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Hybrid/HyFlex Teaching & Learning

What is HyFlex? How does it work? What are some strategies for getting started? This guide helps instructors answer these questions by providing an overview and practical strategies for setting up HyFlex activities.

For more information, please explore Module 5: HyFlex Essentials in the Hybrid & Online Teaching Institute, a self-paced CourseWorks course.

View this HyFlex Classroom demo of Mudd 627 at Columbia University as presented by Columbia University Information Technology (CUIT) on July 22, 2020.

What is HyFlex?

HyFlex combines the terms “hybrid” and “flexible.” Hybrid learning refers to learning that integrates complementary face-to-face (synchronous) and online learning (asynchronous) experiences in service of intended learning objectives (see CTL’s guide on Blended Learning to learn more). All students in a hybrid course are expected to undergo the same combination of online and in-person activities. In contrast, the “flexible” aspect of HyFlex is that students are given choice in how they participate in the course and engage with material in the mode that works best for them over the course and from session to session. 

In HyFlex courses, students can choose from one of three participation paths: 

  1. Participate in face-to-face synchronous class sessions in-person (in a classroom)
  2. Participate in face-to-face class sessions via video conference (e.g., Zoom)
  3. Participate fully asynchronously via CourseWorks.  

A HyFlex class makes class meetings and materials available so that students can access them online or in-person, during or after class sessions. All students, regardless of the path taken, will achieve the same learning objectives. 

Departments or schools may specify what amount of the three modes can count for full participation in a HyFlex class. Please check with your school or department for pertinent policies.

Getting Started with HyFlex Course Design

Brian Beatty, Associate Professor of Instructional Technologies at San Francisco University, and editor of  Hybrid-Flexible Course Design (Beatty, ed., 2019) presents four core values informing HyFlex courses:

  • Learner Choice — The course provides alternative participation modes that are meaningful and allow students to choose the mode of engagement that works best for them.
  • Equivalence — The modes, though not equal, provide equivalent learning outcomes. All students are expected to reflect, contribute developing ideas, and interact with their peers in the process of learning.
  • Reusability — Artifacts from learning activities in each mode are captured and can be reused in other modes. Representations of in-class activities (recordings, discussion notes, etc) are available online for all students; activities produced by online students (asynchronous discussions, posted files, etc) connect to and support all students.
  • Accessibility — Students are equipped with the technological resources and skills to equally access all participation modes. Universal Design for Learning principles are considered.

To start to consider these values in the context of a HyFlex course or session you would teach, the following worksheets from Beatty’s monograph may be useful. The first (“Analyze and Confirm or Modify Expected Student Learning Outcomes”) can help you define learning objectives that apply to all students, whether they are in-person or online. The second (“Plan Student Learning Activities”) can help you start to think about learning activities that would map to those objectives for each group of students.

  • Analyze and Confirm or Modify Expected Student Learning Outcomes Worksheet (Figure 1.4.2 in Beatty, 2019)
  • Plan Student Learning Activities (Content and Interaction) Worksheet (Figure 1.4.3 in Beatty, 2019)

View example plans for a 50-minute and 75-minute class session from Kevin Kelly of San Francisco State University. 

HyFlex Class Set-Up

HyFlex setups vary widely. Classes can run in rooms outfitted with video conferencing installations, but can also run in more typical classrooms using podium projectors and student laptops or tablets. 

Video conference software such as Zoom generally connects in-person and remote students to the synchronous class, as illustrated in Figure 1.

A typical HyFlex set-up for lecture classes, in which information flows primarily from the instructor to students, entails two cameras and distributed microphones, as illustrated in Figure 2 and 3. 

In smaller classes, more distributed arrangements of cameras and microphones have been deployed. Figure 4 is an illustration of a “personal portal” setup at Michigan State University. In this arrangement, devices with cameras for remote students are distributed to in-person student “buddies.” 

Different approaches to setting up and running HyFlex activities may be seen in case study videos from the 2013 Blended Synchronous Learning project in Australia, which offer several glimpses of classes in action: Technology and Education, Investment Management and Finance, Health Informatics, Statistical Analysis, Introductory Chinese, Sexology. Information about these implementations can be found in Bower, et. al., (2014), Blended synchronous learning: A handbook for educators

Fig. 1Fig. 1: The interplay of a HyFlex class: Instructor, face-to-face students, and remote students linked by video, audio, and chat technologies. In the background of this setup, the course management system (at Columbia, CourseWorks) hosts materials and interactions for the whole class.

 

Fig. 2

Fig. 2: A lecture-orientedHyFlex setup, centering on an instructor presenting to students.

 

Fig. 3

Fig. 3: A touch panel for the HyFlex setup in Figure 2 allows the instructor to toggle between pre-sets for camera A, the camera trained on the front of the room, and camera B, which provides  remote students a view of their in-person peers. 

 

Fig. 4

 

Fig. 4: A distributed video model for a smaller seminar, from (Bell et al., 2014).

 

 

 

Be sure to check your classroom’s set-up before the start of the semester. If you can, test out the technology and adjust your HyFlex plans accordingly. 

We Can Help

The Center for Teaching and Learning can assist you as you design your HyFlex course! Schedule a consultation with a CTL staff member.

HyFlex at Columbia

At Columbia, the School of Social Work has been successfully integrating remote participation into face-to-face classes for several years (Marquart et al., 2018). General recommendations from experienced HyFlex instructors in the CSSW program include the following:

  • Preparatory guidance for both instructors and students ahead of the HyFlex course on ways of creating and maintaining community.
  • Flexibility for when technology fails or students have difficulty with access.
  • Designation of a dedicated TA or student associate to assist with technology and chat monitoring during the class session, to lessen the cognitive load on the instructor. See details about this assistance at the end of this module.
  • Consideration of setting up camera views to give remote participants a sense of participating in the class, in addition to viewing the instructor or slides.

HyFlex Strategies

How does one engage all learners in a HyFlex course regardless of the path students chose? How does an instructor manage interactions that are occurring in-person and online simultaneously? 

The following strategies can help address these common questions. 

 

Engage All Students 

Include in-person and remote learners
For live class sessions, it is important to design and plan for inclusion of in-person and remote learners. 

  • Devote attention to both in-person and remote synchronous students. 
    • If teaching as a team with a co-instructor or TA, ask them to monitor the chat and address remote questions, or share contributions in real time. 
    • If teaching on your own, consider asking students to take on the role of chat monitor on a rotating basis, and/or build in specific moments when to address remote participants directly. 
  • Ensure that online students can view and hear what is going on in class. 
    Camera vantagepoint is important to consider. Keep within a camera’s view if they are lecturing. Rather than keeping the remote students’ view trained on the instructor and/or slides at all times, consider switching their view during appropriate moments so they can see their in-person peers; this view provides them with a sense of community.
  • Be aware that students are on view to you and each other in different ways in a HyFlex class. Remote students may feel more exposed during whole class discussions than their in-person peers: when they speak, their faces can occupy a full screen, in contrast to in-person students whose faces are generally aggregated on a screen. This disparity has led to experiments with stationing individual remote students on devices controlled by in-person “buddies” or “advocates” to even out exposure and participation, as detailed at the end of this section.

 

Make materials accessible
HyFlex instructors repeatedly emphasize the importance of pre-class announcements, instructions to students for testing equipment or features, and explicit written directives during class activities to minimize the chance that class time is wasted managing confusion about how to engage (Bower et. al., 2014). 

  • Post all materials that students will need for a synchronous class session ahead of time in CourseWorks; emailing or sharing Google Doc links in the moment can lead to remote synchronous students scrambling to find or access files, and thus falling behind their in-person peers. Similarly, a mechanism for all students to turn in work they develop in class should be set up in CourseWorks ahead of time. 
  • Post recordings of class sessions and plan for engagement with the materials. This benefits all students in a hyflex course, not just those participating asynchronously. Access, and a sense of participating in the class, goes beyond downloading or posting artifacts in CourseWorks; ‘hooks’ or ways to engage in the material after class session are important to create for asynchronous students. These hooks can entail live discussion threads, prompts for annotating or further developing slides or other materials presented in class, peer editing exercises, or interactive reflection or journaling prompts. 

 

Promote student interaction
Create community through activities that engage all students. Connecting in-person and remote students to each other in a HyFlex class involves strategy and creativity,

  • At the start of a course, build in activities that create a sense of belonging and motivation among all students, whether or not they are in the same room or on the same screen. 
    • Set up community-building activities that require universal participation and distributed attention; these could be as simple as staging a ‘wave’ across all students, pairing students between zones to introduce each other to the rest of the class, or setting up call and response activities in chats or discussion boards. (Marquart et al., 2018). 
    • Live polls and collaborative documents can give in-person and synchronous remote students quick ways to express themselves and work collectively. Questions or provocations posted on discussion boards can help asynchronous students step into the flow of class. 
  • During discussions and presentations, consider ways to incentivize students to pay attention to and learn from their peers connecting to the class in other modes. 
    • This could entail designating cross-mode ‘buddies’ as described later in this section, assigning writing or annotation projects to be completed by cross-mode groups, or staging presentations that are prepared by students in one mode for those in another. 
    • Peer editing and peer assessment, drivers of interaction and metacognition in traditional classes, can carry the additional benefit of connecting students across modes of engagement, thereby potentially exposing them to a greater variation of perspectives and helping them to form empathy for peers in very different situations.  

For case study descriptions of various HyFlex activities in college classrooms, see Beatty,  2019, and Bower et al., 2014.

 

 

Supporting Roles in the HyFlex Class 

Facilitating a HyFlex class is complex enlisting co-facilitators or assistants with defined responsibilities can help with managing the interaction and engagement. 

Teaching assistants
In addition to traditional TA roles, TAs in HyFlex classes can provide crucial technical and monitoring support during class sessions. These can include:

  • Helping the instructor test equipment and software ahead of class, perhaps adopting the position of a remote student in order to help surface any technical or access issues.
  • Loading up class materials into CourseWorks ahead of time, ensuring that materials there or elsewhere are accessible to all students.
  • Attending to Zoom or another remote interface of a class, switching cameras or screen views as necessary to ensure that remote synchronous students can see and hear their instructor, class materials, and classmates whenever necessary.
  • Monitoring a live chat session to ensure that remote students are not experiencing technical problems and are clear about directions–and offering just-in-time help when needed.
  • Monitoring chat, polls, or online documents  in order to relay or elevate questions or input from remote students to the instructor, thereby helping to keep the class connected.
  • Setting up online breakout rooms and visiting them during small group activities, to ensure that remote students are clear about what to do, to answer questions, or to gather feedback to share with the instructor.
  • Ensuring that class recordings and materials generated during class are appropriately archived in CourseWorks and accessible to asynchronous students.
  • Answering questions or providing input to discussion boards after a class session, to draw in and engage asynchronous students.

It may help to share with the TA(s) the mapping you have done between learning objectives that apply to all students, and the different ways that in-person and remote students can demonstrate achievement of these objectives.

Designated students
HyFlex instructors without designated TAs will need to designate students in the class to perform some of the activities listed above or provide other assistance. This assistance should be very clearly delimited, to limit the amount of cognitive overload on the student. It can help to designate a very specific role with defined expectations, such as a Chat Monitor in class who will raise their hand anytime a remote student answers a question during discussion. This roll can then be assigned to a new student each class, distributing the responsibility and bolstering inclusion.

Peer ‘buddies’
In smaller classes such as seminars, HyFlex instructors have successfully paired up in-person and synchronous remote students into buddies. Each in-person student has a device with a camera connected to their remote buddy, and takes responsibility for positioning the camera, consulting with their buddy, and making sure their buddy is able to contribute to discussion. This decentered approach has the advantage of immersing remote students into the class, though audio logistics, especially during any think-pair-share activities between the buddies, need consideration (Bell et al., 2014).

References

Beatty, B. J., ed. (2019). Hybrid-Flexible course design: Implementing student-directed hybrid classes (1st ed.). EdTech Books. Retrieved from https://edtechbooks.org/hyflex

Bell, J., Sawaya, S., & 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), 68-82.   

Bower, M., Dalgarno, B., Kenney, G., Lee, M., & Kenney, J. (2014). Blended synchronous learning: A handbook for educators. Retrieved from http://blendsync.pbworks.com/f/ID11_1931_Bower_Report_handbook_2014.pdf

Bower, M., Kenney, J., Dalgarno, B., Lee, M.J.W., & Kennedy, G.E. (2014). Patterns and principles for blended synchronous learning: Engaging remote and face-to-face learners in rich-media real-time collaborative activities. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 30(3), 261-272.   

Leijon, M. & Lundgren, B. (2019). Connecting physical and virtual spaces in a HyFlex pedagogic model with a focus on teacher interaction. Journal of Learning Spaces, 8(1), 1-9.  

Malczyk, B.R. (2019). Introducing Social Work to HyFlex blended learning: A student-centered approach. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 39(4-5), 414-428.  

Marquart, M.S., Englisher, M.G., Tokieda, K.J., Samuel, V. Standlee, J., & Telfair-Garcia, A. (2018, Nov. 16). Can online students be fully integrated into residential courses via web conferencing? Lessons learned from two pilot courses at Columbia University. Workshop presented at the Online Learning Consortium Accelerate Conference, Orlando, FL, and also streamed for a simultaneous virtual audience, and also streamed for a virtual audience via Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite.

Miller, J.B., Risser, M.D., & Griffiths, R.P. (2013). Student choice, instructor flexibility: Moving beyond the blended instructional model. Issues and Trends in Educational Technology, 1(1), 8-24.

Raes, A., Detienne, L., Windey, I., & Depaepe, F. (2019). A systematic literature review on synchronous hybrid learning: Gaps identified. Learning Environments Research.  

Resources

Newsletters from The Chronicle of Higher Education on Teaching: 
Teaching: How To Engage Students in a Hybrid Classroom (July 9, 2020)
As more colleges move to a form of teaching in which some students are in the classroom and others attend remotely, instructors wonder how it’s possible to engage everyone.

Teaching: Making Hybrid Teaching Work for You (July 30, 2020)
Teaching experts answer questions on how to deal with the challenges of teaching some students in person and the rest remotely.

Teaching: Your Questions About Hybrid Teaching Answered (Aug. 6, 2020)
An online-teaching expert gives advice on challenges around limited technology and active learning in large-enrollment courses.

HyFlex Course Design Examples
View examples of a 50-minute and 75-minute class session from Kevin Kelly of San Francisco State University. 

Center for Teaching and Learning
The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) offers a variety of programs and services for instructors at Columbia. The CTL can provide customized support as you plan your HyFlex course through implementation. 

The CTL researches and experiments.

The Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning provides an array of resources and tools for instructional activities.