Several higher-ed institutions are preparing for students this fall. The question of whether these students will be welcomed back online, or in-campus varies from one institution to another. Some universities made a statement and vowed to re-open for in-person classes in the fall season. The others have said they will offer only online classes. The third option some institutions are offering is Hybrid-Flexible or Hyflex classes. These hybrid classes give students options whether they want to learn in-person or study remotely. Let us break down both the pros and cons of a hyflex learning option to help students make the right decision.
What is Hyflex Learning?
Hybrid-Flexible or Hyflex course design presents hybrid learning components in a flexible course structure. Its hybrid-flexible course design offers student choice to participate online, attend a class session, or do both. This setup permits students to change their attendance by topic or weekly based on students’ preferences or need.
Hyflex model of class integrates online synchronous video sessions, in-class instruction, or asynchronous course content delivery. Instructors need to deliver the class as they do in a regular classroom. However, students may also take part in the class via a class session recording or video conferencing.
Thankfully, this offers the most accessibility and flexibility for remote students.
What are hyflex courses?
Higher education institutions just like the University of Toronto recently announced their offering for Hyflex learning opportunities to students. Hyflex courses are higher education classes which are taught in-person and online simultaneously. Students can choose whether they want to attend the class in-person like the face-to-face strategy or remain online. For some academic institutions, once the students make their choice, they are not allowed to switch during the semester, whereas others will allow for student rotation which permits students to have both in-person/face-to-face and online.
Before delving into how educators may be able to maximize student learning for the hyflex courses, let us go over their pros and cons first.
Why a hyflex course or hyflex model is beneficial:
1. Students choose what is best for them
Many borders are still closed to foreign travel due to the pandemic. This makes the international students unable to enter the countries in which they are studying in. For those students who are permitted to enter, second wave threats and further border closures may prevent them from returning to their home in the future. Likewise, students have varying degrees of comfort when it comes to dealing with COVID. Some students may not feel comfortable venturing to hybrid classes, particularly if they are reliant on public transit when COVID remains a threat. Accessibility to learning activities becomes thin.
Meanwhile, students who do want to be back to normal may go for in-person classes. Students who are living near the campus have private transportation. These students enjoy being around other students and active learning in-person has the ability to select the option that is best for them.
2. Allows institutions to return to “somewhat” normal operation
The governments around the world set social distancing protocols and guidelines. This makes their ability to maintain classes at capacity is not feasible. The thing is that institutions encountered a dilemma carrying out edu modalities these days. On one hand, there was the need to maximize student enrollment so operational costs could be covered. On the other hand, the issue of space is at stake. Schools do not have the room to allow students to learn in socially distanced lecture halls. This is rightly done while maintaining class quotas. Which is why the hybrid classes are now being offered.
A move to continue online learning into the fall was not feasible given that 60% of students surveyed said online classes have impacted their education.
Furthermore, educators or professors are not yet fully-comfortable with teaching in front of their laptop may now be able to return to lecture halls and have their class live-streamed for students learning at home.
While this hyflex model seems like a victory, it also comes with a number of drawbacks that instructors need to be aware of.
Cons of Hyflex Courses in a Hyflex Classroom:
1. Student disengagement & isolation
When classes were thrust online, the challenge of professors was to ensure students felt motivated while learning online. Given the in-person classes today, the challenge for students learning online receive the same attention as those another in the classrooms? How to foster a learning culture with half of the class are remote students? How do students form bonds with one another in this hybrid-flexible course design? How the ideas flow from one student to student over the in-person/online class divide? These are all questions educators must face as student engagement is at stake.
2. Lack of proper technology
After nearly a full semester of online classes, we know that students need more than Zoom, webcam, podcast, or video conferencing in order to receive a quality online higher education. Unfortunately, many schools are not prepared with the proper technology that improves online learning outcomes.
Studies indicate lack of personalized feedback as one of the biggest gaps in terms of online learning, as students cited. Nearly 80% of students say that if their schools would institute technology that allows for more personalized feedback, they would be more inclined to enroll in courses offered online. Enrollment for hybrid classes would be a bit of success.
3. Impact on foreign students
While I opened this article citing the pros of hyflex courses for foreign students, it also negatively affects them. Classes are live-streamed, and questions are able to be answered live by instructors. What happens to students in different time-zones then? How do we ensure that the needs of students who aren’t able to attend classes “live” are met too?
How professors can prepare for hyflex courses
Limited movement outside every household now becomes the new norm leading to the new learning experience in higher education. This poses to instructors as they need to focus on and plan for several audiences. This can be a great student choice for an online course but an extra challenge that professors need to prepare.
1. Ensure the provision of accessibility of hyflex learning for learners
Take into account the accessibility that every student may have when you are planning for learning activities and designing the significant course materials. The captions in all the videos used in the class need to be accurate. Spend extra time for students in need of assessment in online quizzes or exams. The bottom line is, ensure the accessibility of all the materials necessary in the entire course.
2. Personalized feedback on assignments
Provide the higher edu students with detailed information about their assignments & clear paths for improvement. While it may be time-consuming for educators to provide the students with the levels of personalized feedback they need, consider utilizing peer to peer assessment as an option to provide your students feedback quality that they need.
3. Create vibrant online discussion groups
Creating a space that allows students to connect and engage with one another outside of the online class is important. Post questions, set discussion topics, or share news & jokes are some of the viable participation modes. Regardless of the course material, the need to connect in-person & remote learners will be crucial.
4. Consider the application of technology in the classroom
Rooms may vary in terms of using technology. Some online classrooms may have webcam and laptop while some may have built-in audio, recording, and full-video capabilities. Try to view training videos showing the functionality of technology set in the classroom. Perform a test run whenever possible before the first class starts to make certain that you are good to go and be comfortable during the lecture.
5. Differentiated forms of assessment
Opt for a multiple-choice quiz or a standard research paper. Develop assignments which engage the students with course concepts at a deeper level. Consider team-based learning which pairs in-person and remote students together to solve complex problems. This is where student engagement becomes critical.
Although Hyflex courses are the perfect learning model, between 100% in-person classes or 100% online classes, hyflex is the best model given the times we currently live in. While the hyflex courses are not here to stay forever, perhaps they’ll be the motivating factor institutions needed to invest in technologies that foster more diverse learning options for their students.