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Teaching in a Hybrid Environment

In June and July of 2020, as hybrid learning was becoming widespread, the Mandel Foundation–Israel's Innovation and Digital Learning Unit offered a series of virtual sessions on learning in digital environments to the faculty and staff of the Foundation's leadership programs in Israel

Teaching in a Hybrid Environment

Years from now, when many of us recall seeing Zoom for the first time in 2020, we will also remember a little virus that changed the course of human history, altering the way we live, work, and study.

The COVID pandemic presented us with a new reality in all areas of life, both social and professional. This new reality is dictating substantial changes in our educational activities, including our teaching methods and styles of learning.

Around the world, some 1.3 billion students of all ages have suddenly shifted to home learning, without the structured timetables and organized spaces that have characterized formal education over the last century. Like them, we at the Mandel Foundation–Israel have also had to adopt new, hybrid work arrangements, shifting flexibly between different settings and platforms so that we can continue our work and study from almost anywhere at any time. 

In this context, the most dramatic change caused by the pandemic has undoubtedly been in “distance learning,” which previously supplemented face-to-face learning but has suddenly taken center stage. The coronavirus pandemic has brought solutions that were previously marginal into the mainstream, and the constraints of the situation have brought the inherent advantages of these solutions to the fore. As a result, the Mandel Foundation–Israel launched a series of online events on hybrid learning in order to explore the issues arising from these new realities.

Is a new pedagogy developing before our eyes? Can we really create a different combination of teaching and learning methods? Fellows of the Mandel leadership programs explore questions of identity, culture, and multiculturalism, learning about the nature of leadership and the meaning of acts of leadership. What are the theoretical and practical aspects of teaching and learning processes as they relate to this new situation? How can we lead change and create innovative new processes?

Through shared learning opportunities, the "Teaching in a Hybrid Environment" series, led by Gila Ben-Har, manager of innovation, pedagogy and digital learning at the Mandel Foundation–Israel, sought to create discourse and debate that would give participants an understanding of the tremendous opportunities being created in pedagogic contexts, and to enable them to experience these opportunities firsthand. The sessions offered Mandel faculty members a window onto learning in hybrid environments. This article reviews the first three events of the series, which introduced participants to internet culture, to the innovation it has fostered, and to the new forms of pedagogy stemming from these.

Online Culture Meets Learning

The first online session, titled "Online Culture Meets Learning," examined internet culture and the opportunities it offers for learning. We met with Professor Sheizaf Rafaeli, president of Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art, who previously founded and directed the Center for Information Society Research and headed the Center for Internet Research and the Internet Lab at the University of Haifa.

Professor Rafaeli examined the internet as a network of interpersonal connections. He discussed the transition from the analog age of the printed word to the digital age.  Is it possible to teach, learn, and educate via computers and networks, or do these actually represent a threat to the education system?  In his view, we are advancing toward a better world, but should not ignore the criticism.

Professor Rafaeli described internet culture as having eight characteristics that share the common motif of death: the death of the book in its original form; the death of distance, time, and center, which disappear on the internet; the death of privacy; the death of discourse, which has become harsh and inciting; the death of memory, as technology remembers for us; the death of truth, as algorithms become more important than facts; the death of the classroom as we know it, and the death of the promise.

The World of Learning Reinvents Itself

The second lecture in the series, “When the Whale Turns Over: The World of Learning Reinvents Itself,” was led by Avi Warshavsky, founder and CEO of the MindCET EdTech innovation center and and one of the leading figures in EdTech both in Israel and in the international community. He presented a conceptual approach to mechanisms of disruption and how they are expressed in the current digital revolution, and outlined a possible strategy for action in these areas.

Warshavsky discussed the concept of disruption and of Clayton Christensen’s theory of “disruptive innovation,” and examined the implications of this theory for education and learning during the coronavirus pandemic. He provided contemporary examples of disruption, such as Netflix's disruption of cinema, Uber's disruption of the taxi industry, Airbnb's disruption of the hotel world, and Wikipedia's disruption of the world of encyclopedias. In the world of education and learning, the disruption may be less obvious, but the trends are similar. The large increase in the number of students being homeschooled, the learning that is made possible by online courses, and the learning that is springing up around YouTubers, all are examples of disruptive processes that are becoming more developed in the world of education.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the process of disruption, to the point at which 80% of students in the world are currently not attending school. Distance learning has been accelerated, educational institutions have been weakened, the role of parents in education has changed, and end-user devices such as smartphones have become essential. According to Warshavsky, this is a process we cannot ignore; we must reimagine the world of learning.

A New Pedagogy: On the Nature of Learning in Hybrid Environments

The third session of the series featured Dr. Cecilia Waismann, VP of research and development at MindCET, who is at the forefront of educational research in Israel. Her lecture, “A New Pedagogy: On the Nature of Learning in Hybrid Environments,” focused on the impact of today's realities on pedagogy, and explored the implications of the revolution we are currently experiencing for concepts such as literacy, education, and learning.

Dr. Waisman examined the new pedagogy of the digital age from an optimistic perspective by exploring five main challenges that she sees as offering great opportunity. She stressed that while areas of our lives such as healthcare are already hurtling toward change, education is still frozen, and must climb aboard. Additional challenges include the challenge of uncertainty, which is both a weakness and an opportunity; the challenge of accessibility and connectivity, where opportunity lies in machine learning and artificial intelligence; the challenge of leading change via students and by using new forms of thinking, such as harnessing YouTubers as leaders of learning; and the encounter between people and machines, in which augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence offer new opportunities for the world of learning.

Dr. Waismann wondered who will change the rules of the game in education and to what extent the structure of the education system determines pedagogy, and perhaps prevents change. She discussed the issue of attention economy, which is driving a new pedagogic approach, as well as a number of other trends, including entrepreneurship and innovation, self-regulated learning and personalized learning, and the emergence of hybrid learning. She concluded her session by stating: “In order to ensure that the world of education remains relevant to students, we must understand the new learning environments and develop pedagogic strategies that support students’ development as citizens of the world.”