What Is Hyflex, and Why Do I Keep Hearing About It?

November
2021
Erin Heasley, Reedley College Instructional Designer

Note: The following article is not an official statement of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges. The article is intended to engender discussion and consideration by local colleges but should not be seen as the endorsement of any position or practice by the ASCCC.

Before March 2020, the efficacy and importance of online learning was a debate for many college instructors. Now, eighteen months later, faculty are still grappling with how to provide quality instruction in the face of a pandemic intent on sticking around. Hyflex is one solution that many see as a panacea to current and future online teaching woes. Reedley College has adapted hyflex, one of the potential long-term strategies for student-centered online learning, to build a blended interactive learning pilot program.

Hyflex

Brian Beatty first introduced hyflex learning in 2006 at San Francisco State University (Beatty, 2019). A true hyflex class will offer three different modalities simultaneously and allow the learner to choose between those modalities on a session-by-session basis (Whalley et al., 2021). The three modalities Beatty suggests are asynchronous or fully online, synchronous engagement via a mobile streaming platform like Zoom, and face-to-face instruction (Lohmann et. al, 2021).

To create a class with all three modalities rolled into one, instructors need to build backward, meaning that an instructor would approach the course as though it were a completely asynchronous, fully online course. The instructor would build out all the modules and upload all course content as though the only interaction with the students would be online. This process ensures that students that choose to engage asynchronously have full access to all materials. From there, the instructor would build in Zoom links and prepare for synchronous engagement and then finally meet with additional students in the face-to-face environment.

Beatty established four key principles to guide the use of the modalities (Kelly, 2020). The first principle is learner’s choice. The student decides which modality to use to access the course and can make that decision on a session-by-session basis. A student who prefers to learn entirely online may never attend a class session or may choose to come to class either in person or through Zoom if a topic is particularly challenging. A student may also choose to attend completely face-to-face and never access the online component unless the student gets sick or has an emergency. The key to this principle is that the student can decide how to access the course on a session-by-session, week-by-week basis.

The second principle is equivalency. For a hyflex course to be equivalent, all content and activities in all modalities must lead to equivalent assessments and learning outcomes (Whalley et. al, 2021). The instructor has the responsibility to ensure that all students in all three modalities are not only taught the concepts, but are taught in a way that produces equal results.

The third principle is reusability. Beatty suggests that instructors make all learning activities used across modalities available to all students. If a discussion board is available for asynchronous learners, face-to-face learners should also have access to it. On the converse, if students watch a video in class, the video should be posted into the CMS course to be accessed by all. Reusability ensures that all students have equal access to the course and course materials across modalities, but it also reinforces learning. For instance, a student that has attended class face-to-face would be able to go home and re-watch the video of the lecture and review concepts learned in class.

The final principle of hyflex learning is accessibility. While accessibility should be at the forefront of every class, it is especially important in a hyflex course. Whalley et al. (2021) recommend that instructors equip their students with the necessary skills and access to all modalities. In addition to making sure links are correctly identified and images have alternative text, the instructor should ensure that students know how to access the material and have the technology to do so.

Hyflex classes provide an incredible opportunity for students to access their courses when and how they want and need. This model allows for peak flexibility and has a built-in backup system for when life gets in the way of school. Students in a hyflex course can quickly pivot when a COVID surge happens or a car breaks down. However, while hyflex is a wonderful opportunity for students, it can create a heavier workload and subsequent burden on instructors to essentially teach the course in different ways at the same time.

Blended Interactive Learning

Reedley Community College was intrigued by the flexibility hyflex offers students and the ways it might solve some of the very real problems COVID caused, but the college was hesitant to ask instructors to take on the lift of all three modalities at once. The solution was to remove the fully asynchronous option and instead implement a blended interactive learning model. This model allows students to attend class either face-to-face or synchronously via a platform like Zoom. Just like with the hyflex model, students can choose session by session which way they access the course. The key to this model is interactivity. The classroom is set up with technology that allows the Zoom students to see and interact with the students in the face-to-face classroom and the students in the face-to-face classroom to see and interact with the students on Zoom. Additionally, all students can see and interact with the instructor. Students on Zoom are not passive viewers but can be put into groups with face-to-face students and engage in all activities taking place in the physical classroom. Instructors are still encouraged to adhere to all four of the principles Beatty established for the hyflex model, but at Reedley the application of those principles is more streamlined and easier to attain.

This type of flexible hybrid learning is not exclusive to Reedley, as many other campuses across the country are adapting Beatty’s hybrid flexible model to fit their campus needs (Kelly, 2021).  Reedley specifically chose the name ‘blended interactive learning’ to avoid the inevitable confusion that a hyflex Google search produces.

Reedley’s first blended interactive learning courses went live in Fall 2021 with three different instructors piloting the program across three different disciplines. Instructors completed a training module to help prepare them for the technology in the classroom, with instructional strategies for teaching in this environment and documentation they would need to provide to their students. Pilot instructors are also participating in trainings and meetings throughout the semester to establish best practices for the campus.

The early data from those classes suggests that this mode of instruction is a success not just for students but for instructors as well. Students have reported that they are relieved to have access to their courses no matter what happens in the world. One student attended class from the hospital while his wife gave birth to their child, another attended class from home while recovering from knee surgery, and, of course, some students have been at home for COVID and COVID exposure. The flexibility has been a welcome respite, as students have reported that they would have had to drop their class without the hyflex option in place. Instructors are equally pleased with the flexibility. One instructor reported seeing almost 100% attendance every day of class. In addition to the stellar attendance record, instructors are reporting student attrition rates are also improving. When students have flexibility to attend class even when they cannot physically be present, they do not get behind and are less likely to drop the course.

Hyflex and blended interactive learning are both focused on student-centered instruction that is equitable, accessible, and flexible. These models, and others like them, may or may not be the answers to pandemic problems, but they are an opportunity to rethink and imagine the future of higher education.

References

Beatty, B. (2019). Hybrid-Flexible Course Design: Implementing Student-directed Hybrid Classes. Edtechbooks.org. https://edtechbooks.org/hyflex.

Kelly, K. (2020, June 13). COVID-19 Planning for Fall 2020: A Closer Look at Hybrid-Flexible Course Design.PhilOnEdTech. https://philonedtech.com/covid-19-planning-for-fall-2020-a-closer-look-at-hybrid-flexible-course-design/.

Kelly,K. (2021, January 6). COVID-19 Planning for Spring 2021: What We Learned About   Hybrid Flexible Courses in Fall 2020. PhilOnEdTech. https://philonedtech.com/covid-19-planning-for-spring-2021-what-we-learned/.

Lohman, M.J., Randolph, K.M., & Oh, J. H. (2021). Classroom management strategies for hyflex instruction: Setting students up for success in the hybrid environment. Early Childhood Education Journal. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-021-01201-5.

Whalley, B., France, D., Park, J., Mauchline, A., & Welsh, K. (2021). Towards flexible personalized learning and the future educational system in the fourth industrial revolution in the wake of Covid-19. Higher Education Pedagogies 6(1), 79-99.   https://doi.org/10.1080/23752696.2021.1883458.

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