[dropcap]M[/dropcap]any, if not most, college students work part- or full-time jobs while going to school. They often find it difficult to be at a specific place at a specific time a number of times a week to attend their courses, and as a result often miss classes. Online instruction is an alternative that offers anytime and anywhere learning, but most students still prefer the face-to-face learning environment.
Enter the HyFlex approach to blended learning. HyFlex blended learning comes from two key terms: 1) Hybrid
– a combination of online and face-to-face instruction; and 2) Flexible –
something that is modifiable, moldable, changeable. In short, the HyFlex approach gives the power to students
to decide the blend of instruction. Better yet, HyFlex blended learning gives power to each unique student
to determine their personalized blend.
Unlike traditional hybrid courses, which have a predetermined schedule for the face-to-face portion of the course, the HyFlex model gives students the option of attending either face-to-face, online, or via video feed of the live event. Students choose on a week-to-week basis which modality of instruction will work best for them at that time. Some students may choose to do the entire course online, others entirely face-to-face, and still others via video conference. Yet other students may want or need some combination of varying modalities of instruction and can only know what they need as the semester progresses. The HyFlex approach is what I’ve referred to as student-centered blended learning. Students appreciate it and it has actually helped me to become a better teacher.
makes a personal choice each week
to participate in any one of the following modalities:
- Attend a traditional face-to-face class
- Join synchronously by utilizing Zoom video-conferencing software
- Complete asynchronous online learning exercises that were equivalent to exercises completed in the face-to-face classroom
As a teacher, I create a lesson plan that can work regardless of modality of instruction. A simple example from one week of content can more clearly illustrate this. During a course in social welfare policy, the learning objective for one week of content is for students to learn how to do some basic analysis of social welfare policies. The lesson plan for this unit includes various activities such as: brief mini-lectures; quizzes on readings/lectures; matching exercises; individual brief writing exercises; small group debates; and written reflection exercises.
Student attending face-to-face
Students who choose to attend face to face are placed in small groups of 4–6 students and provided with a worksheet that they use as the class progresses. The worksheet includes prompts for writing exercises, the matching exercises, quiz questions, or some other activity. Students complete the worksheet and use it in group discussions as the class progresses. Generally, there is a class debrief or I will make comments after each exercise. At the end of the session, students upload the competed worksheet on the LMS so that I can see their work throughout the class and ensure that they were engaged on the various tasks.
Students participating via Zoom
Students who plan to attend class via Zoom must to notify me at least 24 hours prior so that I can set up the necessary equipment and make groups size adjustments. If there is a large group of students joining via Zoom, they are placed in an equivalent group to the face-to-face students. If there is a small number of students via Zoom, they will be integrated with a face-to-face group. They follow along just as the face-to-face students completing the worksheet as the class progresses and then upload the completed worksheet to the LMS at the end of the class session. I can call on them to respond or share comments with the full class and they can interact with face-to-face students if they are placed in a group with them. When there are 4–6 students joining via Zoom they can be placed in a breakout room where they can discuss and debate as per the lesson plan.
Students completing asynchronous activities
Following the completion of the face-to-face course, I create an online equivalent of all tasks on the LMS for the asynchronous students. For example, I’ll record a mini-lecture for students to watch. Student reflection exercises are posted in the LMS and students prepare written responses and submit them right within the LMS. Some exercises are individual while others require group interactions—such as a debate. I impose due dates for the various online exercises, generally with the first half of exercises being due on one day of the week and the second half of exercise, which often includes follow up discussion board posts, due later in the week. The assignments that students complete in the LMS are equivalent to the assignments on the worksheet that the face-to-face and Zoom students complete. The only difference being that it is broken up into individual assignments that are completed and graded within the LMS rather than one worksheet.
When I originally pitched this approach to an instructional designer he guessed that by the end of a semester I would be teaching to an empty classroom and my students would simply move online. I’ve been surprised with what I’ve experienced.
The first surprise was that in all of the weeks that I have offered all three modalities, not a single student chose to join via video-conference. It appears that if they have time free, students will just come face-to-face rather than utilizing the video-conference approach. In terms of the mix of face-to-face and asynchronous students, there is almost always a core group of students who know they learn best and have a strong preference for face-to-face instruction and choose to come every week to the face-to-face class. I can generally count on about third of students to be there. There is clearly another group of students who would prefer to take the course fully online who never come to face-to-face sessions. But there is also a group who are true “blenders.” They may come face-to-face when they don’t have to work or when they’re concerned about a major assignment and then participate online the other weeks. There will also generally be students who want to attend face-to-face every week but can’t because of work obligations or an extended illness.
Overall students have had a positive experience with this approach and learning outcomes have been essentially the same regardless of modality. The approach has been particularly helpful to students who become ill or who experience anxiety in social settings. Rather than having to tell students who can’t come that they will lose points, they can simply complete the asynchronous activities, stay on track, and do well in the course.
Why not just offer an online and a face-to-face section?
In my experience there is a significant percentage of students who choose to do everything online and a significant percentage who choose to always come face-to-face. Why not just offer one section online and one face-to-face and call it good? I can think of at least two responses. 1) Even if you remove the students who prefer fully online or fully face-to-face, there is still a significant percentage of students who complete a customized blend of the two approaches. 2) Class size—our institution prides itself on manageable class-sizes. Most of the classes I teach are between 20–35 students. In the social work program, most of our courses only have one section. We do not have the numbers to offer multiple sections. The HyFlex approach allows us to serve the unique needs of each student without having to offer a unique section for each modality. Other institutions with very large class sized may be able to more easily categorize students and offer more sections. That is not an approach that fits with the mission of my department or institution.
It is worth the extra work?
My institution is primary teaching focused. Students are put first. The HyFlex approach ultimately benefits the students, but it also benefits the institution and my department. As a teacher, I care deeply about student learning. I care less about the modality, location, and in some cases even the pace of learning. Frankly, I just want to help students learn. The reality is that students need flexibility to balance school, life, and professional responsibilities. If I can better serve them and help them to more effectively learn, that’s what I’m going to do.
Ben Malczyk is an assistant professor of social work at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.