The HyFlex teaching model has drawn considerable attention recently as an alternative to the online, face-to-face, and hybrid teaching models. A HyFlex course is offered both face-to-face and online at once. But instead of dividing course activities between the two modes, as a hybrid course does, a HyFlex course offers all the activities in both modes and allows students to choose which mode they would like to use. Students can even go back and forth between modes during the course. Brian Beatty (2020) notes that there are two ways to implement HyFlex teaching. The first, remote viewing, involves broadcasting the face-to-face session to students not in attendance. In the second, dual tracks, a traditional online course is run simultaneously with a live course. Below I examine both forms of HyFlex, the challenges with each, and how to implement them during the pandemic.
Remote viewing is the simplest option as it merely requires placing a camera in the face-to-face course, miking up the teacher, and broadcasting live to YouTube or any of a number of other video-hosting sites. That broadcast can also be recorded for students who could not attend synchronously. I recommend having a dedicated camera operator rather than just leaving a still camera at the back of the room; it is very hard to maintain concentration on a small figure walking back and forth in front of a stationary camera. Plus, people may stand up in front of the camera, and the viewer is unlikely to hear anyone asking a question.
But what this method gains in simplicity, it loses in effectiveness. It treats the online viewer as an afterthought, and can give them the impression of peeking into the lecture hall from the rafters. The online medium is fundamentally different from the face-to-face one. Nobody wants to watch someone speak in front of a camera for 45–70 minutes, and it will not take long for the viewer to lose attention.
The instructor will also need to find a way to involve online students in in-class activities. If the instructor asks students questions during class, online students could be given a chat room to type in answers. The chat could be visible to the instructor on their computer; they can then repeat the comments to the live audience or, better yet, broadcast them to everyone through an in-class projector. Another option is to have remove students use videoconferencing software such as Zoom to both view and comment via video, again broadcast through the in-class projector. That way, if a remote student wants to speak, they can click the hand-raising icon in the videoconferencing system, and the instructor can pick them to speak to the entire class through the projector and speakers. This would help bring the online students into the live class, though it would be tricky for the instructor to juggle in-class and remote commenting at once. But this method would likely require a dedicated technician to manage. In-class quizzing is easier to handle as both online and in-class students can use the same app (e.g., Kahoot!) to answer instructor questions.
Including online students in in-class group activities is a bigger challenge. If an instructor wants to break the class into small groups for discussions, they can put the online students into similar groups using videoconferencing breakout rooms. Again, the institution would need to assign a staff member or perhaps student to set up and manage these rooms as the course is running. It would be easiest to assign the groups and rooms at the beginning of the semester so that students know which room to jump into whenever a group discussion is called, but in a true HyFlex class that allows students to either come to class or watch online, those breakout rooms cannot be assigned ahead of time because it will not be known which students will come or stay home on any given day.
In any case, video conference group discussions will be preferable to in-class discussions in a situation of social distancing. Assuming that the institution will want to keep students at least six feet apart this fall, there might not be enough space in the classroom to separate students. Even if there is, students will need to speak to each other from a distance, leading to a cacophony of noise. It might be that instructors will need to give up all in-class group activities during the pandemic, though one workaround is to have students text each other from their seats. It might look odd, but students are used to communicating like this.
The dual-track model of running a regular online course in tandem with the face-to-face course gives the online students content that is designed for them. A typical in-class lecture can be converted into short videos in the digital storytelling style of narration with images, graphics, animation, and the like. The instructor can put questions after each video to help with retention or incorporate them right into the videos using systems such as EdPuzzle.
Not only does the dual-track option provide the online students with better learning content, but it also gives them the option of choosing the mode that works best for them—the underlying goal of the HyFlex model. The online students who view videos can rewatch parts they missed or did not understand the first time. But other students might need the structure of having to be in class at a designated time to avoid missing classes. Some students might even want to do both. Those with jobs or sports conflicts on particular days can do the online version of the class then, and students who attended the in-class version might go home and go through the material again online if they believe they missed important points in the live class. Perhaps having the same material delivered by different modalities will help it click for many students.
The big drawback of the dual-track model is that it means more work for the instructor. An instructor who needs to monitor both the face-to-face and online versions of the class may end up doing twice as much work. Plus, if students are allowed to choose their mode on a day-to-day basis, the instructor will need to keep the two tracks in sync. Instructors often fall short of covering all the material they expected to cover in a given class and catch up in the next class or just skip it. But then some students may not get the same content as others, creating a problem for assessments.
While the HyFlex model has been looked at as a response to COVID-19, it does not work in its pure form of allowing day-to-day choice because of the need to split up the class for social distancing. Institutions cannot assume that on any given day no more than the maximum number of students needed for social distancing will show up, and so instructors will need to assign students to one mode or the other at the beginning of the semester.
Despite these issues, the HyFlex model holds promise as a means of better serving the needs of all learners, and I do not doubt that it will become more popular in the coming years as the distinction between traditional, full-time, on-campus students and working adult, part-time students continues to be blur, making flexibility in learning more valuable.
Lederman, D. (2020, May 13). The HyFlex option for instruction if campuses open this fall. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2020/05/13/one-option-delivering-instruction-if-campuses-open-fall-hyflex
To sign up for weekly email updates from The Teaching Professor, visit this link.