Synchronous Hybrid Environments


Synchromodal Learning Environment is one in which online and face-to-face individuals (both students and instructors) interact with one another in real-time learning sessions (i.e., classes).

The term synchromodal was determined a posteriori as we simultaneously worked on the designs of the personal portal model and synchromodal small group model. We felt it was important and necessary to explore the emerging course designs from a research perspective. As a first step, we decided to try to develop a topographic model that would help describe different flows of communication and interaction. This process took several months of trial and error as different visual models and representations were tried and modified. A major achievement was determining a set of visual cues that could be used as a kind of iconographic vocabulary for describing interactions between online and on-campus class participants. Once a vocabulary had been established, it simply became a matter of applying those terms to the class models we were familiar with.  That was how we coined the terms linked classroom, shared portal, personal portal, and small group.

Whiteboard topographies

Whiteboard topographies: Synchromodal in the making

Synchromodal models

Synchromodal Topographies

After applying our visual vocabulary to various class models, we then recognized the need for a term to describe the concept of teaching in the middle space between online and face-to-face modes of instruction. Terms like hybrid and blended had already been used to describe course designs that alternated between face-to-face and online elements. We felt that the interactions we observed in the new course designs, however, were quite different that simply switching between the two modes. The new course designs made a deliberate attempt to merge the two modes in a synchronous fashion – hence (after lengthy deliberation) the term synchromodal was proposed and adopted. The term actually has its roots in the field of logistics, where it is used to describe planning strategies that leverage a variety of transportation modes to achieve a single cohesive logistics solution.

To appear in
Bell, J., Sawaya, S., & Cain, W. (in preparation). Synchromodal classes: Designing for shared learning experiences between face-to-face and online students. In International Journal of Designs for Learning. Submitted: May, 2013.