Converged Learning

Converged learning is a mode of instruction in which some students attend in-person in the classroom, while other students participate online/remotely in the same synchronous class meeting. Faculty members may choose this format in order to: offer a class to students who are not able to be on campus; provide students the flexibility of having two ways to attend class; or offer additional in-person learning opportunities for students. DCS has designed select classrooms at Rutgers–New Brunswick to support converged learning, providing a high-quality experience that promotes student engagement, regardless of how students choose to attend class. In addition to providing classrooms specifically tailored to converged instruction, DCS collects and disseminates best teaching practices for this mode of instruction, and provides personalized support for faculty, as they design, organize, and conduct their classes. For details on DCS support for converged learning, please view the sections below.

Spaces for Converged Learning

DCS's Synchronous Learning Spaces (SLSs) are the ideal rooms for converged learning. Every SLS includes (click on each attribute for more information):

Instructor Camera

instructor cameraInstructor cameras in Synchronous Learning Spaces capture the front of the classroom. Using buttons on the Digital Classroom System's touchscreen, instructors can choose to frame the podium, the podium and the area around it, the entire front of the room, or the blackboard. In certain rooms, instructors can also choose to have the camera follow them as they move around the front of the room. Instructor cameras are mounted in the same sight-line as instructor-facing monitors. As a result, when instructors look at the monitor to interact with remote students or to view class content, it creates the appearance that they are looking at the remote students.

Student Cameras

FNH 101Student-facing cameras are installed at the front of the room and capture the entire audience. Instructors can choose to use these cameras if they are teaching remotely in order to view their students, or if they are engaged in discussion and want remote students and in-room students to see each other. Because student-facing cameras are mounted within the sight-lines of the front of the room displays, when students in the classroom look at the displays it appears as if they are looking at the remote participants.

Multiple Displays

environmental-sociology.jpgMultiple displays can be used to show class content, remote students, and other conferencing tools. Every SLS has at least two monitors or projection screens at the front of the classroom. These can be used to show in-room students class content—such as slides or web pages—as well as components of the videoconference sessions—such as camera feeds of remote students, polls, or chat windows. Instructors may also use the monitor on the rooms' Digital Classroom System and an instructor-facing display mounted in the audience to view class content and videoconference materials without needing to turn to face the front-mounted displays. Audience-mounted monitors are typically in the same sightline as the instructor camera so that when an instructor looks at it to review their slides or interact with a remote student, those attending remotely will have the impression that the instructor is looking at them.

Room Microphones

Room microphones capture all in-room speaking. Because SLSs include area microphones designed to capture audio from both the teaching area and the audience, in-room participants do not need to worry about wearing or sharing microphones to be heard by students attending remotely. Instead, both the instructor's voice and the in-room students' voices are automatically fed into the videoconference.

Room Speakers

Room speakers provide both in-room and videoconference audio. These speakers can be used to: play sound from class content, like videos; provide amplification of the instructor's voice; and play audio from the videoconference, including the voices or content of participating remote students.

Additionally, instructors in SLSs use the Digital Classroom System's Mac computer to launch and control the videoconference session. As a result, faculty may use common conferencing apps like Zoom, Webex, or BigBlueButton, by following the same steps they might on a home or office computer. They can then turn on displays, select camera views, and adjust in-room audio volume using Rutgers Room Control. View our instructions for more detailed steps.

Because they are designed to facilitate two-way interaction, Synchronous Learning Spaces are the ideal environment for Converged Learning. However, DCS also has other Synchronous Spaces that can facilitate converged learning. Camera-Equipped Spaces can be used for large classes, in which remote students do not need to be seen on instructor-facing displays, and in which in-room students do not need to be heard by remote students. Audio & Screencasting Rooms may be used with the same limitations if the instructor does not need to be captured on camera, but instead simply wishes to share their audio and class content. You can use our Synchronous Capability Chart to identify rooms rooms that have each capability.

Best Teaching Practices for Converged Instruction

Converged instruction is most effective when instructors engage both in-room and remote students equally. While the approach you take to teaching a converged class must match the class size, content, and pedagogy, to help you prepare to teach in a converged environment, we have collected a list of tips and best practices from faculty members who have used this mode of instruction effectively: click on any topic below to learn more. And please contact us with any suggestions or solutions that could benefit the Rutgers community. 

Create Equitable Experiences for Remote and In-Person Students

It is natural to want to focus more on students who are sharing a room with you. However, this inclination can quickly lead to teaching in a manner that makes your remote students feel less connected and, as a result, less engaged. Consider using the following approaches to ensure your remote students are given equal opportunity to participate in class.

  • Opt for methods of communication available to all students. While how students interact is highly dependent on your class plan and size, look for ways to put those interactions on the same plane. For example, if remote students are asked to raise their hands but in-room students can simply speak to participate in discussions, the in-person students might be more able and more likely to participate. If you have a larger class in which remote students participate via chat, consider having your in-person students also ask questions by chat. The in-person students may also be more inclined to type their questions and will then be on equal footing with their remote peers.
  • Have in-class students connect to the remote session. Not only will this allow all students to utilize group chats, see other students, or view class materials up close, it can also serve as a way for in-room and remote students to work collaboratively in breakout rooms. In-room students who connect should just make sure not to activate their audio.
  • Ensure that your writing is viewable to all students. Consider annotating digitally or writing on the document camera so that remote students are better able to read your writing. If you use the blackboard, select the blackboard camera setting and check your camera self-view to ensure you write large and on-screen.
  • Repeat questions. Make sure all students are able to hear a question from other students by summarizing or repeating it before answering.
  • Avoid referring to and treating remote and in-person students differently. Subtle references to remote students as "virtual students" or in-room students as "present" students can snowball into a sense that there are two classes of students. Similarly, directing students to do something that only one group can do (e.g. conferring with your neighbor) will leave out a segment of the class and contribute to the feeling that they are not getting the same experience.
Foster Engagement from Remote Students

One of the biggest challenges relating to teaching remote students is keeping them engaged in class. While completely online classes can be tailored entirely to remote instruction, converged classes present the added challenge of engaging different students simultaneously. To foster engagement in your synchronous class, consider the following:

  • Employ flipped teaching techniques. Students are more likely to disengage during long stretches of lecture, especially when viewing class remotely. Consider flipping portions of your class by delivering class content asynchronously, via video, tutorials, readings, etc. You can then use class time for discussion and group work, in which  all students can more actively participate. You can join and view the resources of the Active Learning Community for help using flipped teaching techniques.
  • Articulate how remote students should participate. If remote students do not know how they should answer or ask a question, they will be reluctant to do so. Indicate in your LMS, syllabus, course description, and/or first class whether remote students should physically raise their hand, virtually raise their hand, speak, or use the chat box to participate.
  • Draw in students early and often. Ask your remote students to participate on the first day of class. This will set the tone early that they can and should be a part of class discussions. Consider initiating participation with low-stakes questions to help them gain comfort with speaking. 
  • Refer to remote students by name. Using names is always a great way to help students feel connected to the class. Referring to a remote student by name is an especially important way to identify who you are talking to or calling on. Videoconference apps will often display participants name alongside their video.
Leverage Synchronous Tools

When used effectively, converged learning can be more than a way to connect with remote students; it can also add value in ways that traditional learning cannot.

  • Record class for future viewing. If you are teaching a converged class, you can likely record the session with the click of one button. Students can then watch class recordings to review. Visit the recording section of our instructions page for step-by-step guides on using Synchronous Spaces to record.
  • Have students give presentations. In videoconference sessions, you can give permission to students to share images from their screen. This provides a way for students to easily give presentations, report out, or share content as part of a discussion.
  • Invite guest lecturers to speak in your class. Without the difficulty of travel, experts from around the globe can more easily connect with your students.
Preserve the In-Class-Experience

As you strive to create an engaging experience for remote students, you don't want to diminish the experience of in-class students. You can do so by helping your in-person students experience what the remote students are able to see.

  • Ensure that presentation materials are viewable in the classroom. Rather than trying to squeeze remote students, chat windows, and presentation materials like slides into one screen, in many classrooms you can put them on separate screens to make them larger.
  • Display remote students at the front of the room. While you may elect to keep students on the rear monitor so you can see them without distracting in-room students, consider moving them to the front screen when you engage in Q&A, discussion, or whenever remote students are speaking for extended times. This will help your students feel that they are part of the same dialogue.
Reduce Technical Friction

So that you can focus on teaching, rather than troubleshooting, we recommend the following:

  • Provide connection details early. Let your students know what platform you will use, how they can connect, and any technical requirements for your course.
  • Hold a test class. Use the first class meeting or a pre-determined time before then to let your students make sure they can properly connect.
  • Articulate how you expect students to participate. Do you want students to turn on their cameras and microphone? Do you want students to remain muted until they speak to reduce distracting noise? The answers will depend on your course and enrollment and should be communicated to students at the start.
  • Utilize a remote helper. Ask a Teaching Assistant or student volunteer to join your class remotely and let you know if there are any issues with the online experience.

Support for Instructors

DCS has a team of Instructional Technology Supervisors for each Rutgers–New Brunswick campus dedicated to helping you successfully use our rooms for converged instruction. Members of our team can meet with you in advance of the semester to introduce you to our classrooms and help you develop a plan for using them. They will train you on using the equipment and facilitate opportunities for you to practice in the room. As the semester commences, our staff can be on hand to help launch videoconference sessions and monitor audio and video quality. As you gain familiarity with launching a session yourself, our staff will remain on call to respond to any issues. You can get connected with a Supervisor by completing a Videoconference Support form.

In addition to DCS, there are several units at Rutgers that can assist with your converged class. In addition to taking advantage of support from School/departmental Instructional Designers and IT staff, you can visit it.rutgers.edu for help using Webex and Zoom. Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) is also available to help you best leverage Canvas and redesign courses to incorporate activities and approaches that are conducive to a converged setting.