Teaching in HyFlex and Blended Learning Environments

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many educators, including Cathy and myself, into teaching in virtual learning environments.  Since the goal was to keep students and faculty safe from COVID-19, some us were introduced to new teaching models.

First, we need to define our teaching and learning models (NOTE: Some schools use different terms for these models).

LVL: Live Virtual Lecture

Hybrid: Students watch/prepare outside of class and then have a live component

Blended: (Live-Combined) On-campus in class students and LVL

HyFlex: Blended + Asynchronous option

NOTE: In a prior Teaching and Learning Toolbox Tip of the Monthpost we discussed several organization tips to aid in delivering a quality virtual lecture. https://teachingandlearningtoolbox.wordpress.com/2020/06/

In this post, we want to address the complexities and challenges of teaching in a HyFlex learning environment.  In any learning model, but especially the HyFlex model, we need to address the following items:

Image created by Amanda White – University of Technology Sydney – Australia

Similar to the Blended learning model, one of the biggest challenges in HyFlex is managing the people (students) in the live classroom and in the LVL.  How are LVL students allowed to ask questions?  Instructors need to decide if LVL students will use the chat feature, raise their hand and be called upon, or just unmute themselves and ask their question.  There is often a delay in questions from the LVL students while they type in chat or by the time that it takes for an instructor to see a virtual hand raised.  The interactions with the LVL students, many times will disrupt the flow of the class.  Some instructors have found that subdividing their classroom into separate in-person student question and LVL student question periods help with their classroom organization.  Furthermore, it is vital that the faculty teaching in Blended and HyFlex learning models receive appropriate training to teach in these models.  Training is required for both pedagogy and for the technology used in the course delivery.

Many times, having the appropriate technology and understanding of how to effectively use it can be the biggest challenge for instructors.  The pandemic forced institutions to quickly change course delivery models mid-semester.  Many students, faculty, and schools did not have the appropriate technology to support the new learning models.  At some institutions, students and faculty were loaned equipment and resources to accommodate the new classroom environment.  In several situations, the loaned equipment was too old or too scarce to provide a successful transition for the students and faculty.  Many individuals were forced to purchase new equipment themselves to adjust and assist with this new style of learning.

In the HyFlex learning environment, classrooms need to be equipped with multiple cameras, multiple microphones, innovative computer stations, and maybe even a document camera.  The biggest challenge in the HyFlex delivery is managing the equipment and technology.  Many times, the instructor feels more like a movie producer instead of a teacher.  Managing the LVL and in-class students, while producing an asynchronous recording can be difficult to achieve.  Furthermore, the school may have significant firewalls that prevent access to certain material to the LVL students.  I encountered issues with trying to show a short video in class.  The LVL and asynchronous recording could only receive the audio feed, since the video feed was blocked by a firewall.  Most of the time, I brought my own laptop to the classroom to avoid similar issues.  The best option is if the instructor has a separate person (teaching or graduate assistant) to run the equipment and technology while the instructor concentrates on teaching.  Cathy and I do not have this option, therefore, we have asked in-person students to monitor the chat for questions.  Furthermore, pausing and restarting your asynchronous recordings can be an additional challenge.  Cathy and I try not to have extensive recorded idle time when students are working on in-class exercises.  In addition, many times we will pause the recording when students ask questions.  In our experience, students ask questions more freely when they know that they are not being recorded.  After we answer the live student questions, we will restart the video recording and summarize the question and answer portion of the course.  We have received positive feedback from our in-class students because the recorded summaries help them with their notetaking.

Unfortunately, we have found that Institutional Workload Policy regarding HyFlex is not consistent.  Many schools will count a HyFlex course as one course load and other schools recognize the complexity of teaching this model, and will consider it as two or three course loads.  The HyFlex model is a tremendous amount of work and when institutions treat it the same as a normal in-class lecture course load, it can be unfair to the instructor.  The size of the class section and the level of support from the school can further complicate teaching in this learning model.  We encourage everyone to fully understand the challenges in teaching in the HyFlex classroom model, including how you will be compensated, before starting this endeavor.      

Cathy and I cannot stress enough that being organized and consistent is essential to successfully teaching in the HyFlex learning model.  Students require consistent structure and they do not react well when the rules get changed throughout the semester.  Also, keeping the students engaged can be an issue.  To increase engagement, we use polling questions and breakout rooms in our virtual learning environments.  Students appear to enjoy the flexibility of the HyFlex learning model.  But, be prepared for students switching modes of delivery during the semester within the HyFlex environment.  Some institutions require students to stay in the same mode of delivery throughout the entire semester, but many schools allow students to choose their mode of delivery on a weekly basis.  With COVID-19, I had students that were forced to switch delivery modes due to quarantine requirements.  Luckily, the HyFlex model allowed the students to fully participate and successfully complete the course during their quarantine period. 

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