The Comprehensive Guide to Hyflex Teaching
In the past year and a half or so, since the start of the pandemic and the accompanying global pivot to online learning, many educators have grown accustomed to working with a set of complex instructional terms all of which attempt to describe the many (sometimes bewildering) ways that learning happens in online environments. One of those terms is Hyflex, which describes a learning environment that combines three modalities: in-person synchronous, online synchronous, and online asynchronous.
What Is Hyflex?
Hybrid-flexible (Hyflex) is an instructional model designed to provide students with several options for content delivery. It's the most flexible model for students because it offers a variety of modalities for learning. Hyflex classrooms combine the options of in-person learning, videoconferencing, and pre-recorded lectures. Hyflex classes were designed in the mid-2000s as a method of making college classes more accessible to working adults. The educational challenges brought on by the pandemic have made this an appealing model for colleges trying to navigate offering on-campus classes along with the possibilities of necessary closures.
With so much uncertainty around classroom situations, teachers and students needed a model of education that could accommodate a variety of learning situations, from in-person classes being temporarily canceled to individual students experiencing prolonged absences from class. The Hyflex model allows students to seamlessly move from in-person to virtual learning without missing instructional time.
Although Hyflex is the most flexible model for students, it requires a lot of extra work from instructors. Essentially, instructors have to create two separate classes, one entirely online and one entirely in-person. According to Brian Beatty, who helped design the model, Hyflex classes have four core values:
- Learner choice: Participation models that allow students to choose what works best for them
- Equivalence: Regardless of instructional methods, all students achieve equivalent learning outcomes
- Reusability: Both in-class activities (via recordings) and online activities are available to all students
- Accessibility: Students are able to equally access all models
Online learning v. In-class learning
Online learning and in-class learning both offer benefits to students. In-class learning is traditionally conducted via a teacher-centered model. The teacher will lecture at certain times, assign work, and assess student performance. In-class learning is typically rigid in structure with everything occurring at predetermined dates and times. There is little in the way of adaptability for individual student needs.
Online learning, on the other hand, is highly flexible. Students are generally able to access the learning materials whenever and wherever it's convenient for them. Students also have more freedom to work around family and work obligations with online learning. The always-available nature of online learning lets students who need extra review repeatedly access the materials. Unlike a live lecture, students can rewatch recorded lectures as often as necessary. One disadvantage of online learning is that it requires more self-discipline from students.
Synchronous learning v Asynchronous learning
Online learning can be either synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous learning most closely mimics the classroom environment. Students are required to log in and participate at a certain time. Synchronous learning allows students to participate in live classroom discussions. While still being able to attend class from any location that has internet service, synchronous learning does require that learners block out specific times for classes. In synchronous learning, students can actively engage in classroom presentations and cooperative group work. It's an interactive, two-way model of online learning.
Asynchronous learning occurs completely on the student's timetable. Learners work independently and create a schedule that works for them. Students are often able to receive immediate feedback on quizzes and tests. They can still participate in classroom discussions but not in real-time. Asynchronous classes can accommodate different learning preferences. Learners can often choose how to demonstrate their comprehension of the subject as well.
The Hyflex model has been around since at least 2006. While there isn't a large body of research to back up the Hyflex model, there are studies that have evaluated its effectiveness.
A study published in The Journal of Teaching Social Work found that students stated that they preferred the face-to-face model for learning; however, they actually participated in the asynchronous model more than they predicted they would. Despite their stated preferences, only 17% of students participated only in face-to-face classes. Surprisingly, no students chose to participate in the synchronous model.
Another study of MBA students published in The Interactive Learning Environment examined student outcomes in a Hyflex course. This study found that Hyflex classrooms effectively closed the achievement gap between online and in-person students. Traditionally, students who attend in-person classes outperform online students by 9%. The researchers concluded that students in Hyflex classes who chose in-person learning performed just as well as they did in traditional classrooms, and students who chose the online option performed significantly better than they did in fully online classes.
Not as many studies have been done on Hyflex models implemented since the pandemic, but the ones that have seem to show good results. When researchers compared the performance of students in a Hyflex 300-level statistics class to the performance of students in the same class taught face-to-face one year earlier, they found little difference. The Hyflex students scored better on one quiz and the final exam, while the traditional students scored better on another quiz. Ultimately, there was no significant difference in overall performance.
Hyflex Teaching Examples
Hyflex class designs can vary widely, although they all offer traditional in-person class meetings with options for synchronous participation by virtual students as well as asynchronous resources for students who aren't participating in live classes. The success of Hyflex courses depends on the effective use of technology, course design, focus on pedagogy, and student engagement.
One widely adopted example of a Hyflex course involves teaching an in-person class at a designated place and time while a live-stream video of the class is available for synchronous online learners who want to participate. Recordings of the lecture and all of the course readings and assignments are available online for asynchronous students. To further increase student engagement, a discussion board is available for students to participate in discussion topics when it's convenient.
Courses that rely heavily on classroom discussion can be a challenge for Hyflex environments because it may be difficult for synchronous participants to hear what in-person students are saying. Effective Hyflex teaching in these types of classes can include live polling and using the chat function on the videoconferencing software. Appointing someone to read the chat replies and bring them before the class allows synchronous students to participate in a live discussion while not distracting you from teaching.
Another example of Hyflex teaching is using breakout channels for small-group work. Using a collaborative document such as Google Sheets also has the benefit of serving as an artifact for asynchronous learning. You can list the questions at the top of a column on a Google Sheet and assign each group a set of rows to record their responses. After the small group discussions, you can assign one member from each group to discuss their answers in front of the class. Once the class is over, the document can be posted in the class resources.
Tips for Hyflex Course Design
While designing a Hyflex course does take more work than planning a single-model class, it doesn't necessarily take twice as much work. To reduce your workload and make your courses effective, however, there are some unique considerations that go into planning Hyflex courses.
Know Your Technology
Before you can plan a class, you need to know what your technology is capable of and how it works. Ask a colleague or your TA to act as a student so you can do a dry run to work out any problems you're likely to encounter. Use this time to decide on the best layout for your classroom to make sure your synchronous students are just staring at the back of your head during the lecture. You can also test out the range of your microphone to find out if you can move around the class or you need to say close to your podium. If you're using a whiteboard, check to see how it looks on camera. You may need to move it to decrease glare or use thicker markers that will show up on the camera. You should also make sure you know who to contact for technical support if any issues arise.
Make a Plan to Engage All Students
Provide guidelines to all students regarding in-person and online norms. Let them know what technology you'll be using for all aspects of classroom participation. During your lectures and discussions, make sure you're devoting equal time to online and in-person students. Choose a method of discussion that lets online students participate. While a TA can monitor chat discussions, make sure that your online students aren't exclusively dealing with your TA while your in-person students have most of your attention. Building in collaborative documents and live polling into your classes will foster engagement across modalities.
Make Materials Easily Accessible
Posting announcements, instructions, and procedures before class begins can minimize confusion and time wasted during class. Provide access to the materials they will need during class ahead of time to synchronous students, including access to instructions, collaborative documents, engagement opportunities, and assessment plans. Once the class is over, post the video as well as class discussions and collaborative work online for asynchronous students.
Provide Options for Asynchronous Class Participation
Although they can't participate in a live discussion, providing a channel for asynchronous students to contribute to discussions and collaborative projects will increase their engagement. You can do this by setting up a classroom discussion board that's available to both in-person and remote students. With students communicating through so many different modalities, identifying a clear focus of discussion will help focus student participation regardless of its form.
Clearly Define Learning Outcomes
Regardless of how students participate, clearly communicating what they should be learning will help eliminate confusion. Talk to students about how Hyflex can support the learning objectives and discuss strategies for getting the most out of whichever module they choose. It may help to discuss the mindset shift that's needed to get the most out of a Hyflex environment. Since students will have more options available to them than they'll need, you may have to help guide them on choosing an appropriate path for their particular circumstances.
Assign Roles in the Classroom
Let your TA know what they can do to provide assistance. A TA can offer just-in-time help to students who are having technical problems, present chat discussion questions to the class, and visit breakout rooms during small group work. In addition to your TA, assign roles to your students. You might consider setting up a buddy pair of one synchronous learner and one in-person learner. The in-person learner can connect with their remote buddy to ensure that they are able to participate fully during class activities.
Plan for Cross Module Learning
When you're designing your class avoid creating two different experiences. Although some students may choose entirely one modality and stick with it, most will likely choose different modes at different times throughout your class. Plan your asynchronous learning to work seamlessly with in-person classes so that a student who doesn't attend class one week can jump in the next week without feeling behind.
Check in With Your Students
Before you start the semester, you can survey your students to get an idea of what their plans and preferences are, as well as making sure they have access to the technology and resources they'll need. During class, make sure to provide opportunities for students to ask questions and provide feedback regarding any challenges. You may want to offer virtual office hours to accommodate all types of learners. Once students have settled into the semester, follow up to find out what's working and what's not working. Find out if you need to refine any aspects of your course plan to encourage student participation and success.
Although Hyflex learning wasn't designed in response to pandemic-related learning challenges, it's a method that's uniquely suited to meet them, nonetheless. Additionally, designing a Hyflex course allows you to move beyond traditional methods of teaching and incorporate a wider variety of learning opportunities and activities into your class, including options that may not have been available before such as having guest lecturers. Giving your students control over their learning process allows them to customize their education to suit their needs.