The HyFlex Teaching Model: Balancing challenges with innovative teaching strategies

HyFlex courses offer an adaptable approach to course delivery, providing students with the autonomy to choose their mode of attendance. Students can participate in person, online synchronously, or online asynchronously—on a session-by-session basis. However, this flexibility does not sacrifice the rigor of the course; instead, it depends on and reinforces best practices in teaching.

A Week in the Life of a HyFlex Course

Imagine a student who is taking a HyFlex course that you are offering:

On a Monday one of your students logs into class at the N-Gate Charging Station at SEATAC airport. They are actively engaging in the discussion with students that are in Gruening, and a few Nanook hockey players that are in Minnesota. Despite the physical distance, collaborative documents and interactive tools keep everyone in sync, as they work through a group project together. When the student at SEATAC hears the announcement that boarding has begun for their flight, they let their classmates know that they have to take off, but will catch up on what they missed by watching the recording that is published after the class and checking out their group’s collaborative Google Doc.

Oh no! It’s Wednesday and there is no internet access for the student during class time. Nothing to worry about though; the student switches to asynchronous and finds the time to review the class recording, and jump into the provided course materials, while benefiting from personalized feedback. They see the work their group members have done and see the notes that were left for things that they have been assigned to do. Quiet study time allows for a productive work session that does not depend on real-time interactions.

It’s Friday and the student now finds themselves back on campus. The student decides to join class in person from the scheduled time from a classroom in Gruening. The big presentation goes flawlessly as they demonstrate how HyFlex can accommodate and improve diverse teaching and learning styles.

Balancing the Modes: Challenges and Strategies

While one of the strengths of the HyFlex model is its adaptability, it doesn’t come without challenges. Communication between modalities can be tricky, but assigning roles that facilitate cross-mode participation is an effective solution. For example, assigning a “discussion leader” from the online synchronous participants to summarize key points for in-person and online asynchronous participants can be a useful approach. This concept ensures that each student, regardless of their location, is an integral part of the class dynamic.

Diagrams depicting the structure of interactions in various contexts.
Hyflex course design must include equitable and rich interactions between all students in a course, no matter the modality. This diagram summarizes some of the communication interactions that were studied for quality in (Bell, Sawaya and Cain, 2014).

A change in modality requires the instructor to leverage their best teaching practices even more. HyFlex requires thoughtful design and execution, but it simplifies learning. Coursework must be designed to be meaningful and equivalent across all modes so that each student can effectively collaborate as their modality changes throughout the course. Assigning roles that utilize the strengths of each of these modalities is essential.

Another challenge of HyFlex courses is avoiding cognitive overload due to the use of several communication channels across the modalities. Bowers et al. (2014) referenced a study of several learning activities that took place in a hybrid environment. One strategy that many of the instructors in the study found to reduce overload was to utilize in-person students to help facilitate communication with online students. This allowed the instructors to focus on the delivery of course content, rather than needing to check communication channels for engagement. This can be done by assigning roles to the in-person students. Depending on the ratio of in-person to online students, one effective strategy was to pair every online student with an in-person student. This allowed the in-person student to be the conduit of communication for the online students.

Pedagogy should drive the technology in the classroom, not the other way around.

(Bell, Sawaya and Cain, 2014)

There is also the challenge of choosing the appropriate technology for your classroom to facilitate a HyFlex course. In 2010, Michigan State University conducted a study on the first cohort of students that enrolled in their new hybrid program. The study followed this cohort through the completion of their program, and one of the most significant pieces of feedback provided by the instructors was that technology works best when it fits, and that pedagogy should drive the technology in the classroom, not the other way around (Bell Sawaya and Cain 2014). Courses that attempted to change pedagogy and design to fit a specific set of technology were not successful. Courses were more successful when the technology used to facilitate HyFlex was not forced into the course. However, there are many resources for you at the Institution and the Center for Teaching and Learning to choose the appropriate technology that does not change the overall course.

Benefits of HyFlex

Whether they are called HyFlex, “HOT” (Here or There), blended or hybrid courses, the idea of supporting students in multiple modalities has been around for some time now, but it was COVID-19 that propelled them into the limelight. We didn’t have much choice during that time, but as we further distance ourselves from 2020, it is important to notice the positive impact that those hybrid courses provided students, and determine the value these courses have in 2023 and beyond. Thinking about the week in the life of a HyFlex course above shows how valuable this could be not just for all of higher education, but for UAF specifically.

Once the work of building the course is complete, the flexibility given to the student greatly simplifies their learning and provides the students the autonomy to choose which modality will fit them on a class by class basis. As discussed in Beatty (2019), the HyFlex model is based on four fundamental values:

  1. Learner Choice: “Provide meaningful alternative participation modes and enable students to choose between participation modes daily, weekly, or topically.”
  2. Equivalency: “Provide learning activities in all participation modes which lead to equivalent learning outcomes.”
  3. Reusability: “Utilize artifacts from learning activities in each participation mode as ‘learning objects’ for all students.”
  4. Accessibility: “Equip students with technology skills and equitable access to all participation modes.”

These four values are the pillars of a HyFlex classroom, and create an innovative learning experience for students.

Support for HyFlex Transitions

There have been many studies, including the ones cited here, that indicate the burden of transitioning to HyFlex is the design and construction of the course. The studies also point towards teaching a HyFlex course with the appropriate technology requiring a similar amount of energy as a regular synchronous course. Since the burden of moving to HyFlex is the building of the course itself, there is a team of Instructional Designers at the CTL that would be happy to work with any instructor who is interested in transitioning to a HyFlex model, or at least have a conversation about it. Please request a consultation, and we can begin talking about what this transition would look like.

For more information about Hybrid Teaching and Learning, Hagemeijer et al. (2022) literature review titled “Hybrid Teaching & Learning” is an excellent resource with an abundant references section.

References

Beatty, B. J. (2019). Values and Principles of Hybrid-Flexible Course Design. In  B. J. Beatty (Ed.), Hybrid-Flexible Course Design. EdTech Books. https://edtechbooks.org/hyflex/hyflex_values;

Bell, J., Sawaya, S. and Cain, W. (2014) ‘Synchromodal classes: designing for shared learning experiences between face-to-face and online students’, International Journal of Designs for Learning, 5(1);

Bower, M., Kenney, J., Dalgarno, B., Lee, M. & Kennedy, G. (2014) ‘Patterns and principles for blended synchronous learning’, Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 30(3), 261 – 272;

Hagemeijer, R., and Dolfing, R. (2022). Hybrid Teaching & Learning. A literature review. Educational Consultancy & Professional Development. Geraadpleegd van https://www.uu. nl/onderwijs/onderwijsadvies-training/kennisdossiers/kennisdossier-hogeronderwijs/dos-en-donts-in-hybride-onderwijs.

Smith, B. and Gallardo-Williams, M. (2020). The Hyflex Course: An Alternative for Teaching in Difficult Times. Faculty Forum. https://ofdblog.wordpress.ncsu.edu/the-hyflex-course-an-alternative-for-teaching-in-difficult-times/

Zach Cureton-Hazard

Zach Cureton-Hazard

Instructional Designer

zcureton@alaska.edu

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *