Insights into hybrid teaching at ESMT Berlin

As Helene Fischer once sang, “Everyone needs a copilot/On the way to the top”. As part of ESMT’s efforts to continue providing hybrid teaching (where some students are present in the classroom and others join the class online over Zoom), the school has welcomed a new role – the copilot – into the classroom.

But what does a copilot do and how do they help with hybrid teaching? Olivia de Paeztron from ESMT’s Edtech Lab got in touch with two copilots, Pawan Maruvada and Hannah Faber, to find out.

Please describe your role and tasks as a copilot in a hybrid classroom

Pawan: The key role I have as a co-pilot is to act as a conduit between the online and the on-campus class, ensuring seamless classroom interaction in the process. This involves engagement with the online class and making them comfortable to participate in tandem with the students on-campus. Apart from this, I am also responsible for the digital set-up before the class and the troubleshooting measures necessary in case something goes wrong.

Hannah: As copilots, we are essentially the bridge between the online and offline parts of the lectures. We begin by setting up all the equipment (that includes cameras, microphones, computers, and the actual Zoom call itself) half an hour before class starts and make sure that everything is connected correctly. Once the class begins, we monitor the Zoom participants and make sure that they can participate in the lecture as much as possible. We make sure they can see and hear everything they need to, and also manage their questions and comments, their participation in class discussions, and group work.

We continuously communicate with the professors and the students to make sure that everything is working well for them. If there are ever any technical issues, we are the first people to try and fix the problem, so the professors can carry on teaching and focus on the lectures. Overall, we co-pilots are there to assist both the professors and the students in trying to have the best teaching and learning experience they can have, even though the circumstances are unprecedented.

How does the collaboration with faculty work?

Pawan: The faculty at ESMT is very proactive and receptive to change, which makes the collaboration the most exciting part of co-piloting. The process starts with having a talk with the individual faculty to understand their preferences in conducting a class. Based on this information, we discuss how best to integrate the participants of the online class in the learning process.

As a co-pilot I act as a feedback loop, helping the faculty to make minor tweaks and make the online/on-site participation even more streamlined. It can be small things such as alerting them about their screen presence, to telling them if the students are losing focus. We constantly evaluate class participation and ensure that everyone has a chance to present their ideas before the class.

Hannah: Working closely with the professors is one of the most important things to carry out the job successfully. Since every class has its unique structure and each professor has a different teaching style, touching base with the professor before every class is essential. I always make sure that I know how the professor has planned their lecture for the day, if they are planning group work or open class discussions, if they are using any media outside of their PPTs (for example videos or Mentimeter), and how they would like the students on Zoom to participate. All this helps me as a co-pilot to know what I need to look out for, how I should let the professor know when there are comments and questions online and thus help with a seamless transition between different sections of the lecture. It’s also always a good idea to check in with the professor during breaks and after class, to assure that we know what is working well and what can be improved next time. Hybrid teaching is essentially a collaboration between the professors, the students, and the co-pilots, the more you communicate with each other and give each other feedback, the more the entire process can improve.

How do you help keep the online students involved in what is happening in the classroom?

Pawan: The key to a great online class is the professor and the course material. As a copilot, it is my responsibility to make sure that the professor feels comfortable and is constantly updated on what is happening with the online class. Over time I also get an idea of the level of participation of different students and I suggest names for the professor for cold calling. The professor also invites random groups to do presentations in front of the class, thereby engaging all students during the course.

A risk of hybrid/online teaching is losing out on the networking opportunities that in-person learning provides. I try to minimize that by assigning students to different groups for their case studies. This ensures that they have the opportunity to work with all their classmates, helping leverage ESMTs diverse intake.

Hannah: Once again, the most important thing is to regularly communicate with the students (typically via the Zoom chat function). I always check in with them to make sure they can hear the professors, see all the presentations and any other resources that are part of the lecture, and have access to all the information they need. I also always let them know at the beginning of a session how they should participate in the class if they have a comment or question, depending on what the professors prefer.

If something is not working for the online participants, I will let the professor know immediately so we can adjust whatever needs to be fixed, whether that is an issue with the audio or if they don’t get enough chances to participate in discussions. Through the chat, I can also communicate with individual students directly, if they are having any issues or questions that are not relevant to the rest of the class and help them find a solution. As with the professors, it’s also always useful to ask the students for feedback about their online experience, so we can make sure their participation in the class is as easy as possible.

Do you have any tips for new copilots?

Pawan: Being patient and communicative are essential armor for a co-pilot. Being patient helps in the space where things go wrong with the tech stuff, as hurried fixes can cause further problems that result in total meltdown. Keeping calm in these moments helps make sure that the troubleshooting does not take longer than it should, resulting in minimal if not no loss to the teaching experience.

Communication is also vital because co-piloting is a student facing job. Being a representative of ESMT, we must make sure that we stand for the quality ESMT promises.

Hannah: First and foremost, it’s important to communicate with the professors and the students regularly. As each class is very different, copiloting constantly requires you to adjust to different circumstances, and the more you communicate with the rest of the people involved, the better you can do your job.

At the end of the day, I think it’s also helpful to remind yourself that this is a new situation for everyone, and everybody is still figuring out the process and what works best for hybrid teaching. There will be some problems along the way, but everyone from the professors to the students to copilots are aware of that. It is a continuous work in progress, but it will work a lot more seamlessly with time and experience.

Do you think that being a student helps with being a copilot? Why/why not?

Pawan: Being a student of International Business and Economics myself, I can understand the distance that online teaching creates. There are a lot more distractions available when one is left alone with a computer and here it is essential that the class remains interesting throughout. As the course material taught at ESMT overlaps with my areas of interest it helps me understand the subjects from the student’s point of view. It helps me gauge how the participants online are understanding the course material.

Hannah: Yes, I think it helps for us co-pilots to have the “student” point of view as well. As a student myself, I know what works for me in class and what doesn’t, what support students need under these (slightly strange) circumstances and I think it also helps us judge how successful a lecture was from the student’s perspective. We can give the professor direct feedback from this point of view while they are teaching; this way they don’t have to wait until the end of the course for evaluations, but can make changes directly in order to improve the lectures. I believe it also helps the students to have someone in class they can communicate with directly who is not a professor; some students might feel more comfortable giving feedback on the class to someone who is closer to them in age and “status”.

Do you see a future for hybrid classes beyond the emergency measures related to Covid-19?

Pawan: Definitely! Hybrid classes at ESMT are just as immersive as in-person classes and they are only going to get better in the future. Considering that the next generations of students will have more experience learning through digital formats, ESMT has a strategic advantage in embracing hybrid teaching to the fullest.

Hannah: Yes, I think hybrid teaching can be a valuable asset beyond Covid-19 measures. It can give students who cannot travel or move to Germany for an extended period of time the chance to participate in classes at ESMT. The program could have a much wider reach this way.

Moreover, right now we are still in the early phases of hybrid teaching, which means we are still figuring out what works best and what doesn’t for hybrid classes. Once we have gone past the early stages and have worked out the best technical set-up as well as the best teaching methods for this online-offline setting, we can provide students with a more developed and thorough hybrid teaching experience. Currently, the class settings are also still subject to change because of ever-evolving Corona-measures, but in the future, hybrid teaching will be more stable. Professors will also have more experience with this class setting and can better prepare for future hybrid settings.

That’s the copilots’ view, but what about the faculty? Olivia asked Eric Quintane, associate professor of organizational behavior at ESMT about his experience with hybrid teaching for the MIM2020.

Eric: It was great to have the co-pilots, including Hannah and Pawan, helping with the social and technological complexity of running a hybrid classroom.

The number of things that can go wrong with technology in a hybrid classroom is multiplied tenfold compared to a normal classroom and this was a constant worry for me. Knowing that the copilots were there to help made a big difference. An example is when the main computer froze in the middle of a session. This meant that I had lost the projector, the sound, and the video. Online students were still able to see my slides, but not the offline students, but online students could not see or hear me anymore and we couldn’t hear them. Hannah was able to stay very clear minded and rebooted the computer while I found a way to engage with both online and offline students using my laptop. Relying on the copilot to react quickly to these emergencies made it possible for me to focus on the students and minimize the disruptions for them when glitches occurred.

The social role of copilots is also critical because the experience of online and offline students are necessarily different. Having the students physically present means that my attention is more easily captured by those who are in class and the setup of the hybrid format made it difficult for me to know how online students were doing. Pawan was able to engage with them throughout the sessions by looking at their videos and asking questions on the chat when he saw that they were having difficulties, or encouraging them to speak up and intervene in class.

If we keep doing hybrid classes, I will consider the copilots as an integral part of my teaching strategy.

Some hybrid teaching has been replaced by fully online courses while Germany is in lockdown, and copilots are also available to aid some online courses. To find out more, please get in touch with your program office.

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