KU Leuven - Hybrid virtual classroom
In the spring of 2019, KU Leuven decided to replace the existing specific teacher training programmes (SLO) with 10 new master's programmes. KU Leuven is a multi-campus university and these educational master's programmes are organised at 9 different locations in Flanders.
To facilitate this brand new training, they chose to install a hybrid virtual classroom. They chose flexible furniture, which means that they could quickly switch between a collaborative set-up with 6 groups and a classroom set-up. Via video conferencing, students can dial in remotely, individually or in a group, to follow the class synchronously.
This extended hybrid virtual classroom was not yet available in Leuven. The challenge was to have the teachers for these educational master's programmes quickly familiarise themselves with the possibilities of this teaching space. An educational technologist was appointed for this purpose.
To give the users confidence, all processes behind the scenes had to run smoothly. Because the classroom was new, all services involved took an integrated approach. Technical services (technical infrastructure, room planning, building management), IT services (hardware, software), internal operations, security and education services (processes, support, teacher training) worked together.
In this first phase, timetabling was assigned to the Educational Policy Department. In other words, this learning space was not included in the central timetable of classrooms, so that we gave lecturers from educational master's programmes maximum opportunity to get to know and use this room. This usually worked well, although they could not avoid the fact that lecturers from different programmes sometimes wanted to use this room at the same time.
Within the KU Leuven Learning Lab network, they introduced colleagues to this room. The technical programming and initial explanation was done by Technical Services (Didactic Equipment). After that, the didactic possibilities were explored by the newly appointed educational technologist and colleagues from the Educational Policy Department (Educational Professionalisation and Support Service).
The user communication is primarily aimed at the lecturers of these brand new educational master's programmes. They also provided the necessary support to lecturers who wanted to use this learning space at their own request.
Several information sessions and try-out moments were organised beforehand for lecturers of the new educational master's programmes. During the first lessons they received extra support in case of problems. For some teachers this extra support was not necessary, for others it was an added value. After the first year, we can indicate which actions have had a positive effect.
For the users (teachers, educational support staff), we see an increase in autonomy due to the try-out moments (so-called living lab moments). The emphasis is not on the possibilities but on the didactic and pedagogical wishes of the user. We have also noticed that the support question often begins technically, but actually has a didactic basis. That is why it was important for the support staff to be bridge figures between technology and didactics.
Given the change for all ten educational master programmes, the users also had diverse needs, ranging from recordings of lessons with a few students on one campus to complete series of lessons on several campuses. This means that a hybrid classroom must be able to handle multiple scenarios.
On the other hand, the student survey showed that participants on campuses outside Leuven were very positive about the flexibility that this space offers. Teacher training is popular among lateral entrants (working students) and evening classes are also offered. The campuses provided a mobile set-up for this. In addition, there was the group that followed lessons in the hybrid classroom itself. Here, we mainly received input about the group effect, which was emphatically brought to the fore by the screens.
Another positive effect was experienced during the support during the first lessons. The aim was to offer the teacher security and to create trust. The educational technologist and the teacher worked together in a coaching manner. The goal was independence and this was achieved. Once the basic steps were taken, small steps were taken with goals that were always achievable (use of the whiteboard, letting students use the collaborative screens, etc.). Sometimes things moved quickly and lessons were redesigned in the light of the new possibilities. Assessing all of this in a customised way was also a support task.
The successful deployment of this hybrid virtual classroom lies not only in the set-up of the room itself or in the provision of user-friendly educational technology, but certainly also in the support available before, during and after the lesson. The challenge now is to schedule more teachers with interactive lessons in such learning spaces.