General Guidelines for HyFlex Courses
The hybrid flexible (HyFlex) course format is an instructional model that offers students the option to participate synchronously in the course, either in person or remotely. Developed by Brian Beatty and his colleagues at San Francisco State University, the HyFlex approach is intended to offer students more flexibility while maintaining the same quality of instruction for all students, whether they are joining the course in-person or remotely. Instructors interact and engage with both in-person and remote students at the same time. Though the HyFlex model was not originally designed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic or social distancing guidelines, the HyFlex teaching modality offers increased flexibility for both students and instructors in the midst of significant educational interruption. Drawing from our research on the HyFlex model as well as teaching resources compiled by teaching centers at peer institutions, the CEP offers the following suggestions for instructors interested in designing and teaching a HyFlex course.
Prioritize structure and upfront planning.
The more structure that is already built into a learning activity before class, the faster it will be to parse and respond to student responses when the activity takes place. In large classes, very structured options, like multiple-choice polling questions, are the most practical.
Troubleshoot technology and identify resources for support.
Technology support is extremely important for HyFlex courses, as technology issues can be highly distracting when both in-person students and remote students are learning synchronously. Technology issues may also interfere with facilitating interactions between in-person and remote students. Possible options include providing instructors with a direct channel or point person for technology support. Try to do a test run of any new activities and ensure that there are no major issues, if possible.
Be mindful of distributing instructor attention between remote and in-person students.
Previous studies on HyFlex courses indicate that students are highly perceptive to whether an instructor distributes time fairly between remote and face-to-face students. It is important to be intentional in how you engage remote and in-person students, in order to ensure that all students feel included and supported. Be mindful of technology use and classroom layout to ensure that all students in the class feel included and part of the same classroom.
Provide options for asynchronous communication.
Provide accessible asynchronous options of communication (such as email, VoiceThread, posting in a Slack channel or a Canvas discussion board) that supports both in-person and remote students. This can help increase the involvement of both in-person and remote students in a community both during and outside of class time.
Identify the focus of discussions.
In blended synchronous learning classrooms, there are multiple channels of communication, which can lead to student uncertainty about where to focus their attention. Some students may be unsure whether they should be responding to teacher questions using audio or text and having a conversation split across both modalities makes the narrative more difficult to follow. Explicitly identifying where remote and in-person students should focus their attention may prevent students from missing out on valuable information.
Acknowledge the shift in mindset to a HyFlex learning modality.
Be explicit with students about how HyFlex can support the overall course learning objectives. Clearly defining learning outcomes may be more critical for HyFlex synchronous sessions than other teaching modes because activities may take longer and thus need to be highly focused.
Actively involve students in the course design of HyFlex sessions, if possible.
This can help students feel a greater sense of ownership of their learning. Effective methods include eliciting and incorporating students’ feedback into the design of later sessions of the course and giving them greater responsibilities, such as moderating roles, during class sessions.
Suggestions for HyFlex Teaching
It can be difficult for a single instructor to manage all components of a HyFlex course (facilitate an oral discussion while trying to keep track of the chats or while troubleshooting technology problems). Assign TAs or students to take on more roles, like chat moderator or technology troubleshooter. This can help create a more student-centered learning environment and encourage more student ownership of the learning environment.
Use live polling to ask students questions about course material. This includes using built-in features of video conferencing platforms like Zoom, which would mean that in-person students should also log onto Zoom while in class. Another option is to move live polling to a different platform with polling capacities.
In addition to spoken discussions between in-person or online students, discussion using text chat provides a space for supplemental discussion. Text chat provides an alternative opportunity for students to participate in discussion without speaking out loud. This could be useful for accommodating the inability to hear each other well in the classroom. Text chat discussion can occur over the built-in chat feature of Zoom, or an alternative platform like Slack, Discord, GroupMe, or Microsoft Team. Consider too that Zoom’s chat log can be finicky—students may not see messages if they are dropped from the call/join late/move in and out of breakout rooms, etc.
Tip: Appoint a student or TA to be the moderator of the text chat for each class session. Call on this person to speak up and share questions and comments mentioned in text chat, and consider signaling these moments in slides or during lecture.
Set up a Google doc for a small group of students to take collaborative notes for the class session. This approach can offer structure for active listening during class. The notetakers are not obligated to participate in the discussion, but will attempt to capture the main points of the conversation. The rest of the students then can focus on participating in discussion without having to worry about taking notes. This may be particularly useful in a HyFlex and socially distanced classroom where it may be difficult to hear some students.
Sample Scenario: Students get into small groups, with the in-person groups sitting six feet apart from each other at tables and your online students moving to breakout rooms on Zoom. Students are given some time to discuss provided questions or prompts in their small groups and report their responses using a shared Google Document, which you have access to.
As the students work, keep an eye on the Google Documents and monitor your students’ progress so you know when to prompt them to reconvene as a whole class and get a sense of their responses.
When the group work time is over, highlight a few student responses to share with the full group (either yourself or by asking a group member to speak).
Ask in-person students to pair up with virtual students for a Zoom call. Ask in-person students to use earbuds or headphones. This can be a way to include pair work during class time and foster community across the two groups of students.
In a jigsaw, students participate in two rounds of small group activities. In the first round (sometimes called “focus groups”), each group of students is given a different reading or topic to discuss. In the second round (“task groups”), groups are reformed so that each new group has a representative from each of the first round groups. This could help facilitate interaction between in-person and remote students.
For in-person students: supplement a yes/no or agree/disagree polling question with some vertical movement by students, e.g. stand up if you agree, sit down if you don’t. For all students: make X with arms, raise hands, or other clear gestures. Additionally, plan stretch breaks for all students, remote and in-person.
CEP HyFlex Example Sessions
Sample course plans for 50-minute and 150-minute class sessions: CEP HyFlex Example Sessions.
General guidelines are adapted from Beatty, 2019; Bower et al., 2014; Francescucci & Foster, 2014; Lakhal et al., 2017; Zydney et al., 2019. Suggestions for HyFlex teaching are adapted from Vanderbilt Center for Teaching’s Active Learning in Hybrid and Socially Distanced Classrooms; Kevin Kelly’s HyFlex Course Design Examples; Zydney et al., 2019.