Most universities are currently delivering via blended learning with social distancing. Students get a mix of in-person teaching supported by synchronous sessions via Microsoft Teams or Zoom and asynchronous online learning through pre-recorded video and digital activities. In most situations, academics have curated the mix by keeping collaborative learning in-person and moving content delivery online.
Many academics have struggled to adapt to this new mode of teaching that requires a skill set that they have had to pick up over the summer break and have not had a chance to explore and test with student groups to learn what works. There are varying views from students too; many students want more in-person teaching, whereas others want to stay away from campus to feel safe.
The Hyflex module of course design as started to be discussed as a possible solution to the rapid move to blended learning. In Hyflex, both online and in-person modes are developed for the same cohort, with multiple paths of equal quality through the content. Students have the choice on a session by session basis which mode is most suitable for them and building in shared comprehension checks, and discussion threads can bring the modes together.
This approach is different from a blended course where academics choose which parts are best delivered online and which are best delivered in-person. Also different from providing video feed of an in-person session for people who can’t attend. Hyflex puts the mode of learning entirely in the control of the student.
“You want to be able to create a fully online version and a fully face-to-face version and find ways to bring them together into a single course experience that has multiple participation paths … And the student gets to control whether they’re doing it online or in the classroom.”Brian Beatty, creator of the Hyflex model
The Hyflex course design model was created by Brian Beatty and colleagues at San Fransisco State University and first introduced in 2006 to make their campus-based Masters course more accessible to their students, many of whom were working adults. It has been continually developed since and detailed in an ebook written by Beatty that he gives away for free.
I am interested in reading the book to understand the model fully. My first reaction was scepticism to the idea when an American university administrator raised it in a conversation at a conference. High-quality online learning and high-quality in-person teaching are hard to design and develop, so asking academics to do both for the same cohort was expecting a lot. Expecting them to have a cohesive thread running through the course to track engagement and maintain a community within a cohort when each student is continuously moving between modes seems like a high-level skill developed over many course iterations. To deliver at scale would present a challenge for staff new to online learning and require significant investment in training, support, and set up time.
For term one this academic year it was impractical to expect staff to develop fantastic blended courses in a short period due to workload. But many students feel they have not had enough in-person or quality online learning for their needs or preferences. Perhaps Hyflex development as an exolving approach where the course gets better over time might solve many of the problems we currently face and deliver authentic student-centred flexible learning.