Reflections on supporting colleagues as they adapt to digital and hybrid teaching

Photo credit: Anna Gru, Unsplash CC0

In this post, Celeste McLaughlin, Head of Academic Development for Digital Education at the Institute for Academic Development, provides some reflections and insights from colleagues’ experience of adapting to digital and hybrid teaching. This post is part of the September & October Hot Topic theme: Revisiting the Hybrid Teaching Exchange.

Reflections one year on

The content in the second half of this blog post was first published on the Hybrid Teaching Exchange at the beginning of AY 2020-21. I’ve been given the opportunity to update it in this Teaching Matters post as I wanted to reflect on conversations I’ve been having with colleagues who have been teaching in hybrid and digital modes during the last 18 months or so. It’s been a challenging year for everyone with a lack of time often cited as a particular difficulty however colleagues have worked hard to adapt their teaching. Many have been exploring unfamiliar digital teaching approaches and despite the challenges there have been unexpected benefits. I’ve highlighted some of these benefits and challenges below.

For some, virtual seminars have resulted in a richer dialogue with students. This included contributions from some students who were less likely to participate during in person seminars. This has been achieved in part because students have been asked to prepare in advance of the seminar. This ‘flipped learning’ approach is not new, and is something that is likely to continue this academic year and beyond. Some colleagues I’ve spoken to have commented that they find live virtual teaching sessions challenging because students are often reluctant to turn their camera on, which makes it difficult for teachers to get feedback about engagement and understanding. This is understandable, although there are other ways to get this feedback. This is why it’s important to recognise that digital teaching approaches do require some rethinking of teaching practices rather than replicating in person teaching practices. It does take time to develop and refine alternative approaches, and this Teaching Matters post provides some useful advice about teaching in a digital environment: Top ten tips for teaching online.

The move to hybrid and digital teaching has resulted in a need for colleagues to incorporate a range of digital technologies into their teaching practices, and also to support students as they adapt to unfamiliar digital teaching and learning environments. The teaching context is important, and there is no one solution or digital tool that will be appropriate for everyone. This can be frustrating for staff and students. We need to be willing to adapt our teaching to reflect different contexts and, as our experience of digital teaching grows, then we are likely to become more confident about doing this. Despite the challenges we’ve faced, colleagues have worked incredibly hard to adapt their practices, leading to some fantastic and creative teaching approaches. These are explored in more depth in this insights and lessons from 2020-21 briefing paper (login required).

It is important that we find opportunities to have a dialogue about what works (and doesn’t), and to explore why this might be the case. The IAD will continue to offer the Introduction to Online Teaching course this academic year, and we’ll also offer opportunities for colleagues to come together to share ideas and practices as we continue to explore digital teaching approaches and build on lessons learned from the last 18 months or so. Details about IAD learning and teaching workshops and events can be found here:

The original blog post can be found below, and was published on the Hybrid Teaching Exchange during September 2020.

Supporting the move to remote teaching

When we first started home working the focus was on helping colleagues quickly adapt to remote teaching and during April and May I developed and co-delivered (with my colleague Neil Lent) 15 x one-hour sessions using Blackboard Collaborate. These sessions were well-attended and offered a light-touch introduction to online teaching and digital assessment approaches. During the first few sessions, participants were more focused on the functionality of the tool, asking questions about how we set up some of the activities (polling, use of the whiteboard and break-out rooms). As the weeks progressed participants seemed to have developed some confidence in the tool functionality and the focus of the sessions moved on to discussing ideas and concerns about digital teaching and assessment approaches. The screen shots below give a flavour of some of the ideas that were discussed (with thanks to workshop participants for sharing their ideas).

Image 1 – Whiteboard activity where participants shared examples of online activities.
Image 2 – Whiteboard activity where participants shared digital assessment ideas.

Adapting to digital teaching approaches

As we settled into home working routines I was then tasked with developing further support and designed a short two-week Introduction to Online Teaching course which provided a light touch introduction to some of the teaching and assessment approaches to consider when designing and teaching the online parts of hybrid teaching. The course is based on the Learn Foundations template course structure and was designed to complement the An Edinburgh Model for Teaching Online course that I was involved in tutoring during the summer. A self-led, non-taught version of this course is now available.

An Introduction to Online Teaching: Useful insights

The team involved in teaching the An Introduction to Online Teaching course are now thinking about how to build on the useful insights and conversations we’ve had with colleagues as they participated in the various iterations of the course during the last few months. I’ve been impressed with participants willingness to share and discuss their ideas as they prepare for hybrid teaching and Image 3 below captures some of the topics covered.

Image 3 – Word cloud highlighting some of the hybrid teaching topics that were discussed during the course.

An important aspect of the course was giving participants the opportunity to share their concerns as well as ideas, and to create an environment where they felt comfortable doing this. We included an ice-breaker activity to help begin to build a learning community amongst course participants. There was also a social discussion forum available which was used in a variety of different ways by different cohorts. A recurring theme I noted during each iteration of the course was questions and concerns about technology. These ranged from questions about specific tools to much more general concerns about digital confidence levels such as a thread about being terrified of technology. It was great to see how participants supported each other during these discussions sharing their experiences and ideas, as well as their frustrations!

It was also important to include a mixture of activities and a collaborative, small group activity was included where participants were asked to develop an outline for an assessment approach that would be suitable for the hybrid context, and then share their ideas with the cohort via an elevator pitch. This was an ambitious aspect of the course design given the limited timeline of the course and, although, many participants did not engage in the group activity, there were some successful groups collaborations.

The final aspect of the course I wanted to reflect on was the inclusion of a live virtual classroom session. The majority of course activities were asynchronous in nature to offer flexibility as participants juggled their engagement with the course and the many other pressing items on their to do lists. This provided some insight into some of pressures their students will face as they adjust to learning in the hybrid environment. The virtual classroom was the only live (synchronous) element, and this session was recorded in recognition that not all participants could attend the live session.

We invited a guest presenter to lead the virtual classroom session and were lucky to have contributions from a range of experienced online teachers from across the University. It was interesting to observe the different approaches they each took when contributing to the session. Some prepared a presentation and then opened up to questions, others adopted a much less formal approach switching on their video and introducing themselves before inviting colleagues to ask questions. During each of these sessions, we had a lively discussion and I think everyone gained insights that will be useful as they explore digital teaching approaches going forward.

This course has offered a useful opportunity to engage in conversations with colleagues across the University as they adapt their teaching for the new academic year. Their willingness to adapt their practices and share ideas has been a real positive aspect of this course.


Thanks to my colleagues Rayya Ghul, Lesley Kelly, Neil Lent and Velda McCune who have contributed to the design of the course ,and to Neil Lent and Fiona Quinlan-Pluck who have been teaching on the various iterations of the course with me over the summer. Thanks also to all the guest presenters for their contributions, and to the course participants for engaging and sharing their ideas.

Celeste McLaughlin

Celeste McLaughlin is Head of Academic Development for Digital education and is based in the Learning and Teaching Team within the Institute for Academic Development. She has worked in tertiary education for over 20 years and has gained valuable experience of teaching in blended and online contexts during this time. She worked for the digital technology agency Jisc for over 10 years where she provided expertise in the use of digital technologies for learning, teaching and assessment. Her role in IAD gives her the opportunity to advise and support colleagues as they develop their digital teaching practices. She is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and is currently undertaking a part-time PhD in educational research with a focus on hybrid teaching.

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