The liberal arts mindset at a distance: Tactics for building a hybrid course

Although we are used to an exclusively in-person teaching and learning environment at Macalester, the 2020-2021 year will require us to consider ways to offer a liberal arts education at a distance. At a minimum, the distance is six feet. At a maximum, the distance may be thousands of miles. Both will require creativity and technology. Hybrid course philosophies and strategies, which emphasize both synchronous (sometimes in person and sometimes virtually) and asynchronous modes of engagement, will be critical to reimagining our work for the coming year, and will hopefully inspire new changes to our pedagogies well into the future.

In the second ACM summer workshop, colleagues from Beloit and Monmouth Colleges noted that hybrid courses – which typically include both in-person and online components – emphasize active learning and problem solving, student ownership of their learning, and inquiry and dialogue. They are supported, but not driven by, technology. You can view the slides from that presentation and the recording (the latter requires a Macalester College login). 

The presenters offered a number of strategies for soliciting student feedback, many of which will be familiar to you and all of which are worth trying out not only this fall, but any time. A colleague from Coe College shared a practice she uses for student self assessment.

Building community and engaging students

A significant concern related to imagining the small liberal arts experience at a distance concerns building community and engaging students. The following resources are intended to help you ensure that your students are connected with you, and each other, throughout the semester. You will likely need to be more intentional with community-building practices in this hybrid / dual delivery / remote environment than you are when you get to see all of your students in person at least three hours a week.

The effective use of discussion forums (on Moodle or Slack, for example) can increase both a sense of community and student engagement with course material. Collaborative note taking is also an effective engagement strategy that maximizes inclusivity and access.