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Rethinking Hybrid Teaching: The Hybrid Rhombus Model as an Approach to Understanding Hybrid Settings



After extended periods of remote-only teaching at university, lecturers tried to come back to lecture halls. Due to restrictions not all students could participate on-site. Therefore, hybrid teaching models proliferated. To reflect the transformative effects on teaching practice, we conducted focus groups with lecturers and found that didactic models aimed at capturing dynamics of the in-situ learning experience do not provide sufficient understanding of the bifurcated nature of hybrid teaching. The hybrid rhombus model is an approach to conceptual understanding of the newly developed situation of teaching in a hybrid way. This paper gives a brief description of the model description and the empirical background, to contribute to the debate of hybrid teaching in relation to digital or on-site teaching.
Rethinking Hybrid Teaching: The Hybrid Rhombus Model as an
Approach to Understanding Hybrid Settings
Daniel Handle-Pfeiffer, Christoph Winter, Christian Löw, Claudia Hackl
Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Vienna, Austria.
After extended periods of remote-only teaching at university, lecturers tried to
come back to lecture halls. Due to restrictions not all students could
participate on-site. Therefore, hybrid teaching models proliferated. To reflect
the transformative effects on teaching practice, we conducted focus groups
with lecturers and found that didactic models aimed at capturing dynamics of
the in-situ learning experience do not provide sufficient understanding of the
bifurcated nature of hybrid teaching. The hybrid rhombus model is an
approach to conceptual understanding of the newly developed situation of
teaching in a hybrid way. This paper gives a brief description of the model
description and the empirical background, to contribute to the debate of hybrid
teaching in relation to digital or on-site teaching.
Keywords: digital teaching; hybrid teaching; COVID teaching; hybrid model;
8th International Conference on Higher Education Advances (HEAd’22)
Universitat Polit`
ecnica de Val`
encia, Val`
encia, 2022
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
Editorial Universitat Polit`
ecnica de Val`
encia 1367
Rethinking Hybrid Teaching: The Hybrid Rhombus Model to Understanding Hybrid Settings
1. Introduction
After COVID pandemic countermeasures had constrained university operations at large,
partially relaxed mandates of physical distancing allowed for some on-site presence and
popularized hybrid attendance models in education that comprise synchronous teaching of
students present on site and attending remotely (Reinmann 2021). As a didactics center for
digital teaching and learning that is part of the University of Vienna, we set out to research
the hybrid situation and how it transforms teaching practice, both to learn how teachers are
best supported during this crisis and to explore the overall potential that hybrid models hold
for university level teaching. With this paper, we want to briefly characterize and argue for
the Hybrid Rhombus as a model to further derive successful conditions of hybrid teaching
and contribute to ongoing discussion of the transformative effect pandemic measures had on
teaching practice.
1.1. Related Work
1.1.1 Hybrid Teaching
Gabi Reinmann (2021) remarked that the term of “hybrid teachingis used diversely within
the university context. We adopt the concept of “synchronous hybrid teaching”, as an
interaction of teachers and two groups of students learning simultaneously (synchronous) in
a session. One group is present in the lecture hall together with the teacher - the on-site group
- whereas the other group participates in a virtual environment - the remote group.
As Raes et al. (2020) remarked, research into synchronous hybrid learning is still in its
infancy and research gaps exist e.g. at the relation of student learning experiences and
pedagogical scenarios. Hybrid settings come with different pedagogical, organizational and
technological challenges and benefits (Raes et al., 2020). We will focus on the two most
relevant aspects, that are crucial for the introduction of the Hybrid Rhombus: The intention
of the University to establish synchronous hybrid teaching as well as some characteristics
regarding communication and interaction in a hybrid classroom.
The organizational benefits for students are often mentioned (Raes, 2022). Students can
choose whether to attend the course remote or on-site, which leads to a greater flexibility for
the learners to schedule their semester (Hastie et al., 2010). From an institutional point of
view, the effective use of classroom space is another reason to introduce a synchronous
hybrid teaching concept (Lakhal, 2017). That was especially relevant for the University in
times of COVID, since it was possible to reduce the numbers of students who shared one
A disadvantage in terms of communication is, that the two groups (on-site and remote)
experience the class differently/ in different ways (Szeto 2014). Huang (2017) stated, that in
Daniel Handle-Pfeiffer, Christoph Winter, Christian Löw, Claudia Hackl
comparison with the on-site group, the remote group might feel excluded from the class. Even
more when they have to struggle with technical problems. From a teaching point of view, it
is crucial to create an environment in which both groups are able to make similar learning
experiences (Raes 2022).
1.2.2 Extending the Didactic Triangle
The didactic triangle (see e.g. Bönsch 2006, p. 149) is a fundamental theoretical model used
frequently to classify and incorporate innovation and advances in the field of didactics.
Goodchild and Sriraman (2012) argued for extending the didactic triangle in light of
technological advance in the classroom, e.g. offering additional flexibility in teaching
procedure, but demanding increased attention by the lecturer. Lampiselkä et al. (2019) used
the didactic triangle as a taxonomy to identify focus areas in science education research.
2. Research Interest and Methodology
Based on our inner-institutional purpose of supporting teachers and students, shaping and
evaluating available technological tools and obtaining a rich picture of teaching practice as
decision input for university upper management levels, we set out to capture the
transformative effect of hybrid teaching practice, guided by the research question: "How do
novel hybrid teaching paradigms relate to teaching practice?".
2.1. Focus Groups
We conducted three online focus group sessions that took place after a semester of physically
distanced (i.e. digital and hybrid) teaching had just concluded and experiences were fresh in
the participant’s memories. The sessions had a duration of 45 minutes and were organized
after a semi-structured discussion guide covering six mayor topics: personal experiences with
implementing hybrid teaching, successful and unsuccessful teaching techniques, essential
requirements for a successful hybrid teaching setting, changes for their own next hybrid
teaching setting to ensure it is (even) more successful and advice for colleagues always
considering different levels such as didactical, technical, organizational elements in hybrid
2.2. Participants
We recruited 12 employees of the University of Vienna who had employed hybrid teaching
in the prior semester, specifically between October and end of November 2020, when
governmental pandemic measures allowed for partial on site student presence. All
participants are experienced, authoritative lecturers and researchers who collectively
represent a diverse area of academic fields and related teaching paradigms (natural sciences,
humanities and cultural studies). Furthermore, several participants hold additional faculty
Rethinking Hybrid Teaching: The Hybrid Rhombus Model to Understanding Hybrid Settings
management roles (vice dean, director of study program) that bring them into regular contact
with other teachers and their students within their respective faculties.
2.3. Analysis
Each focus group session was conducted by a moderator and observed by an additional
member of the researchteam who took extensive notes of discussion progress and verbatim
quotes. After the sessions, moderators were asked to also add interesting participant
contributions to the notes. Following the analytical method of Thematic Analysis (Braun &
Clark, 2006), the resulting dataset was annotated in several consecutive iterations. This
resulted in a thematical overview of practical experiences and reflections, which, upon further
discussion among the researchers, led to the didactical model at hand.
3. Results
First and second hand experiences with synchronous hybrid teaching were consistently
described as challenging, bordering overwhelming. Participants reported unfamiliarity with
then-new streaming technology that in turn was observed to work unreliably with existing
audiovisual lecture hall equipment. On organizational and didactic levels, transposing
explicit (e.g. conveying content) and tacit (e.g. keeping in touch with students on their
progress) elements of teaching practice into an in-part digital realm caused unanticipated but
crucial-to-success tasks and responsibilities to emerge.
In preparation of synchronous hybrid course meetings, specific and detailed, additional
planning efforts are necessary to organize, communicate with and monitor the progress of
on- and off-site cohorts.The act of holding a synchronous hybrid lecture itself comes with
additional work as well: participants reported unexpected amounts of cognitive load that can
be categorized as either (1) technological monitoring and support of participants of either
cohort or (2) additional didactic efforts, resulting in feelings of stress that stem from keeping
track of students and their learning experience in either cohort, as well as relational or
attentional strain w.r.t. the task of moderating student participation in either cohort
simultaneously, which was reported as specifically challenging.
In the subsequent analysis of these results, we formulated possible ways of mitigating these
challenges, i.e. familiarization with and pre-check of technological equipment (also with
students w.r.t. the technical requirements of their respective cohort) or team-teaching
structures (participants reported successes with tasking on-site students with off-site cohort
chat moderation).We found that on a theoretical level, didactic models aimed at capturing
dynamics of the in-situ learning experience do not provide sufficient understanding of the
bifurcated nature of hybrid teaching. Departing from the didactic triangle, this led us to
Daniel Handle-Pfeiffer, Christoph Winter, Christian Löw, Claudia Hackl
extending the triadic interactive structure into the off-site realm, resulting in the Hybrid
Rhombus (see Fig. 1 for a schematic overview).
3.1. The Hybrid Rhombus Model
Figure 1. Hybrid Rhombus.
The didactic triangle shapes interactional dynamics of teaching/learning processes as a triad
between lecturer, student(s) and the topic at hand. We suggest that, in settings of hybrid
teaching that incorporate remote and on-site cohorts into the same in-situ session, differences
in teaching and learning experiences among remote and on-site cohorts are substantial:
We differentiate students, who attend the lecture in the hall (on-site students”) and students,
who attend digitally via videoconferencing tool (“remote students”). Since remote and on-
site students experience topic and lecturer in different media and communication modalities,
they approach both the subject and the learning process from literally different perspectives.
The cohort's learning experiences are differently paced, following different levels of
immediacy and social immersion related to physical presence and digitally mediated
While both cohorts can follow the session live, establishing reasonable rapport with all
students at the same time is however difficult for the lecturer, given the differences in pacing,
immersion and communication; conceptually, we suggest this should be understood as a form
of bi-directional attention that comes with twice the cognitive and relational effort.
Here it should be added that, the remote students do not act like the on-site students, because
every one of them should rather be seen as isolated or individualized with a technical barrier
to interact with others: if a remote student has a technical issue, they can not follow the class,
Rethinking Hybrid Teaching: The Hybrid Rhombus Model to Understanding Hybrid Settings
need to contact the lecturer and the whole room is affected by it. Therefore, the teaching is
interrupted. On the other hand, if an on-site student has a problem, they could ask their
seatmate and these two could deal with the problem and teaching is not affected. While we
deal with two “groups”, a new way of exchange occurs in the communication between on-
site students and remote students (red arrow), that is not easily comparable to other
interactions; e.g. due to technical restrictions and GDPR practice, remote students do not see
the on-site students.
4. Discussion
The hybrid rhombus formalizes structures that emerged in the prior empirical work, and
especially makes visible how interaction and communication is inhibited by the technical
barrier. Therefore, on the teaching side, planning and rethinking interaction and
communication is key to success. While teaching and presenting content, a second person
(teaching assistant or student) should moderate the chat or prepare forms of interaction,
comparable e.g. to how Cain et al. (2016) relied on technological and pedagogical qualified
assistants as Technical Navigators(“TechNavs”).
The empirical work hinted at overburdening on two levels: On the didactic level we see a
major challenge for practitioners in shaping how and when to interact with any or both
cohorts and ensuring sufficient communicative rapport between them; generally with
balancing their attention between teaching and moderating. On the technical level,
participants reported additional efforts for operating the equipment and dealing with technical
problems of remotely connected students. Particularly in the relations of teacher to on-site,
the hybrid rhombus implies the increased effort in relationship maintenance (the need to
overlook and interact with two groups) and minimizing of disturbance (e.g. technical,
difficulties following the lectures,...)..
Notably, the hybrid setting is not a new way of teaching in itself. If we think about streaming,
hybrid teaching has been practiced for some years. What is really novel is the use of
backward channels, e.g. chat, audio/video and the need of lecturers to design the lesson as
they do on-site. This backward channel changes the interaction between teacher and students
completely. The remote learning group can raise questions via chat or audio/video for a better
understanding. This additional communication feature allows them to address and discuss
individual questions with either the teacher, the whole class or with their colleagues (Wang,
Huang 2018). Here we can isolate and discuss an example: In traditional teaching, a lecture
is characterized by a high amount of frontal lecturing. There, lecturers tend to ask questions
for various reasons. Transferred into a hybrid setting, asking a question implies (1) the
possibility and channel to answer. E.g. the on-site students can answer by raising their hand,
the remote group could use chat, audio, video or raising their hand digitally. (2) the possibility
Daniel Handle-Pfeiffer, Christoph Winter, Christian Löw, Claudia Hackl
to follow the students answer. E.g. the on-site student can hear the answer, because they are
in the same room. The remote student can just hear it, if the on-site student talks to a
microphone. Therefore, a microphone has to be handed to the on-site student or the teacher
has to paraphrase the answer, taking up additional time.
With this paper, we want to contribute to the reflective, scientific discussion of hybrid
teaching practice in the wake of pandemic-related lockdowns, by utilizing the Didactic
Triangle as a fundamental and very common pedagogical structure model. Future work will
also explore the value of other, e.g. student-centered approaches like flipped classroom
(Bergmann & Sams, 2012; Bishop & Verleger 2013), or active learning concepts (Prince
2004). Furthermore, this study is based on the perspective of experienced lecturers and thus
incorporates the own perspective of students only indirectly. In a next step we plan to also
involve students directly on their experiences with hybrid teaching.
5. Conclusion
The hybrid rhombus illustrates the hybrid situation and introduces a model for rethinking and
redesigning hybrid lectures. The model shows core issues. The idea is still at a developing
stage and further research is indicated, as described in the prior section.
While taking a deep dive into the model of hybrid rhombus we are aware that hybrid teaching
is not just a remote approach and easily digitized teaching. The model can sensitize and
support further thinking of bringing on-site and digital teaching together.
To carry out the didactic approach and provide the technical and spatial basics we will
redesign a lecture hall, which should fit the basic needs for performing teaching in a hybrid
setting. Therefore, we came to the compromise of the following assumptions: This lecture
hall should be used for teaching on-site, digital (overcoming remote) and hybrid. The focus
of this room is the interactions between lecturer and students in different group sizes and not
frontal lectures. Besides that, the room should be flexible and therefore afford lecturers and
students the possibility to reshape it to suit their needs.
We like to thank the participants of the focus groups for sharing their experiences. Hence, we
like to thank Johanna Strauss for proofreading and language editing.
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