“Blended” approaches to teaching and learning (sometimes also called “hybrid”) combine in-class discussion and activities with a substantial proportion of online course delivery. Done well, blended courses can combine the best of online and on-campus pedagogy, improve student learning outcomes, provide flexibility for non-traditional students, and even save institutions on classroom space and operating costs. To really maximize flexibility for students, about a dozen institutions are pilot-testing “HyFlex” courses, which allow students to seamlessly shift between attending class in person, joining in synchronously online, or catching the class asynchronously later – and they can change their mind, fluidly, from day to day. HyFlex courses might just be the best way to ensure academic continuity in the face of campus disruptions, whether floods, wildfires, earthquakes, or even… global pandemics.
This week, Ken Steele sits down (via Zoom) with Dr Jenni Hayman, Chair of Teaching & Learning at Cambrian College (in Sudbury Ontario), to learn more.
The goal of HyFlex course design is to give students access to equivalent learning experiences, whether in-person, synchronous or asynchronous. There are “affordances” to each mode of delivery: in-person and synchronous learning provides immediacy, access to body language and conversational interaction. Asynchronous learning allows students to pace themselves, reflect more, and participate online if they are uncomfortable doing so in class. Giving students choices allows them to accommodate changing life needs, from work or childcare responsibilities to inclement weather or self-isolation. Choice also helps motivate adult learners, empowering them and engaging them more.
Hyflex learning design starts with learning outcomes, with thought to encouraging active learning and authentic assessment. Only then does the HyFlex teacher start to think about technology and delivery modes, and the different activities that can happen in different spaces. How live on-campus students interact with online students depends on the approach of the faculty member, who needs to juggle the needs of three audiences simultaneously. At a minimum, all the students will share an asynchronous LMS shell, and ideally the students will support each other and help each other learn. “Leveraging the learners is where the gold is,” Jenni observes.
The challenge for faculty developing and delivering effective HyFlex courses is (naturally) finding enough time for planning, for the technology learning curve, and for maximizing use of the LMS. Hyflex takes as least as much time and effort to plan as a fully asynchronous online course. Jenni is really appreciative of the Cambrian faculty members who have been partnering with the Teaching & Learning Innovation Hub, who are open-minded and eager experimenters with pedagogy like HyFlex.
HyFlex is still a relatively new delivery method. In addition to Cambrian, there are 8 US institutions pioneering HyFlex: Ohio State University, University of Denver (University College), University of Michigan, Montana State University Billings, San Francisco State University, University of St Thomas (Minnesota), and Peirce College (Philadelphia), and Delgado Community College (Louisiana). Internationally, HyFlex is also being used at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium.
At Cambrian, 3 of the 4 HyFlex programs are graduate certificates, which appeal both to working Canadians and to international students. (The former find distance learning more flexible, but immigration requirements demand that the latter study in-person on campus.)
For successful HyFlex delivery, institutions need to think through the learner experience and the experimental mode of teaching, and ensure that there are adequate supports and expertise in place to help faculty and students alike. The most important thing we are learning right now, Jenni observes, is “digital red-lining.” Many community college students do not have access at home to broadband internet or modern computers for effective online learning. Many programs and students at community college also need face-to-face, hands-on vocational learning opportunities. The students will need additional support, encouragement and care to be successful online.
Thank you to Cambrian’s marketing office, for providing stock video footage to help illustrate this interview.
An even bigger thank you to University College at the University of Denver, for generously allowing us to use excerpts from their video, “Hyflex Lab at University College,” to provide a really helpful look at a HyFlex class in action. (Unfortunately there would be no way to film a class on campus at the moment.) You can see their beautiful 2-minute video at https://youtu.be/zwTdscUPUHo
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