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Teaching Hybrid and Blended Models Flexibly

Updated article originally published February 6, 2018.

Routine and unexpected circumstances impact the ability of both students and instructors to attend scheduled on-campus classes. To provide everyone an equal opportunity to study in a class, several schools, including Central Georgia Technical College (CGTC) and the University of St. Thomas have begun exploring blendflex (flexible blended) and hyflex (flexible hybrid) learning models.

These two learning models are not as prevalent as face-to-face and digital learning. However, their growing popularity is not surprising considering their innovative and agile nature. As new developments in successfully delivering these models emerge, more institutions are likely to explore using them.

What are Blendflex and Hyflex

Flexibility is at the core of these two types of curriculum innovation models. Blendflex and hyflex courses follow a single syllabus with regularly scheduled lectures, assignments, and assessments; however, students may attend each lecture either in-person, through video-conferencing, or by watching recorded lectures. The same flexibility extends to instructors, who can attend virtually or in person.

With hyflex, students are able to move back and forth between these three options at any time throughout the class. This model differs slightly from blendflex in that, with blendflex, students are often assigned to attend specific synchronous and asynchronous classes.

In a guide to getting started with hyflex, Columbia University highlights four core values that inform hyflex courses:

  • Learner Choice The course offers meaningful participation modes that students can select to align with their preference for engagement.
  • Equivalency Student learning outcomes are equivalent in each mode, and students can reflect, contribute ideas, and interact with peers in every mode.
  • Reusability All class materials are captured and shared online for all students to access and interact with.
  • Accessibility Students are able to access technology and skills to be successful in the course.

Benefits of Blendflex/Hyflex

Instructors find the hyflex model more efficient than teaching multiple versions of the same course; instructors are, for instance, able to teach one class of 120 students rather than three classes of 40. If something like a personal matter occurs, the flexibility also allows instructors to keep their courses on schedule by temporarily stopping in-class lectures while maintaining the online format.

As with remote learning, hyflex and blendflex offer a type of accessibility that in-person classes do not. International students and those who are unable to attend in-person classes for other reasons can access these classes online and asynchronously. Similarly, this type of class supports work-life balance for non-traditional students, who may also be interested in attending the occasional in-person class.

When introduced at CGTC, the model was positively received by students. Over 95% of students liked the flexibility of the model. Student performance and learning outcomes also improved. Students participating in these models had higher mean GPAs between 2014-17 than students in traditional courses.

Navigating Common Challenges

Though there are significant benefits to blendflex and hyflex, when done well, there are also some challenges. If you are interested in implementing this type of course design, you will want to plan for combating these challenges.

Be Prepared for Technology Issues

In an in-person model, a technological issue is cause for annoyance, but teaching and learning may not be strongly impacted in these situations. Conversely, hyflex and blendflex courses are heavily dependent on technology. In a hyflex classroom, a failure of technology can result in an inability to teach online/asynchronous students, or the instructor may be forced to discontinue the class.

When using technology in the classroom, familiarize yourself with each component before the course begins to help lay the foundation for success. Prepare for technology failure by acquainting yourself with your technical support resources. Always have a backup plan in case technical difficulties persist.

Increase Your Comfort with Multi-Media Teaching Styles

Teaching in different formats simultaneously can be daunting. While many instructors have become familiar with remote teaching, teaching virtually and in person at the same time can feel overwhelming at first. Discomfort can be especially intense because all blendflex and hyflex sessions are recorded for asynchronous audiences. Coordination and planning will increase your comfort when teaching within these types of curriculum innovation models.

Coordination with TAs may mean assigning individuals to monitor online chat or video participation throughout each class session. Assigning one individual to this task ensures that remote and asynchronous participants can hear and see all parts of instruction.

It will also be helpful to create class session plans that you share with your teaching collaborators. Include details on set-up, interactions with students, and how you plan to incorporate all classe modes. Preparation will help you avoid becoming overwhelmed by the complexity of hyflex courses.

Empower Students to Take Control of Their Own Learning

With hyflex and blendflex, the onus of learning is on the student. Self-motivation and maturity are required to consistently attend classes, stay engaged, and navigate personal technology issues. If students do not have the appropriate mindset, the learning benefits can be lost.

While this is a challenge that the student is ultimately responsible for, you can help students acclimate by providing structure to their learning experience. Share expectations and norms of the classroom, and employ techniques for engaging students in the virtual classroom. Be sure to involve online students in discussion and promote student interaction to increase student motivation.

Final Thoughts

It is an exciting time for innovation in the classroom. Though blendflex and hyflex are not new models, they have received newfound interest in the new age of digital learning. The flexibility of this model, especially in light of higher education’s recent need to evolve teaching methods, is appealing to both instructors and students.

While some challenges prevail, there are ways to mitigate them. As these models become more widely adopted, new ways of successfully teaching within them will become commonplace.

As you continue to explore ways of teaching successfully in non-traditional classrooms, expand your knowledge base with our other articles, including:

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