Tech takeaways from the pandemic: Using Echo 360 to extend the virtual classroom

In this Q&A, two members of the McMaster teaching and learning community share their key takeaways from teaching online and what tools can be leveraged for hybrid or in-person learning environments.

As the university works toward safely bringing more in-person experiences Back to Mac this fall, there are many key learnings to carry forward from the past year of online learning and opportunities to build on the positive student experiences that were developed.

Instructors exploring flexible and engaging hybrid teaching environments for the upcoming fall term can leverage a variety of campus supported educational technologies, including Echo360.

Katie Moisse, assistant professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Science, and Joey Riccotone, AV & IT Specialist for Campus Classroom Technologies, recently hosted two workshops on the topic of Flexible Teaching with Echo360 (Video: Session 1, Session 2). During the recorded sessions, Moisse explained that the platform is well-suited to the hybrid learning environment and is helpful to enhance student engagement.

In the conversation below, Moisse and Ricottone share their expertise on the capabilities and potential uses of the Echo360 platform.

How do we define a hy-flex learning environment at McMaster?

Moisse: A hy-flex (hybrid and flexible) learning environment is one in which students can choose to come to class or participate virtually. Importantly, they can make the choice that suits their needs from class to class. As we move forward from the pandemic, I hope we will not abandon everything we’ve learned about engaging students online. Instead I hope we find ways to bring back the in person experiences we’ve all missed while maintaining the flexibility of virtual learning that many students truly benefit from.

How can Echo360 be used by instructors to create a hy-flex learning environment?

Ricottone: Echo360 can extend your physical classroom into a virtual environment.  Inside a virtual classroom, students can participate in text-based discussions, answer instructor-published engagement polls, alert the instructor to confusing content and take notes that are dynamically linked to the presentation content.  All of these tools are available synchronously during live streamed lectures and asynchronously during subsequent lesson views.

Moisse: Echo360 also allows instructors to embed active learning slides into their slide decks. Active learning slides are questions and polls that engage students with the content they’re learning. I use active learning slides to find out what my students think and know and to allow them to see their peers’ perspectives. By combining all these features, instructors can create a high-quality in-person and virtual learning experience simultaneously. That’s a hy-flex learning environment.

Tell us about your research on hy-flex learning environments.

Moisse: I wanted to know how students would use flexibility if we offered it and whether it would hurt them academically. During the 2019/2020 academic year, I gave my students a choice: they could come to class in-person or tune in through a live stream. They could change their mind from week-to-week depending on their circumstances. At the start of each class, I used a polling slide to ask students how they were tuning in: in-person or through the livestream. At the end of the term, we used these responses to identify in-person dominant and online dominant learners.

We then looked at the engagement scores for these groups, which take into account whether students were tuned in and participating in the activity slides. We saw no difference in engagement scores between in-person and online dominant learners. We also saw no difference in final grades between these two groups, suggesting flexibility does not hurt students. Engagement scores correlate with final grades in both groups, suggesting students who are tuned in and participating tend to do well, regardless of where they’re learning. Our survey data shows that students have a wide range of flexible learning needs and feel they benefit from Echo360 in many ways. I now think we have even more reasons to provide flexibility for students—and Echo360 is one tool that allows instructors to do .

How has the past year+ changed your approach to instruction? What key lesson will you take away from this period of exclusively online teaching?

Moisse: I think I made assumptions before the pandemic about what it means to be engaged. I assumed that students who sat at the back of the room and didn’t answer questions were less engaged than those at the front with their hands up. But I no longer believe this. I think engagement looks different for different students and we should provide as many paths to engagement as possible. I think making it possible for students to join class from wherever they are and ask questions anonymously can actually increase engagement.

What other tools are part of your hybrid, flex, in-person teaching toolkit moving forward?

Moisse: I like using Echo360 in large classes but I think other tools, like MS Teams and Zoom, work better for smaller groups. And I acknowledge that some learning experiences can’t be replicated virtually. The hy-flex model may not apply to all courses. But I think we have evidence now that we can often gave students the flexibility they want — and in some cases need — without compromising the learning experience.

Additional Support

Find Echo360 support through Campus Classroom Technologies  and by contacting Joey Riccotone will also host drop-in office hours for Echo360 support each day until August 31.

To receive the link for the virtual office hour, reach out directly at or join the Echo360 channel in the Blended/Online community of practice on Microsoft Teams. Watch the recordings of the Flexible Teaching with Echo360 sessions: Session 1, Session 2.

Related Stories