As many higher-ed institutions prepare to welcome back students this fall, the question of whether or not these students will be welcomed back online or in-campus varies from institution to institution. Some universities have come forward and said that they will re-open for in-person classes this fall, whereas others have said they will offer only online classes. The third option some institutions are offering is Hyflex classes - classes whereby students can choose if they want to learn in-person or study remotely. We’ll break down the pros and cons of hyflex learning options to help students make the right decision.
What are hyflex courses?
Higher-ed institutions such as the University of Toronto have recently announced that they will be offering Hyflex learning opportunities for their students. Hyflex courses are classes that are taught both in-person and online simultaneously. Students can choose whether they want to attend the class in-person or remain online. For some institutions, once the student makes a choice, they are unable to switch during the semester, whereas others will allow for student rotation which permits students to have both in-person and online.
Before we go into how educators can maximize student learning for hyflex courses, let’s go over the pros and cons.
Why hyflex courses are beneficial:
- Students choose what is best for them
With many borders still closed to foreign travel, international students may not be able to enter the countries for which they are studying in. For those allowed entry, threats of a second wave and further border closures may prevent them from returning home in the future. Likewise, every student has their own varying degrees of comfort when it comes to COVID, some students may not feel comfortable venturing to classes, particularly if they are reliant on public transit when COVID remains a threat.
Whereas students who want a return to normalcy, can opt for in-person classes. Students who live near campus, have private forms of transportation or enjoy being around other students and learning in-person have the ability to select the option that is best for them.
- Allows institutions to return to “somewhat” normal operation
Given social distancing guidelines set forth by governments around the world, the ability to maintain classes at capacity is not feasible – institutions faced a dilemma, on one hand there was the need to maximize student enrollment so operational costs could be covered, but on the other hand was the issue of space; schools don’t have the room to allow students to learn in socially distanced lecture halls while maintaining class quotas. 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, professors still not fully-comfortable with teaching in front of a laptop, can now return to lecture halls and have their class live-streamed for students learning at home.
While the hyflex model may seem like a win, it comes with several cons that instructors need to be aware of.
Cons of hyflex courses:
- Student disengagement & isolation
When classes were thrusted online, the challenge of professors was to ensure students felt motivated while learning online. Now that classes are in-person, the challenge of ensuring students who learn online receive the same amount of attention as those in the classrooms is present. How do you foster a culture of learning with half of your students online? How do students form bonds with one another? How do ideas flow from student to student over the in-person/online class divide? These are all questions educators must face.
- Lack of proper technology
After nearly a full semester of online classes, we know that students need more than Zoom in order to receive a quality online education. Unfortunately many schools are not prepared with the proper technology that actually improves online learning.
We found that one of the biggest gaps in online learning was the lack of personalized feedback, students cited. And nearly 80% of students say that if their schools would institute technology that allows for more personalized feedback, then they would be more inclined to enroll in courses offered online.
- Impact on foreign students
While I opened this article citing the pros of hyflex courses for foreign students, it also negatively affects them. Since classes are live-streamed, and questions are able to be answered live by instructors, what happens to students in different time-zones? How do we ensure that the needs of students who aren’t able to attend classes “live” are attended too?
How professors can prepare for hyflex courses
- Personalized feedback on assignments
Provide your students with more detailed information on their assignments & clear paths on improvement. While it may be time-consuming for educators to provide the students the levels of personalized feedback they need, consider utilizing peer to peer assessment as an option to provide your students the quality of feedback they need.
- Create vibrant online discussion groups
Creating a space that allows students to connect and engage with one another outside of the class is important. Post questions, set discussion topics or share news & jokes. Regardless of the material, the need to connect in-person & remote learners will be crucial.
- Differentiated forms of assessment
Move beyond a multiple choice quiz or standard research paper. Create assignments that engage students with course concepts at a deeper level. Consider team-based learning which pairs in-person and remote learners together to solve complex problems.
Hyflex courses may not be the perfect model, but between 100% in-person classes or 100% online classes, hyflex is the best model given the times we currently live in. While hyflex courses certainly aren’t here to stay, perhaps they’ll be the motivating factor institutions needed to invest in technologies that foster more diverse learning options for their students.