Can a hybrid approach to teaching and learning organically foster digital citizenship?

As has been noted by many educators at this point in the pandemic, it seems likely that the massive shifts to online teaching/learning that have taken place in the last year have permanently altered attitudes towards, and usage of, educational technology.  Though most teachers, students, and families will be eager to return to the physical classroom as soon as it’s safe to do so, there’s no doubt that a hybrid approach to teaching and learning, both in K-12 and in higher education, is here to stay.  This is true because of pragmatic constraints (i.e. some students and families will elect to continue with online learning into the Fall, even if in-person options are available), but also because of a more pervasive level adaptation such that hybrid teaching & learning has asserted itself as part of the “new normal” and will, in my opinion, be utilized well after the effects of the pandemic would mandate the use of technology-mediated modalities.

Hybrid learning (alternatively referred to as blended learning) at its most basic is an approach to teaching and learning that combines, or blends, face-to-face instruction with technology-mediated instruction (Saichaie, 2020).  The actual ratio of face-to-face to online instruction can differ greatly and still be considered hybrid instruction; thus, a K-12 classroom may still be meeting in-person during traditional school hours and be participating in hybrid learning.  Hybrid learning is also closely associated with the “flipped classroom” model of learning in which students are exposed to course content prior to class so that time in class allows students to “engage in higher-order thinking and application of the concepts in a group setting with the support of the instructor to foster deep and significant learning” (Saichaie, 2020, p.97).  Effective hybrid teaching/learning will intentionally leverage the use of technology in order to replace seat time in a classroom and creatively engage students in learning in a variety of ways.

Konopelko (2020) offers some compelling suggestions as to why teachers and school districts might be more inclined to maintain hybrid or fully online learning modalities moving forward:

  • Some students responded exceptionally well to the agency afforded by online, asynchronous learning.  It’s possible that some sort of online learning option will need to remain accessible to students in public school systems in perpetuity.
  • Advancements and investments in educational technology and, more specifically, interoperability have skyrocketed during the pandemic.  Previously, it was common for teachers to be using many different curriculum softwares, interactive whiteboards, device-types, and student information systems that didn’t always communicate well with one another.  Now, with tech giants like Microsoft investing major resources into expanding their virtual learning platforms, the integration of educational technology has become exceedingly easier and more effective in a short period of time (e.g. Microsoft Teams touting “Effective learning, all in one place”).
  • Improvements to audiovisual tools/platforms have also been noticeable during the pandemic, opening the doors to broader use of video recordings and live, synchronous meeting sessions held virtually.

Additionally, I would suggest that:

  • Many educators’ personal digital literacy and comfort with educational technology has exponentially increased during the pandemic as they’ve been forced to lean heavily (and creatively) on ed tech tools to continue teaching.
  • The disruptive nature of the pandemic has created space for teachers to rethink how certain courses/subjects are taught with a mind towards student needs and student-centered learning.  Hybrid teaching invites educators to “trim the fat” for lessons that have always been done a certain way, even as they recalibrate learning goals and think critically about student engagement.  Student engagement can’t be taken for granted in a hybrid learning approach the way it might be in a physical classroom.

Thus, if we assume that hybrid teaching/learning using educational technology will, at some level, be a permanent fixture in education moving forward, it is important to pause and seriously consider the impact and potential of technology-mediated instructional practices.  ISTE Standard 3 for educators asks instructors to consider how they can inspire students to positively contribute to, and responsibly participate in, the digital world.  This standard is often closely tied to the concept of digital citizenship in that an instructor’s goal is to help learners act in socially responsible ways in digital spaces, exhibit empathetic behaviors online, think critically about online resources and their ethical use, and ultimately, build relationships and community as citizens with a stake in the virtual world.   These aspects of digital citizenship are some of the many 21st century skills that are essential for learners to acquire in 2021.  

Of course, rather than adding another piece of content for instructors to cover in a classroom, digital citizenship development can/should be imbedded in instructional practice in an organic way.  The Edvolve Framework put forth by Lindsey (2018) does a nice job of situating digital citizenship education within existing educational structures, noting that digital citizenship education isn’t about delivering more content, it’s about putting core values into practice within naturally occurring educational activities and technology use.  In the Edvolve Framework, learner agency (attitude towards learning and personal responsibility) and digital literacy (consuming, communicating and creating with digital tools) work together to build a digital citizen (socially responsible participant in online environments), even as practicing digital citizenship will, in turn, improve learner agency and digital literacy skills (Lindsey, 2018).  Like cogs in a machine, these three elements inform one another and mutually influence one another in all learning activities.  Thus, with the Edvolve Framework as an example, it’s reasonable to assert that a hybrid learning model and the effective use of education technology can/should naturally lead to the cultivation of digital citizens.

Lindsey (2018),

Pedersen et al. (2018) refer to hybrid teaching as an entry point for practicing and expressing digital citizenship.  More than any specific content, curriculum, or list of “dos and don’ts,” Pedersen et al. (2018) argue that digital citizenship is about becoming, belonging, and cultivating the capabilities to do so.  Similarly, Emejulu and Mcgregor (2020) assert that

“…the cornerstone of a radical digital citizenship is the insistence that citizenship is a process of becoming – that it is an active and reflective state for individual and collective thinking and practice for collective action for the common good” (p.140). 

There is something unique to hybridity that develops student thinking towards digital citizenship. “Thinking and acting in hybrid ways change the scope and space for education, making it more inclusive and conducive to the fostering of a digital citizenship that opens up to something other” (Pedersen et al., 2018, p. 234).  Hybridity within education is the acknowledgement, and indeed the value of, otherness and difference, and it develops a learners’ ability to exist in in-between spaces in a globalized world (Pedersen et al., 2018).  Hybridity, by definition, is the combination of more than one thing, and thus hybrid teaching and learning will not ascribe to one set of rules; rather, it will ask students to be flexible and practice resilience, thinking critically about the nuance of context and the shifting roles and expectations for themselves and others therein. Pedersen et al. (2018) argue that digital citizenship provides the “why” behind a hybrid educational enterprise, and that a value-based approach to teaching will inherently impact instructional design and, therefore, the learning experiences and goals.  Hybrid teaching/learning with a digital citizenship “why” driving it will embody the following core values:

Shared value foundation for Hybrid Education (Pedersen et. al., 2018)

Core ValueUnderlying Value
EmpathyCare, Respect, Commitment, Compassion, Sensitivity, Invitational
Belonging & BuildingContribution, Sensitivity, Care, Generosity
PlayfulnessJoy, Creativity, Curiosity, Exploration, Experimentation
Agency & EmpowermentAutonomy, Resourcefulness, Self-determination, Freedom, Autonomy, Courage 
*BildungThoughtfulness, Discipline, Professionalism 
DiscoveryExperimentation, Curiosity, Exploration   
*Bildung refers to the German philosophical tradition of self-cultivation for both personal and societal maturation

Once again, these core values are not meant to be additive curricular elements; rather these values and the practice of digital citizenship should be organically imbedded in the learning process whenever educational technology or a hybrid approach to education is involved, and it is the essence of hybrid teaching/learning which will create space for these values to be cultivated in students.

It is also important to mention that hybridity, in contrast to a learning environment that is fully online, has unique benefits in that students are, to some extent, still situated in a physical environment, and therefore the cultural, and sociopolitical realities (and limitations) that are part of that physical environment.  Emejulu & McGregor (2019) assert that a digital citizenship that is seemingly neutral, nomadic, agnostically tolerant, and primarily concerned with effective network extension and demonstrating ‘netiquette’ in virtual spaces is, at best, incomplete.  They argue that digital citizenship must be situated within social, economic, and political contexts in order to be meaningfully practiced.  Indeed, a ‘radical digital citizenship’ asks citizens to think about the consequences of digital technologies in everyday life and consider “who has the power” wherever technology is used (Emejulu & McGregor, 2019).  The authors assert that digital citizenship can’t just be about improving virtual spaces; rather, active digital citizenship should be situated in the ‘real world’ and help us engage with “social, economic, and environmental inequalities in a new and different way” (Emejulu & McGregor, 2019, p. 143). 

In summary, the specific tools and learning platforms used to engage in hybrid teaching/learning are less important than the overall vision for what hybridity, as an ethos, can accomplish.  A hybrid teaching/learning model is uniquely valuable in its ability to organically cultivate digital citizens, and will go a long way to helping students become resilient, socially responsible, empathetic, competent, and creative participants in both virtual and physical spaces.  After all, education makes both the “becoming of the individual and the renewal of the common world possible,” and digital education is no exception (Pedersen et al., 2018, p. 227). 


Emejulu, A. & McGregor, C. (2019). Towards a radical digital citizenship in digital education. Critical Studies in Education (60)1, 131–147 

Konopelko, D. (2020, May 7). Post-Pandemic classrooms: What will they look like and how will they be different? EdTech.

Lindsey, L. (2018). Edvolve Framework, Evolving in the Digital Age: Digital Citizenship, Digital Age Literacy, Learner Agency. Edvolve Learning.

Pedersen, A.Y., Nørgaard, R.T., & Köppe, C. (2018). Patterns of inclusion: Fostering digital citizenship through hybrid education. Educational Technology & Society 21(1), pp. 225-236.

Saichaie, K. (2020). Blended, flipped, and hybrid learning: Definitions, developments, and directions. New Directions for Teaching & Learning 164, 95-104.

Student Flourishing in the Virtual Classroom

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There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly accelerated the rate at which schools and universities of all shapes and sizes have had to move to online teaching and learning modalities, even if only as a short-term conduit for allowing formal education to continue in these unprecedented times.  There is also no doubt that this emergency shift to online teaching has left many concerned about overall student well-being including screen fatigue, issues of access and equity, teacher readiness, social-emotional support in a digital environment, and the overall efficacy of the educational endeavor for students of all ages in digital mediums.  Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?  Or might there already be some twinkle lights strung up along the tunnel walls guiding the way? 

In this post I’d like to explore some of the evidence that already exists in support of student flourishing—particularly at the postsecondary level—in hybrid or fully online programs, as well as what best practices can be used to support student well-being in all online teaching/learning endeavors, during COVID-19 and beyond.  Thankfully, the pandemic didn’t bring about the dawn of online pedagogy in higher education, and postsecondary educators have places to turn in order to think critically (and perhaps hopefully) about student success and well-being, be it academic or personal, in the digital classroom.

Evidence of Flourishing:

Few would argue that an in-person classroom experience can be identically replicated online.  In fact, those who attempt to do so have probably done so with disappointing results.  But perhaps educators shouldn’t necessarily be trying to replicate a physical classroom experience in an online environment.  Rather, they should think of the virtual classroom as a new endeavor; it is a new context with new possibilities to explore, and online pedagogy may bring new teaching/learning benefits to the table that a physical classroom lacks. 

Indeed, there’s evidence to suggest that a hybrid of in-person and online teaching may be the very best approach to postsecondary learning—with or without a pandemic—as it capitalizes on the “best of both worlds.”  In an extensive, multi-year case study conducted at the University of Central Florida in 2004, research showed that student success in blended programs (success being defined as achieving a C- grade or higher) actually exceeded the success rates of students in either fully online or fully face-to-face programs (Dziuban et al, 2004).  Furthermore, in a meta-analysis of studies on online and hybrid learning conducted by the U.S. Department of Education in 2010, it was reported that students in online and hybrid learning programs had more gain in their learning when compared to face-to-face modalities, and students in hybrid learning courses had the largest gains in their learning among their peers in all delivery formats (Means et al., 2010).  In yet another study (Chen & Chiou, 2014) measuring the learning outcomes, satisfaction, sense of community and learning styles of 140 second-year university students in Taiwan, results showed that students in a hybrid course had significantly higher scores and overall course satisfaction than did students participating in face-to-face courses. The results also indicated that students in hybrid learning classrooms actually felt a stronger sense of community than did students in a traditional classroom setting (Chen & Chiou, 2014).

While one must make many allowances for the various emergency situations brought on by the pandemic (and that there is a distinction between emergency remote instruction and true online teaching/learning), there is plenty of evidence to suggest that well-implemented online teaching/learning can truly enhance student learning beyond what might otherwise be accomplished in a fully face-to-face environment.

Some Best Practices in Online Instruction:

Technology-mediated education is making it possible for students to participate in programs, access content, and connect in ways they were previously unable to.  Rather than viewing the Internet as a necessary evil for distance learning that ultimately begets isolated student learning experiences, digital education should, first and foremost, be connective and communal.  This means a professor accustomed to lecture-based learning in a physical classroom will need to consider a new approach in order to prioritize student voice in the learning process.  In an online context, this means there should be dynamic opportunities for students to engage in debate, reflection, collaboration, and peer review (Weigel, 2002).

If educators are going to seriously account for the rich background experiences, varied motivations, and personal agency of their postsecondary learners, they must also take into account the larger “lifewide” learning that takes place within the lives of their students (Peters & Romero, 2019). Student learning at any age is both formal and informal, and what takes place in a formal classroom environment—digital or otherwise—is influenced by informal learning and daily living that takes place outside of it.  If deep learning takes place, a student’s world and daily life should be altered by the creation of new schemas and the learning that has taken place in a formal classroom environment.  In a multicase and multisite study conducted by Mitchell Peters and Marc Romero in 2019, 13 different fully-online graduate programs in Spain, the US, and the UK were examined in order to analyze learning processes across a continuum of contexts (i.e., to understand to what extent learning was used by the student outside of the formal classroom environment).  In this study, certain common pedagogical strategies arose across programs in support of successful student learning and engagement including:

  1. Developing core skills in information literacy and knowledge management,
  2. Community-building through discussion and debate forums,
  3. Making connections between academic study and professional practice,
  4. Connecting micro-scale tasks (like weekly posts) with macro-scale tasks (like a final project), and
  5. Applying professional interests and experiences into course assignments and interest-driven research.

(Peters & Romero, 2019).

In many regards, each of these pedagogical strategies is ultimately teaching students to “learn how to learn” so that the skills they cultivate in the classroom can be applied over and over again elsewhere. This means that, where digital learning is concerned, the most important learning activities aren’t actually taking place in a large, synchronous Zoom meeting or broadcasted lecture series.

On a practical level, educators can also give attention to some of these simple “tricks of the trade” that have been proven to enhance student learning experiences in a virtual classroom:

  1. Communicate often with students to promote a feeling of connectedness
  2. Create ample space for student voice
  3. Take care that a course set-up in a learning management system is intuitively laid out, action oriented, and adaptable to student needs
  4. Give timely feedback and highlight student strengths
  5. Create opportunities for synchronous activities when possible
  6. Be explicit about expected course outcomes

(Vlachopoulos & Makri, 2019)

At the end of the day, learning and schooling no longer have the same direct relationship they had for most of the 20th century; devices and digital libraries allow anyone to have access to information at any time (Wilen, 2009). Schools, teachers, and printed books no longer hold the “keys to the kingdom” as sources of information.  Online education, then, will not function effectively as a large-scale effort to teach students information through a standardized curriculum.  Rather, education must be a highly relevant venture that enables individual students to do something with the virtually endless information and resources they have access to (Wilen, 2009).

Student Agency & Connection Lead to Student Wellbeing:

When considering how to best support student wellbeing in an online learning environment (at every level), it’s important to remember that the student is not a passive entity.  Indeed, the extent to which students are able to exercise agency in their learning can have a significant impact on their academic success, their attitude towards the learning experience, and their social-emotional wellbeing.  In this case, agency can be interpreted as a student’s ability to exercise choice and be meaningfully present and interactive in the online learning environment.

One of the significant benefits of learning management systems and digital classrooms is the existence of a platform through which resources and learning materials can be shared and posted for any length of time.  Thus, students have the ability to review online course materials at their own pace and engage at a rate that makes sense for their individual needs (Park, 2010).  Allowing students the time and space to persist in completing online learning activities can have significant impact on a students’ success in an academic course (Park, 2019).

Additionally, game-based learning activities, opportunities for collaboration in group projects, participation in threaded discussions, and dedicated spaces for students to freely express their views all assist students in taking ownership of their learning and pursuing their learning interests as those interests materialize in—and overlap with—the course content (Vlachopoulos & Makri, 2019).  These are the activities that directly impact student engagement in a course, as well as the likelihood that a student will have a positive attitude towards the learning experience.

For many traditionally-aged students navigating undergraduate studies during the pandemic, the decreased ability to connect socially with peers, faculty, and support staff has had a direct, negative impact on their academic motivation and overall sense of wellbeing (Burke, 2020).  Thus, creating time and space in the digital learning environment for social interaction, open communication, and for students to gain a sense of identity within the virtual classroom is perhaps more important than ever. 

Finally, it’s very much worth mentioning that the extent to which all spheres of life have been impacted by COVID-19—not just the classroom—is unprecedented.  Helping students think of remote learning as an opportunity for growth, one that will have challenges and limitations as well as potential and new kinds of goals that can be achieved, can help them maintain a sense of purpose and direction amidst the chaos (Burke, 2020).  Growth mindset has already been proven to positively impact student learning at all levels—what better time to remind students (and educators) of the opportunities for growth in the present.


Burke, L. (2020, October 27). Moving into the long term. Inside Higher Ed.

Chen, B. & Chiou, H. (2014). Learning style, sense of community, and learning effectiveness in hybrid learning environment. Interactive Learning Environments, 22(4), 485-496.

Dziuban, C., Hartman, J., Moskal, P., Sorg, S., & Truman, B. (2004). Three ALN modalities: an institutional perspective. In J. R. Bourne, & J. C. Moore (Eds.), Elements of quality online education: Into the mainstream (127–148). Sloan Consortium.

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., Bakia, M., & Jones, K. (2010). Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: A meta-analysis and review of online learning studies. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development.

Park, E., Martin, F., & Lambert, R. (2019). Examining predictive factors for student success in a hybrid learning course. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education 20(2), 11-27.

Peters, M. & Romero, M. (2019) Lifelong learning ecologies in online higher education: Students’ engagement in the continuum between formal and informal learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 50(4), 1729.

Vlachopoulos, D., & Makri, A. (2019). Online communication and interaction in distance higher education: A framework study of good practice. International Review of Education, 65,605–632.

Weigel, Van B. (2002) Deep learning for a digital age.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Wilen, T. (2009). .Edu: Technology and learning environments in higher education. Peter Lang Publishing.