HYFLEX LEARNING: to be or not to be?

Hyflex LEARNING

Teachers are very creative. Even before COVID19, progressive educators were trying to cater to students who were able to get to campus as well as those who couldn’t in the same session. This was the invention of HYFLEX LEARNING. The extremely open-minded and accommodating approach is characteristic of the way most higher education educators operate, always looking for ways to enhance the student experience by honouring a sense of autonomy. Whilst hyflex has been around, without any doubt, COVID19 has brought such a context to the forefront of university thinking. But sometimes just because we can do something doesn’t always mean we should, and I wonder if hylfex teaching will eventually fall into this category or if it can in fact be a successful pedagogy; that we can solve two contexts with one solution.

The reality

Teaching to two contexts simultaneously is difficult. It can be done, but it is difficult, primarily because our natural inclination is to favour the face to face student – it’s a human thing. As soon as the educator begins to fall into their instinctual reality, then the hyflex notion is significantly weakened. What makes it even harder is when the remote students don’t have their cameras on, adding to the ‘distance’ created by not being face-to-face.

However, the technology around this pedagogy is improving, and this is leading to a more inclusive atmosphere in the setting. I am currently involved in a trial of technology where a room has been set up with tables around the walls of the room with large screens at their end, effectively making them pods of learning. Each pod has a directional microphone and has their own zoom link that connects them to the remote students assigned to the pod. The educator can address all of the pods as a whole class, or they can individually address a single pod.

Pods of learners, usually around 5 in class and 3 remote, allow for far more interaction between those students than simply everyone who is remote being on a single screen. The pod idea creates the classroom feel for the remote learners, with their faces being large and visible on a screen at the end of the pod’s table and their view being of their peers at the table. The remote student who was previously reluctant to have their video on to the whole class may be more inclined to have it on to their smaller group/pod – the negotiation/explanation is certainly easier to manage.

As the classroom is limited in size, holding around 30 face-to-face students, it is likely that the rooms will be used for tutorials or small lectures. In a tutorial mode, the members of a pod interact with each other and discuss problems as though they are working in a group in a regular classroom. The educator would interact with the groups and decide if pods are on track or if a whole class intervention may be required if a common misconception is apparent.

3 specific considerations

The ultimate goal of using technology to enhance learning is that it becomes invisible. But in hyflex learning, it is always going to be a dominant aspect of the context, and so there will need to be some adjustment to business as usual in engaging students and creating quality learning opportunities. I would be focusing on these three aspects so that they become habitualised/automaticised.

Metacognition – explain the learning space. Explain how the pods should operate. Explain how the microphones are used and that the remote students are effectively there in the room too. Explicitly explain to students that the intent is for the remote students to seamlessly interact and engage with the face to face students, and that the pedagogies of collaboration and active learning incorporating both contexts will enhance their learning of the topics related to the tutorial. Explain to them that they are a part of enhancing the learning space as it is new and they will have valuable insights into making it evolve, so their feedback will be important.

Rules of engagement – expectations for participation. It’s important to be sensitive to the remote students’ contexts, but it is vital that you set high expectations for professional behaviour in how remote and face to face students should participate in the session.

  • The default should be that cameras are turned on because people naturally engage more with a face than a black screen – offer advice on how to blur backgrounds etc to avoid embarrassment being a cause of ‘black screens’. Explain expectations if camera can’t be turned on: photo screenshot; using the chat/audio to engage.
  • Explain how the chat function will be used and monitored

Awareness – probably the largest challenge may be to distribute your attention equally between both contexts. The pods make it easier to interact with both remote and face-to-face learners, especially as you walk around and interact with the pods. Using good questioning techniques like asking multiple students before you say yes or no will naturally lead you to involve the remote students as well in any conversations you have at the pods.

I am really interested and excited to see how the trial of this pedagogy goes. I will be sure to report back on it when I can.

I’m Paul Moss. I’m a learning designer at the University of Adelaide. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger

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