Teaching in a Split Modality

In Spring 2021, I decided to come back to campus and teach in-person. I was tired of the online and live online teaching and wanted a sense of normalcy. One of the ways that this was possible, at the time, was to teach with half my students attending in-person and the other half attending live online. Luckily the course that I chose to come back in-person to teach in this split modality was a course that I had taught numerous times. The biggest help of all was my amazing colleague at Phoenix College, Marcia Corby, who was willing to try the same thing on her campus. We both teach mathematics for elementary educators courses and we have worked together to build our curriculum for years. Our students who take these courses are on the path to one day be teachers in their own classroom at the elementary level. 

Marcia and I identified the problem early on as we brainstormed what this course would look like in a split modality.

The problem with teaching in split modalities simultaneously

Before we could answer this question we had to first figure out the logistics of teaching in both modalities at the same time. This requires reviewing the technology we had in our classrooms, getting everything printed that our students would need ahead of the course start date so the packets could be mailed out, setting up the classroom for the social distancing and activities, and setting student expectations that we would put in our syllabi. 

Example of student expectations from syllabi

After we had PREPARED all the logistical issues for the course, we need to think about the TEACHING. This is much more difficult than picking between Zoom and Google Meets. We now had to think through the activities we did in person per pandemic in a live online space, how to build community when your class is in dual modalities, and how to effectively communicate to the students. 

This forced us to think through how to make every activity in our class accessible to our students that never set foot in our classroom. Thankfully Phoenix College was well prepared to embrace the virtual challenge with virtual manipulatives. Phoenix College has been curating a virtual manipulatives library for years and anything we did not find we asked if it could be built. We were lucky to have instructors outside of mathematics that were looking for coding projects for their students to complete. 

Modifying assignments was a huge undertaking and required us to think outside of the box or paper bag in this example. We took an in person simulation and modified it for the Online space. This required us to make videos to demonstrate the simulation that we would run with our class in person. It helped that the pandemic had already started us on changing all of our assignments. 

Example of modified assignment

As you can tell the planning and thought process required to launch this course was intense but teaching it was a huge mental drain. Trying to attend to two different audiences simultaneously was difficult. Making “in the moment” changes had setbacks since you would then need to, on the spot, determine how to share and incorporate both spaces (in person and live online). When technology failed for students or us it was crippling in this format. 

Even though this undertaking was rough, Marcia and I have had some amazing things come from it.  Our HOME (Hands On Manipulative Exploration) Assignments became significantly better because we weren’t as leary of students operating with virtual manipulatives and we demoed how to use some of the virtual manipulatives. Students could attend class even if they were locked out of their car (true story). We even had students who would not have been able to take the course in the morning, due to work or family obligations, attend since they could enroll in the live online course. 

Overall this process of preparing and teaching in this split modality has strengthened our course materials and has made us consider teaching the course in different modalities in the future. 


One thought on “Teaching in a Split Modality”

  1. Split Modality – I have had more colleagues retire in the last two years, largely because of this. Trying to teach music which is hands on and on camera (without a camera person) for everyone is extremely difficult. I feel for all of my colleagues who threw in the towel. They said something I hadn’t expected, “We’re not being appreciated enough for trying to achieve this.” I’m not talking about MCCCD but many other colleges and universities around the country. These are fabulous teachers we have lost. I wish them the best of luck in future endeavors.


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