Might Your Fall 2020 Courses Be HyFlex?

The HyFlex model is one that is being considered by schools for this fall semester. In this model, teachers teach simultaneously to students in their classroom and other students connect synchronously to the class. It can be labeled in other ways - hybrid, flex, blended - but all of them provide options for students who can’t come to class for health or logistical reasons. For this fall semester, this can also allow for socially distant classrooms because students can rotate through classroom spaces on alternating days.

At my university, NJIT, one model is called converged learning and offers a third option for students to view a class recording asynchronously later. By reducing the number of in-classroom students, they plan to use large spaces to socially distance students in courses that require face-to-face teaching, such as labs and studio courses. For a science and technology university, using physical spaces is essential for many courses.

Some faculty feel it will be very difficult to engage students in multiple locations. HyFlex also pushes faculty back to the "sage on the stage" lecture format that we have been trying to move away from the past two decades in order to increase engagement. many faculty at all grade levels still do not feel comfortable with the online technology even after the emergency switch over to it this past spring.

As an instructional designer, I feel that you need to design a course as a fully online one and consider the in-person portion (if it does occur this fall) as the enhancement. Don't expect the in-person portion to carry more than half of the teaching and learning.

Some things are better done in the classroom. Lecture probably isn't one of those things. Teachers and designers need to consider the differences based on the course, the space, and the instructor. In a FLEXible course, group might be best in-person or easier with more time put online. You wouldn't want to waste any lab or studio time lecturing.

In "Active Learning in Hybrid and Physically Distanced Classrooms," Derek Bruff, director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University, posted about using the technology. He suggests that you might forego classroom discussion and have students respond to questions using live polling and web conferencing platforms.

For any of the flex models to work, all the class materials, assignments, group work, and other activities need to be ina a learning-management system so that they can be accessed no matter where they are learning. Bruff thinks it's a misconception that flex courses require two versions of a course for the classroom and for online.

If you want to know more about HyFlex, look into Brian Beatty's open-source book, Hybrid-Flexible Course Design.  

Kevin Kelly wrote a guest post, "COVID-19 Planning for Fall 2020: A Closer Look at Hybrid-Flexible Course Design" with examples of how a HyFlex class session might work. 

Views and Reviews on the Elements of Good (Online) Courses

online learnerThe second half of the 2019-2020 school year was abnormal. It's hard to imagine a grade level where teaching and learning will return to what it was a year ago. The most obvious change has been around using online learning. This summer there have been many stories about schools K-20 making plans for this fall. Some of them announced that they will be primarily online. It's a hedge bet that the situation with COVID-19 will be improved and that there will be some classroom face time.

The three approaches schools have considered are 1) start the fall semester fully online  2) go back to "normal" physical classrooms with social distancing, masks and disinfecting 3) some hybrid of those two approaches.  

But schools also need to consider the "reviews" that are being made formally and informally about the online learning that happened in March through June 2020. Those reviews are coming formally by journalists and educators and informally by students and the parents of K-12 students.

K-12 parents have found themselves spending more time working with their children on schoolwork. That might make them appreciate how hard teachers work - or they might decide that online education is a waste of time. When you hear non-educators talk about the qualities of a good online course, they are often talking about the qualities of any good course.

College students' parents don't usually figure into the equation, but now I'm hearing parents say that they are reluctant to have their child go into a classroom and unwilling to pay $25-50,000 for an online curriculum. When parents are paying for school directly (rather than through taxes), they are more likely to feel they should have some control on how their money is being used.

Those qualities mentioned include:

  • The course is engaging and challenging.
  • It invites students to participate, motivates them to contribute and captures their interest and attention.
  • Open educational resources are prioritized over expensive textbooks
  • It is interactive - teacher to students and also student to student.
  • It is not just an information dump, but it does provide meaningful readings, lecture videos, and resources.
  • Students receive personalized feedback, support and guidance.
  • Students feel they are part of a learning community. 
  • It involves students in “doing” — not just watching, reading and writing papers.
  • And finally, this high-level combination of qualities - a course is informed by issues of equity and justice and takes into account social, political and cultural issues, including students’ backgrounds and socioeconomic circumstances.

Looking at that list nothing jumps out as being ONLINE. If you do break out the responses teachers, students and parents gave that are online-specific, they fall under two categories: the availability of the technology; the preparation to use the technology.

The Chronicle did an article titled "In Their Own Words: Here’s What Professors, Chairs, and Deans Learned From Remote Courses This Spring." They looked for words that were most often used in the responses to their survey. One keyword they found in their responses was "flexible." Here are 3 of those responses:

“Be extremely flexible. Don’t expect complete guidance from the administrators; make your best guess as to what is going to be. Most importantly: By adopting many online-learning concepts and best practices in advance, I was prepared to go online at a moment’s notice. This helped immensely.

“Flexibility was key in the transition. I chose to be more lenient with students than I am in a traditional classroom. If we stay online I will once again become more rigid, but I feel this semester was exceptional for everyone, and it was critical to be understanding.”

“You have to be willing to learn to teach virtually and have compassion and empathy with your students. Learn to be flexible and challenge your teaching skills. Covid-19 has changed how we will teach in the future.”

They also found - unsurprisingly - that faculty need a lot more support to teach online than expected.

“Many faculty have resisted true development in pedagogy, but that’s unavoidable now.”

“As a faculty, we should have been more proficient in distance education before the move to online. This was a wake-up call for all of our faculty that we did not make this a priority.”

“Some faculty were really unprepared to work with technology."

“I was very impressed that our faculty who already teach online were willing to step up and help their colleagues who were unfamiliar with this modality.”


The Long Summer Slide of 2020

It is known as "summer slide" - the learning loss many students experience during the summer break from school. The topic is often associated with younger students in K-12 but if you have ever taught college students or adult learners (especially in sequential courses) you have also seen it occur.

In 2020, the typical two-month recess became six months for some students because of COVID-19 class cancellations and possibly less-than-ideal attempts at online learning.

Will we see a greater slide this fall than in other years? Will a high school student whose second half of French II, Algebra, or another course be really prepared for the next course this fall? I have friends who teach in secondary schools who fully expect in the fall to have to spend the early weeks (months?) reviewing and catching students up on work before moving forward. They did this in past years, but expect a greater need for remedial instruction for fall 2020. 

When students are not engaged in learning for an extended time, they slide. It would be true if they skipped a semester of took a gap year or were ill for several months. From what I have read, this is particularly true with math, science, language, reading, and any sequential course that builds on a prerequisite.

There has been a lot of research on summer loss the past century which shows young people can lose up to several months’ worth of school-year learning over the summer break, and some studies also show that older students have greater gaps. It is particularly concerning that summer loss seems to be greatest for low-income students for a number of reasons.

There are those who question the whole idea of summer slide, but in my 45 years in classrooms (secondary, undergraduate, and graduate levels) I have seen that loss when students returned in September, even in their work and study habits. 

What is the solution? The standard answer is to keep students engaged in reading and educational activities. But every parent will tell you when school ends motivating students to do things that closely resemble schoolwork is very difficult. Plus, this year many parents were doing more schoolwork support the past few months than ever before and also want a break.

College students might be wise to use some free MOOC offerings to supplement courses from this past semester or to prepare for fall. But again, after a semester fully online, more online learning may not be very appealing.

Image by Paula Deme from Pixabay

Converged Learning

Multi-modal courses that combine online and on-ground (classroom-based, face-to-face) students have been around for more than a decade under a variety of names. Hybrid, hybrid-flexible, HyFlex, blended are all terms used for course designs that allow for some flexibility. 

Most campuses now offer online and on-ground sections of some courses. Some schools offer a hybrid course section that meets on both modes. At New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) their approach has been called "converged learning." Particularly in this time of closed campuses and pandemic response, the transition to fully remote learning has been uneven on many campuses. At NJIT and many other campuses K-20 they are both preparing to welcome students back to campus in the fall and also planning for the possibility of a limited return or remaining fully online.

The goal is to deliver high-quality education in an environment safe for all members of the community. Technology-enhanced learning definitely is part of any of the possible scenarios campuses will find themselves in for the fall 2020 semester and possibly in the years that follow.

I started working at NJIT in 2000 and the university already had almost two decades of experience before the online wave of the 21st century had fully formed. NJIT created the virtual classroom in the 1980s and moved like many other colleges through the correspondence model to instructional television to content on VHS, CDs and DVDs.In 2013, converged learning became their educational model in an attempt to break down the distinction between face-to-face and remote learning.

In true converged learning, students attend the same class at the same time either in person or virtually. It allows faculty to see, interact with, and work synchronously with all students "attending class." Ideally, students have the same educational experience regardless of their physical location. Unlike registering for a course labeled as online, on-ground or hybrid, students can make that choice for any class session.

NJIT did not abandon its more traditional online learning initiatives which can accommodate students at different times and distant locations. New Jersey has been hit very hard by the pandemic and though the situation has improved and we hope to see further improvement throughout the summer, the number of students physically classrooms this fall could be reduced. The converged learning model allows students (perhaps especially those with preexisting conditions or concerns about in-person attendance) to choose when to be in a classroom and when to attend class remotely.

There has long been concern about how the academic standards will be consistent in online versus on-ground versions of a course. Converged courses have course content and learning outcomes that are independent of delivery
mode. Registration is the same way whether they want to attend by coming to the classroom, logging into the class from their dorms or nearby apartments, or joining the class from another city, state or country. Admission, registration procedures, and costs are the same regardless of the location from which they attend the class. Those in the classroom
experience the delivery of the course content as they would in a traditional class — except they are joined via synchronous streaming by other students who are taking the course from a distance, anywhere in the world.

This approach does require additional resources - from video in the classroom to teaching assistants. For example, at NJIT offline digital learning include Computer Assisted Design technology in programs of the College of Architecture and Design, Adaptive Learning software in mathematics, chemistry, and other areas. The university has needed to move further than before into the computer scoring of essays and other written forms, the automated grading of exams, and the asynchronous class management in all classes. (NJIT had been using Moodle earlier as its LMS and has now moved to Canvas.) 

   download free pdf of book

This convergence of the physical campus and the virtual campus seems to be - particularly at this unusual time - to be a logical consequence of the technological transformation in higher education.

Hybrid-flexible course designs have been used successfully for more than a decade at many higher education institutions around the world with a wide variety of courses. Some schools call this “HyFlex,” The initial impetus for developing a Hybrid-Flexible approach is often a need to serve both online and on-ground students with a limited set of resources (time, faculty, space).

It is far better when the multi-modal delivery solution gives students the opportunity to choose which mode to participate in from session to session. Students then do create their own unique hybrid experience.

The free book noted here and materials online at NJIT and other campuses will give you a sense of how these flexible designs are evolving.

The change in pedagogy required of faculty in converged learning is a whole other topic to be explored and certainly builds upon what has been learned in the past decades of online learning and from the more recent use of MOOCs.