Distance Teaching & Learning Conference panel to feature HyFlex course design innovator

Distance Teaching and Learning Conference Panel Members

The 2020 Distance Teaching & Learning (DT&L) Conference — fully virtual this year for the first time ever — will present a special main-stage panel on the Hybrid-Flexible (HyFlex) course design model on Thursday, August 6, at 11 a.m.

 HyFlex courses combine traditional classroom-based students and online students in the same course with the same instructor. Students choose to attend class meetings in person or online, allowing a high level of participation flexibility. The HyFlex learning environment enhances the class experience, whether online or in the classroom, and has been used in hundreds of institutions around the world for more than a decade. It has been shown to support student success comparable to traditional single-mode instruction. 

 The special DT&L main-stage panel will include the originator of the HyFlex model, Brian Beatty, Associate Professor of Instructional Technologies at San Francisco State University. He will be joined by Elizabeth Barre (Wake Forest University), Judith Littlejohn (SUNY Genesee) and Brandon Taylor (Rush University), all of whom have studied or implemented the HyFlex model at their institutions.

We asked Beatty to share a bit about how HyFlex came about, how it’s evolved and what attendees can expect to hear from the panel at DT&L.

Talk a little bit about what precipitated your creation of HyFlex and what problems you were trying to solve.

Hybrid-Flexible Course Design e-book cover
Beatty is the editor of the 2019 e-book, Hybrid-Flexible Course Design.

I started HyFlex about 15 years ago in reaction to a request from a department chair at my institution, San Francisco State University. Due to declining enrollment, this chair was interested in the possibility of flipping some in-person classes to fully online classes. However, the university didn’t have any fully online classes at the time, so I suggested that perhaps we could develop a combined approach to keep students who liked coming to class but would also accommodate online students. We couldn’t really afford to offer both, and the question we were trying to answer eventually became how can we serve fully online students without giving up face-to-face students?

At the time we weren’t marketing to distance students and the regional students we were marketing to could feasibly take classes in person or online. So it was really about giving these regional students the choice of either format, allowing them to have more control over their learning environment and learning path.

Pretty soon afterward we realized that there were other benefits to HyFlex. First, we could have larger classes in smaller physical spaces. We could plan, for example, to offer a class to 360 students in a lecture hall that only held 180 students. So, there were administrative and space values. Second, we realized we could save money and create richer learning environments by combining two sections of a course into a single HyFlex course. One instructor gives one lecture, and more students in a class led to a better learning environment for everyone.

How has the HyFlex model evolved or changed since its development?

When we started, I was concerned with figuring out the essential things we needed to add to the traditional in-person class to accommodate online students. In seminars, the biggest hurdle was the class discussion piece. We did not have good audiovisual in classrooms 15 years ago, so capturing the classroom discussion was really just an audio recording of the in-class discussion, along with a prerecorded lecture and slides. There was no video. It was baseline acceptable.

Over time we’ve been able to allow online students to participate in discussions synchronously using conferencing tools. There’s also technology to capture audiovisual recordings of the classroom environment.

Today we’re finding it fairly common for faculty to require all students — both in-person students and those online — to participate in discussions asynchronously online. Faculty can use scheduled class time for other things. It’s almost like we’re shifting more towards an online class with opportunities for students to also participate in the classroom.

How has this technology affected pedagogy?

We’ve all started using more technology in regular work life — like web conferencing and digital content resources — and this contributes to richer digital environment that makes it easier to teach online.

However, one of the biggest challenges to HyFlex is creating interaction between instructors and students. The technology makes it more possible, but not necessarily any less work-intensive. Technology continues to improve this interactive workload, but instructors need to be aware that it still takes time to read, think and reply. Faculty and students have to allow time for work during the week in a way that’s different from an in-person course.

What opportunities does HyFlex offer to colleges and universities in light of COVID?

When COVID happened, those of us teaching HyFlex courses just told our in-person students that they would need to participate in the rest of the class online. The students had to realign a bit, but there was no major upheaval for teachers. We didn’t have to go into emergency instructional teaching mode.

Now that we’ve been living in this COVID world for several months, I think we all understand that continuing social distancing requirements will prevent most institutions from filling physical classrooms in the fall and probably beyond. HyFlex allows instructors to seamlessly continue their courses without having to split the physical class by days of the week or some other arrangement. Having HyFlex in place helps students maintain learning continuity. Institutions can keep courses fully filled and no matter what happens with COVID, there’s already a built-in option for students to continue their courses online.

What do you plan on sharing with attendees at the main-stage DT&L panel?

A few things. First, I want to talk about what HyFlex is and what it isn’t. Like a lot of things, people have started throwing attributes at HyFlex that aren’t really part of it. Second, I think we’ll be talking about the applicability of HyFlex not just for fall 2020, but for spring 2021 and maybe even beyond. And third, I want to talk about how individuals and institutions can get started with HyFlex. The other panelists will really be able to speak to this as well — what’s worked for them, where they’ve had pushback, and how they’ve found success.

For more information or to register for the Distance Teaching & Learning Conference, please visit the website. If you have further questions, please contact dtl@dcs.wisc.edu.