Combining the best of in-person and online instruction is the likely future of education

Mar 22, 2020

Christine Greenhow is a professor of education and technology in MSU's world renowned College of Education. Her research focuses on teaching and learning in social media and online settings.

“Much of my research has focused on the kinds of learning that students are doing in social media and online spaces, like the kinds of communication practices they're doing and the kinds of community building and interactions they're having with other students and with their teachers in these online spaces,” says Greenhow


“I've both taught online and in person. I've looked at how different online technologies like video conferencing and robot technologies can be integrated into students' online learning for more effectiveness. I look at the ways we can marry the technologies that are available to us: social media, online platforms, and robots - with the kinds of learning and teaching needs that we have today.”

What are some challenges and opportunities for faculty and students as they transition to online-only instruction?

“There are a number of challenges in just making sure that your students have access to high speed internet and devices like laptops and iPads that are going to work for online education. One challenge is just figuring out who has what and then getting resources to the people who need it. But a second layer of challenges is if teachers and students have no experience with online learning, you can't just take your in-person class and put it in an online setting. You have to rethink your goals for teaching. What is it you hope your students will learn?

Credit Michigan State University

“It's not just about putting your textbook online and expecting students are going to have the same level of engagement and learning as they did in a face-to-face class where all of that student-to-student interaction and student-instructor interaction are baked in. Now you have to be more thoughtful about how you are going to get students to interact in small groups with you, the instructor. What kinds of things do you have to rethink to make the learning as engaging and effective as possible?”

How effective can online learning be?

“Online learning can be as effective as face-to-face learning if done right. It's not an absolute that online learning is a less effective form of learning. But you have to be smart about it.”

Greenhow says it’s important that students and teachers interact with each other, even if digitally.

“One of the challenges of online learning is when students feel disconnected from their classmates and teacher. And when students feel disconnected, they disengage and they're at a higher risk of dropping out. Online learning is done by yourself at your own pace, with little interaction, so there's a much greater risk of you feeling isolated and disengaged and confused, and maybe you drop out. We want to avoid that.

“My main point is you have to be thoughtful about how you are going to create a social community oriented interactive environment for students online as you would do in a classroom setting.”

Overall Greenhow advises we all stay calm.

“If students are stressed out or confused or just generally struggling, communication, communication, communication. And the same thing with teachers. Teachers, reach out to your students, ask them how they're doing, be available as much as you can. There is going to be a steep learning curve, especially in K-12 education; most schools haven't prepared for this. We're trying to turn to online on a dime and it's challenging.

That's what I'm doing with my students. I had a course plan that was packed with content and assignments and after this all happened, as the world keeps changing, I've had to rethink things and say, ‘Okay, what can we reasonably expect from each other given our current situation?’ And then I also had to think about, ‘Okay, I've got all of these assignments here, but what are the most critical assignments? And what can perhaps I reduce or eliminate just to give people some space to catch their breath and catch up?’

“Hybridization of instruction might be where we're headed, where we're taking the best of online learning and we're taking the best of in person learning and we're expanding opportunities for education for all students and teachers. There are a lot of students who can't come to school, or for various reasons have to participate online. If we can come up with a more effective hybrid model, we might actually meet all students better where they are.”

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