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. 

© 2021 Teaching and Learning Toolbox

Soundtrap –A Cloud-Based Application and Podcasting Tool to Create 21st Century Student Creativity and Collaboration Skills

Soundtrap

As we have learned over the last year, providing students alternative ways to creatively collaborate in a remote environment is essential.  The cloud-based application Soundtrap is a digital audio workstation (DAW) that provides students and instructors with an alternative remote collaboration option. Soundtrap also supports the development of student critical thinking and creativity skills.  These skills are important for 21st-century learners to practice as they prepare for the future workforce. 

Soundtrap started in the Spotify community as a cloud-based recording studio to create and collaborate on music. However, Soundtrap also provides a platform for students to collaborate on course audio projects, such as podcasts or virtual presentations.

There are numerous ways to incorporate Soundtrap into any course.

  • Interviews:  Students can interview professionals about their careers, classmates about various topics, such as internship experiences, or explore with alumni – life after graduation.
  • Job Seeking Support: Students can record a mock interview and receive instructor feedback.
  • Presentations:  Students can record, practice, and critique presentations, add audio to a presentation or use the platform to debate differing viewpoints.
  • Project-Based Learning (PBL):  Users can add audio to PBL activities and provide classmates the opportunity to give peer-review feedback.
  • Portfolios: Students can capture their work and share it with future employers
  • Assessment: An excellent tool for incorporating alternative assessments, especially for students who prefer to be heard but not seen.
  • Study Tool: A study tool students can use to read, record, and reflect on what they have learned.
  • Knowledge Sharing:  Students can create an instructional resource that can be shared with classmates to enhance understanding or discussions.
  • Soundtrap also works well with Waklet (January 2021).  Students can create a Walklet account to organize their Soundtrap project(s).

Instructors may also find Soundtrap useful. Teachers who flip their classrooms can record tutorials that students can listen to asynchronously.  The recordings not only provide students flexibility but also allows them to rewind and repeat as needed.  Instructors can also use Soundtrap to facilitate learning conversations in an asynchronous environment by recording and broadcasting group discussions.

Soundtrap can be integrated with most major LMS systems or shared through Microsoft Teams or Google Classroom applications. Instructors can also share Soundtrap with a URL link.

Soundtrap is easy to use and start using.  All that is required is access to a computer and headset.  Students can enroll themselves in Soundtrap with either an instructor-provided class code or URL link. If students elect to set up a Soundtrap group, they can; then invite the teacher to their group.

Instructors can also import students into Soundtrap from a CSV file. A temporary password can then be emailed to students to modify after their first log-in attempt. Soundtrap also lets instructors invite other teachers or industry professionals to groups.  This is an excellent way for these individuals to be involved in interview or mentoring activities. For instructors who want to control who can collaborate, Soundtrap permissions provide this option.

To get started in Soundtrap, simply enter the studio, and start recording. You do not have to worry about being perfect. Soundtrap has a simple editing feature, which converts the audio to text. This lets you edit your recording like you were editing a Word document.

Best of all, Soundtrap has a free version that works well for short-term projects, especially if students set up their groups and invite the instructor to join the group. Low-cost paid versions are also available under Soundtrap for Education.

Regarding accessibility and compliance, Soundtrap is accessible on any browser and from various devices.  Soundtrap is also guaranteed COPPA, GDPR, and FERPA compliant, which provides students with a safe and secure environment for creative collaboration.

Finally, Soundtrap can be downloaded as an MP3.  The MP3 files allow users to store on their computer, import into an LMS or share on YouTube.

To learn more about Soundtrap for Education or to set up an account, go to https://www.soundtrap.com/edu/#.

©2021 Teaching and Learning Toolbox

Bring Your Course Content to Life with Wakelet!

If you are looking for a technology tool that will engage students and bring your course content to life, Wakelet is the tool!  Unlike some apps, there is only one version of Wakelet. The free version! Additionally, there are no limitations or required upgrades; instructors can create unlimited collections and spaces, invite an unlimited number of participants or contributors, and users can create multiple accounts if desired. 

Wakelet is easy to use and works seamlessly with most learning management systems. It also works with multiple other educational technology tools, such as Flipgrid (February 2018), Kahoot (November 2017), and Microsoft Teams (March 2018). It is accessible and inclusive. Partnered with Microsoft, Wakelet utilizes Microsoft’s Immersive Reader, which enhances accessibility and inclusivity in your courses. The text-to-speech reader is as simple as clicking an icon.  The Immersive Reader also provides language translation.

There are multiple ways to utilize Wakelet in a course. For instance, do you currently use student resource packets? You can easily convert these manual resource packets using Wakelet into engaging, online content.  Do you utilize Microsoft Teams with your students or colleagues? If so, you can share Wakelet Collections with team members. You can also bookmark or save links to your Wakelet Collections directly from Microsoft Teams.

Do you encourage students to become self-directed learners? If so, you can embed videos into Wakelet to explain a topic, allowing students to rewind and repeat the concepts as often as needed. You can even embed a self-assessment Kahoot quiz after a Wakelet learning activity. Allowing students to repeat assessments until they have mastered the concepts or have reached the assessment deadline. 

Flipgrid can also be used with Wakelet to create an engaging activity that facilitates class discussion. Create a discussion Q&A session or enhance your discussion board activities. This type of interactive engagement helps students improve their critical thinking and communication/collaboration skills. It also helps students learn to be concise with their responses.

Wakelet Spaces helps instructors get organized. For instance, you can organize your Flipgrid discussion responses by activity. This arrangement allows instructors to build a collection of discussion responses that students can use for future reflection activities. Additionally, today many students learn better when they can communicate verbally rather than in writing.  Wakelet, combined with Flipgrid, provides a simple way to give students oral formative assessments to showcase their knowledge.

Since many students use various mobile devices, Wakelet’s mobile app is convenient for students in remote learning environments. Mobile access allows students to collaborate across devices and from any location. Students can join a Wakelet Collection by scanning a QR Code, entering a Collection’s code, or pasting a Collection’s URL. Students can also utilize the app without creating a Wakelet account.  

From enhanced resource sharing, assessment, project collaboration to eFolios, Wakelet is a versatile tool that will enhance your teaching toolbox and improve your students’ learning experience. 

Are you ready to use this engaging technology tool? To get started, you can sign up for your free account at https://wakelet.com/. Be sure to check out Wakelet’s free templates and learning resources (blogs, guides, videos).

©2021 Teaching and Learning Toolbox

2020 Year End Review

Many of us are ready for 2020 to end and to turn the page to 2021.  As our semester and 2020 come to a close, we feel that it is a great opportunity to reflect upon the fantastic technology tools and topics that we explored throughout the year.  A great resolution for 2021 is to integrate one new tool into your classroom environment.

Mentimeterhttps://teachingandlearningtoolbox.wordpress.com/2020/01/

Grammarly https://teachingandlearningtoolbox.wordpress.com/2020/02/

Remote Learning Tools for Successhttps://teachingandlearningtoolbox.wordpress.com/2020/03/

Zoomhttps://teachingandlearningtoolbox.wordpress.com/2020/04/

Go Soap Boxhttps://teachingandlearningtoolbox.wordpress.com/2020/05/

Improve Your Virtual Meetings & Classroom Presentationshttps://teachingandlearningtoolbox.wordpress.com/2020/06/

Accessibility Compliance Tools https://teachingandlearningtoolbox.wordpress.com/2020/07/31/

Futureproof Employees and Students with Data Analytics Training – https://teachingandlearningtoolbox.wordpress.com/2020/08/31/

Duet (Second Monitor Without a Cost)https://teachingandlearningtoolbox.wordpress.com/2020/09/30/

MURALhttps://teachingandlearningtoolbox.wordpress.com/2020/10/

Krisp for Noise Free Meetings & Recordings https://teachingandlearningtoolbox.wordpress.com/2020/11/

We look forward to exploring more teaching and learning technology tools throughout 2021.

© 2020 Teaching and Learning Toolbox

Accessibility – Free Technology Tools and Tips for Compliance

During Spring 2020, COVID-19 forced many face-to-face courses to shift to remote learning abruptly. This shift posed numerous challenges for instructors, including how to provide accessible course content. While the pandemic forced institutions and instructors to be flexible or even allowed short-term exceptions for specific requirements; accessibility standards were not waived.  Instructors were still responsible for making sure that their courses were accessible and in compliance.  Markus and I recognize that complying with accessibility requirements can feel a bit overwhelming. Therefore, we want to share a few tips to demystify the concept of accessibility as well as provide some free tools to simplify making your asynchronous and synchronous courses compliant.

Let’s start by discussing accessibility best practices.  First, a common thought is that accessibility requirements only need to be met if students request accommodations.  In reality, remote courses need to be accessible even if no student accommodations are in place.  Regardless of the delivery format (asynchronous vs. synchronous), there are several accessibility best practices to consider:

  • Course design – We recommend that you use a simple and consistent format. Take a few minutes to look at your course through multiple lenses.  Ask yourself, if you could not hear, see, or had other disabilities, could you successfully navigate this course?  If not, make the appropriate changes.
  • Communication – It is important to make sure your instructions are clear for all course activities. Remember, in a remote environment, you will not be as readily available to your students as you might have been in the classroom. Ask yourself, if you did not know anything about the presented materials, would you know what to do?  If not, add the appropriate clarification.
  • Learning Management System (LMS) Tools – Most LMS systems (i.e., Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle, etc.) have built-in accessibility support tools. Be sure to use these when they are available. These tools and resources will simplify the task of making your course compliant.
  • Third-Party Applications – Do you use third-party tools? Homework managers, or other applications?  If so, are these third-party applications accessible?  If not, you may consider using different resources.  Third-party applications that are accessible will have an accessibility statement.
  • Hyperlinks – It is important to describe any hyperlinks used in your course. Avoid using generic terms for links, such as “Assignment,” “Quiz,” etc.  The link should describe the activity and its content, such as “Chapter 2 Assignment”.
  • Images – It is also essential to use descriptions that clearly describe all images shown in your course. If possible, avoid using images just for decoration.  All images should have a purpose and add value to the learning experience.
  • Font – The bigger the font, the better. San serif fonts are the best for accessibility. Additionally, Word documents should typically use a font that is 14-point or larger, and PowerPoint slides should use a font 24-point or greater.
  • Color – When using color in your course, always consider color-blind students or those who are visually impaired. It is best to use contrasting colors, whenever possible.  Avoid red and green, but if you must use these colors, try to use darker versions for clarity.  Colors like blue and orange tend to be better.
  • Captions – Captioning your course content is one of the biggest challenges or concerns for many instructors. It is perceived to be very time-consuming. Additionally, there is often the misconception that captioning is just for students who are hearing impaired. However, captioning can be helpful for a variety of other students as well. For example, ELS/ELL students (English Language Learners).

Markus and I are often asked the question, “Where do we start?”  There are several free tools available for you to use.  Some of these tools you already use on a regular basis.

Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office provides a free accessibility checker tool that can be used with Excel, OneNote, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Word.  This accessibility tool is available for Office Online, as well as Windows and Mac users.

Word and PowerPoint are probably the best-known applications that allow you to create and share accessible documents.  Accessibility features in Word and PowerPoint can be turned on for accessibility checking while you work, or you can verify accessibility before saving the document.  The Microsoft accessibility checker not only verifies accessibility; it also provides recommendations for compliance, such as inserting alternative text (Alt Text) for images and properly formatting headings.  When creating accessible Word documents, avoid using features such as SmartArt, text boxes, headers, and footers.  When creating accessible PowerPoints, consider selecting a template that offers contrasting colors and avoid using the Design Ideas feature.  While some Design Ideas templates are compliant, many others are not.

PDF

PDFs are another way to share accessible documents.  If you have the professional version of Adobe Acrobat, you can use the accessibility check feature for any documents (created by you or others).  To create an accessible PDF, Markus and I recommend that you start with an accessible Word document. It is important to use the “Save As” feature to convert your Word document to a PDF, rather than printing the document to a PDF.  The “Save As” option helps retain the original accessibility features in your new document.  Most accessible Word documents easily convert to an accessible PDF; however, it is always a good idea to double-check the accessibility of your new document for accessibility and make modifications as needed.

Videos and Virtual Meetings

Course videos and virtual course meetings also need to meet accessibility guidelines.  Videos should be captioned, visual content needs to be described using Alt Text, and video players need to be user-accessible by mouse and keyboard.  Video controls should be appropriately labeled so that screen reader users can access all the video features. A few of the video players that support accessible content include YouTube, Vimeo, and Panopto. You may find Panopto as a free feature in your school’s LMS.

Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR)

Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology is continuously improving, but the technology is still not 100% accurate.  Accuracy of converting speech to text can be affected in various ways, including excessive background noise, the speaker’s accent, voice tone, or volume.  If you use a script to record your videos, then you already have your captioning transcript created.  If you do not use a script, there are several free captioning options available.  Regardless of the captioning method you use, it is essential to review your captions and make corrections as needed.

Closed-Captioning vs. Live-Captioning

Asynchronous courses typically use closed captioning.  Alternatively, live-captioning is generally used with synchronous courses since it happens in real-time.  Closed-captions allow course participants to opt-in or opt-out of displaying the caption. In contrast, live-captioning is always displayed, for all participants. Closed captioning is easy to translate into multiple languages, and captions can be modified.  In comparison, live-captioning is typically available only in one language and cannot be modified or saved.  Not all platforms support closed captioning, but accessible video players like YouTube, Vimeo, and Panopto do.

The accuracy standard for closed-captioning is higher than for live-. For closed captioning, the goal is 99% to 100% accuracy rate.  Markus and I have found that verifying video captioning accuracy is quick and easy when you record shorter videos (less than 15 minutes). Shorter videos also are more engaging for students, so it is a win-win!

Live-captioning standards strive for the highest level of accuracy considered reasonable under the circumstances.  Using technology tools that have a high speech to text accuracy level dramatically improves the quality of the live-captioning experience for students.  Technology tools like PowerPoint, Google Doc/Slides, G Suite – Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom all have live-captioning options.  As previously mentioned, usually, live-captioning cannot be saved for future use, but Zoom’s “closed-captioning” feature does have the ability to archive live session captions.

The topic of accessibility may still feel a bit overwhelming, but once you find your tools and perfect your processes, accessibility compliance can be very manageable.  Do not forget to use your Disability Services and Distance Learning offices for support and assistance.   They can be great resources.  An accessibility resource for web content that may also be useful is the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) Quick Reference.

©2020 TeachingAndLearningToolbox.com