaching assistant for your course. Assisting with a face-to-face class can be a time consuming and hectic experience. A mixed-mode course will require additional time and commitment. Be aware that your teaching assistant may be limited by graduate or undergraduate school on the number of hours they can work and will likely be taking a full course load themselves. Look for ways to minimize time commitments by your teaching assistants, communicate regularly and consider talking with your school or department about additional teaching assistant resources for a hybrid course.

Talk with classroom support. Talk with your local classroom support staff early in the course planning process. Find out which classroom you will be using. Discussing your situation with your local classroom support staff and explaining how a typical class will work and the type of materials you will use can help them adjust the classroom environment for your needs or help you find a more suitable space. Will online students need to connect live to the sessions or is only a recording needed? If the former, what types of activities or interactions will remote students be engaging in, and what tools, equipment or set-up will your room need to accommodate that? Will a microphone, document camera or other types of technology arrangements be needed to help your class run smoothly? We recommend having practice sessions in the room you will be using, if possible, to become familiar with the technology setup and ensure that your class sessions will run smoothly.

In the video, Teaching Online and In-Person Simultaneously from the MathMathX YouTube channel, a math instructor shows the in-class setup and technology used for a Math class involving drawing equations. Note that Duke classroom support staff can help you develop a similar setup in your department or school. Read about Duke Zoom Cart Basics.

Syllabus, course policies, and materials

Make course materials accessible and clear. Since you will be working with two distinct communities of students — in-person and online — in different locations, it’s important to make your syllabus as clear as possible and to make your course materials easy to navigate. Online students might not have the same opportunity to ask questions about an assignment or location of a reading and, because of the time demands of teaching a mixed mode course, you want to make the most efficient use of your time. 

Create an outline of the class and an arrangement of materials on Sakai that let the students see exactly what will be happening in each class session or module, what they need to do to prepare and the activities they need to complete. You can also use Sakai’s Announcements feature to pre-populate a series of emails and postings to the course site home page for the students that outline all of the activities and due dates for that week.

If your course will include presentation material, make sure that recorded versions include captions and are linked in a consistent location in your course site, along with other materials for that week or unit.

Clear organization of your Sakai site, regular and consistent communication with students and accessible materials can help not only your online students, but also save time and help clarify many logistical concerns for your in-person students.

Set course expectations. Since you will have students taking your course with two different modalities — in-person and online — be very clear in the syllabus about expectations for each group of students. How will the online students participate versus the in-person students, if that will differ? What time zone will be used for deadlines? How will you be communicating with the students? Generally, what will be the differences between the online and in-person experiences?

Think about overall time commitments. In-class activities and assignments that take remote students into account will require more time to coordinate and carry out than an in-person course. You may have to simplify or reduce activities or homework assignments to fit into the course timeframe, while still making sure you meet all the learning objectives of a specific unit or the course.

Consider student interactions and group work. Depending on the mix of online students participating in the course that can or cannot participate synchronously, you will need to clearly state how students will participate in class discussions or group work. If students are in different time zones, you may need to more directly form groups and structure for the groups to work together and schedule “check-ins” to talk with each group. If students are unable to participate in the live class sessions, you should concentrate more on opportunities for students to discuss and interact in forums or other asynchronous tools.

Identify available resources. Your course may include assignments or projects that take advantage of campus or local resources in Durham for research, experimentation or exploration. How can you modify the assignments to allow for students without access to these resources without taking away from your learning objectives? Are there ways to take advantage of the varying local resources (or online resources) available to the online students to share differing experiences and points of view?

Consider time zones. You may or may not know if your online students will be in a time zone where it will be difficult for them to participate in a live class session. If at all possible, survey your students or use other available information from your department or the Registrar’s Office to see what time zone the remote students will be using. 

Depending on the number of students in this situation, you may need to design your class to be mainly asynchronous or you might consider multiple live sessions for small group discussions or work and feedback with yourself or the course teaching assistants.

Plan for flexibility. Students working at a distance may run into more issues than their in-person colleagues. Internet connectivity may fail. They may have family or personal issues that interfere with their studies or work at a particular time. In your syllabus and your own course planning, think about alternative assignments, activities, and tests or flexible policies for deadlines to give your online cohort opportunities to fully participate and be successful in the course.

Conducting the class

Build community. Look for opportunities to build community among all of the students in the class. Take advantage of online assignments in forums, group projects, and other opportunities for the online and in-person students to communicate and engage with each other.

Use group work. Group projects or class activities can enhance any course, but can become especially important in a mixed mode course. Since some of your students will be working at a distance, you should take the time and effort to facilitate group work sessions and formation of groups. For example, you might need to survey online students about their time zone to form groups that can work together in a similar time arrangement in real time. For projects, you may want to schedule “group work” sessions when you or the teaching assistants are available for check-ins or to answer questions. Use tools such as polls and surveys to get frequent feedback about how group work is going for all of the students.

Check in with your students. We recommend offering more office hours in a mixed mode course than you would normally offer in a face-to-face course, particularly for remote students or classes with group projects that might have groups with a mix of in-person and remote students. With some of your students working at a distance, you will need to make a larger effort to get feedback from your students and to see if there is anything about the class or the way you are communicating that needs improvement. More frequent office hours will also help the online students feel more engaged with you and the course itself. You and your teaching assistants or a co-instructor can offer office hours at different days and times to give students more opportunities to participate.

Include all students in live sessions. If you will be conducting live sessions in the class that include a mix of in-person and online students, you will need to experiment with ways to make sure that you are heard clearly and your materials can be seen by both audiences. In addition, you will need to adjust your usual style of in-person instruction, taking the time to include online students in discussions and activities. The methods will vary depending on the tools available in your particular classroom space. 

You might use your teaching assistants with managing and working with remote students in breakout rooms and groups in your live session or monitoring chat and questions from the remote students. 

Generally, in a mixed mode class session, some activities may be difficult. For example, in an open discussion, online students might not be able to hear students in the classroom because of the size of the class or space or the type of microphone available. Group activities that have a mix of online and in-person students working in the same pair or group usually don’t work well since the in-person students would need to be in the online conference individually, creating feedback, echo and other extraneous noise making their conversation inaudible.

Consider the limitations of live sessions in your course planning. You may need to consider online substitutes, such as more online forum work or using a “round robin” format for presenting or commenting so individual students can step up to a microphone. Because you are teaching audiences in different locations at the same time, think of ways to simplify activities so you can respond to both the in-person and online students and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate and have their voices heard.

> 16 Hybrid Learning Tips by and for Teachers (Global Online Academy)
> Community Building in Online and Hybrid (HyFlex) Courses (Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning)
> Strategies for Teaching Students Online and Face to Face at the Same Time (Education Week)
> Teaching Dual Audiences (University of South Florida, Academy for Teaching and Learning Excellence)
> Managing In-Person and Distance Learning at the Same Time (Common Sense Education)
> The Concurrent Classroom: Using Blended Learning Models to Teach Students Online and In-Person Simultaneously (Catlin Tucker, Pepperdine University)
> Preparing to Teach a Hybrid Course (University of Miami)
> 4 Alternatives to Teaching Online and In-Person at the Same Time (Katie Martin, Learner-Centered Collaborative)