The Future is Hybrid, Part I

Actually, it already is.

Some years ago, I started saying “the future is hybrid” in my talks about technology in teaching. I think the first time was in Montreal, at the Digital Transformations conference, which later became a book. When I said it, people in the audience looked at me funny, like I was talking about cars or corn.

To me, the funny thing about the puzzled reaction is that we were living hybrid lives then, and we still are. This is a fact we have mostly forgotten - but how about some examples to jog your memory? Many of us still drive an analog car, but we use a navigation system to find our way - is that you? We still write handwritten grocery lists, but we keep our calendar on our phones - is that you? We can receive a call or a photo on our watches (Dick Tracy style) but we still read paper books - is that you? I could go on. Instead, please take a pause here and think of a way your current life is a hybrid mix of analog and digital. Go ahead - I’ll wait.

We can lament these changes. Please fill in soliloquy about the special smell of paper books here. You’ve heard it, I’m sure.

We can worry about how far this goes. Please fill in soliloquy about how robots are going to be doing all of our jobs here. You’ve heard it, I’m sure.

But neither of those things are going to happen, not in our lifetimes, and likely not ever. We will always have paper books. But we will also read on a Kindle (or similar device). Robots will do some jobs they can do better than humans, but we will always need humans to program them, run them, and maintain them.

In education, the debate is about online vs. in-person instruction. But it not an either/or choice. The goal is hybrid instruction, just like everything else in our lives.

A few weeks ago, I opined about how in the pandemic we are missing an opportunity to learn how to use online instruction more effectively and to make our teaching more student centered and personalized. Thinking of the future as hybrid is our only way to that end. There is an incredibly interesting discussion we need to be having in education about how to mix what technology is good at with what in-person is good at. But the switch back and forth between one or the other - in a binary fashion - has been confusing for everyone, students and teachers alike. And because of that, we have fallen back to “surviving but not thriving.”

Indeed, we are, for the most part, “stuck at substitution.” That is, we are trying to recreate the in-class experience in the cloud, without taking the time to think through what parts of the in-class experience could be improved by the smart use of online technologies. A helpful frame with which to think of this problem is the SAMR model. The goal we want to get to is illustrated as follows: we want to move from Substitution, to Augmentation, to Modification, and finally to Redefinition.

We can do this. We learned an important lesson last March: we can be very nimble and adaptable. Some of our smartest and most determined minds in the world are teachers. If we can focus on creating a new kind of hybrid education, rather than trying to return to normal, we will emerge from the pandemic on an upward trajectory.

More on this topic, and the SAMR model, in future letters.

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Letters of Recommendation

We cannot, for the most part, travel right now. Which is definitely a bummer. But you can invite Graciela, a Chef in Mexico, into your kitchen to teach you how to make street tacos. Airbnb Experiences are great fun, take an hour or two, and are affordable. There are many great “travel” experiences you can have without the travel. (And, psst… they make a great Valentine’s Day gift!)

Q of the Week

The Q of the Week is a Question:

What are you doing in your teaching to move toward Redefinition of what and how you teach?

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