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The Economics and Business (EB) Hybrid Learning Theatre at the UvA has received an international award from the European University Information Systems organisation (EUNIS). EUNIS chose the project as the overall winner of the Award for Best AV-Enabled Education Space.

In the Hybrid Learning Theatre, interactive lectures are given in a theatre-like setting with part of the student audience physically present and the remainder watching online. The educational theatre was developed when the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a switch to online education. Due to the many positive reactions from both students and teachers, it will be continued in the coming academic year.

The EUNIS award is a prize for the most innovative use of audiovisual technology in higher education. Universities from all over the world can compete for the prize. The criteria evaluated include educational goals, the use of AV technology, innovative design, and results. This year, there are three winners: the UvA's Hybrid Learning Theatre, CUBE35: AV-supercharged educational space at Tilburg University and the Collaboration Learning Theatre at Indiana University (USA). Of those three, the UvA was chosen as the overall winner.

‘We are extremely pleased and honoured,’ responds Maud Pols, project leader for Educational Innovation in Economics and Business. ‘We have, in a relatively short time, managed to create something quite wonderful. This is evident not only from the award, but more importantly from the appreciation of both students and lecturers. Over 80% of the students indicate they felt the interaction in the Hybrid Learning Theatre was effective. Moreover, some 70% say that they feel more involved in hybrid education in this form than in the regular lectures via Zoom. Some students even say that they like this type of education better than the ‘old’, more traditional lectures. One of the things we hear from the lecturers is that they notice students are very motivated during lectures in the Hybrid Learning Theatre. The lecturers also give the audio and video quality a score of 9, while the average score they give the overall experience in the Hybrid Learning Theatre is a 9.13.’

Dynamic, interactive and cosy

The COVID-19 pandemic brought in-person lectures with large groups of students to a halt. According to Pols, ‘That raised the question of how to keep students engaged and make online education as interactive as possible. Together with several lecturers, we came up with the idea of the Hybrid Learning Theatre.’ The 10x10m theatre was built in August 2020 and can accommodate 13 students on-site and over 1,500 students online. There is a Zoom Wall measuring 4.5 by 2.5m, on which 100 participants can be projected for real-time interaction. ‘The cosy, theatre-like setting enables us to create a sense of personal education. And working with three camera images, which are alternately displayed, makes it more dynamic for the students following along online. But it’s not just about the technology. Above all, the teaching method and support provided by the lecturer are crucial to creating genuine interaction. All these things facilitate active participation and discussions in the lecture hall and provide students with an engaging learning experience, no matter where they are in the world.’

Multiple hybrid theatres

Initially a pilot, the project is now being expanded. In June, the EB Hybrid Learning Theatre  moves to new quarters in Building M on the Roeterseiland campus (from M3.01 to M3.02). Changes will be made based on what was learned in the pilot, such as extra screens for lecturers, multiple cameras so they can look students straight in the eye, and space for over 40 students. A 2nd theatre has also been built in Building B (B1.03) and is now available to all UvA faculties.

‘It goes without saying that our lecturers can't wait to teach on campus again,, with their students live in front of them. That moment is drawing closer now that we seem to be getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control. But we still plan to continue with the Hybrid Learning Theatre in the new academic year. The experience we gain from this will be highly valuable in designing the education of the future,’ says Pols.

Pols and her colleagues will accept the award at the annual EUNIS conference on Thursday 10 June. Pols has been invited to present the Hybrid Learning Theatre at the conference, as well as at the 6th Summit on Innovative Learning Spaces in September and at Infocomm in October.