2020 has been a unique year in terms of a rough transition to online spaces and how we use online technologies. All of us had to adapt to the online teaching and learning environment, which is traditionally not seen as effective as the in-person environments. On the other hand, some educators observed improved performance, better use of resources, and high engagement. This 100% online experience has been a very didactic experience for both educators and students.
However, this online experience will not last forever—at some point, we will be back to classrooms, labs, and offices. Bill Gates estimates that by the end of Spring 2021, we will get back to normal. However, what is the “new normal” in terms of teaching? What did we learn from the pandemic? And how will it change our future teaching/learning practices? These questions are yet to be answered.
One potential answer for future teaching practices is hybrid flexible learning, aka HyFlex. Hyflex is a multi-channel approach that aims to maximize student engagement. It is developed at San Francisco State University. HyFlex utilizes three channels to maximize the learning experience and ensure the learning objectives: face to face (F2F), online synchronous, and online asynchronous.
In HyFlex, the meeting session takes place in both face to face and online environment (synchronously and asynchronously), and students choose the modality to participate. It also includes effective use of the online affordances additional to the F2F experience, such as video materials, discussion forums, and collaboration platforms. It accommodates all students who learn in different ways. This creates an inclusive learning environment in which individuals can tailor their learning experience using the tools provided. Another advantage of HyFlex is the flexibility to adapt to different circumstances. For example, in case of a natural disaster, epidemic, pandemic, or any extraordinary condition which would disrupt the learning experience, the modality switch can be seamlessly made because the online environment is already actively used.
HyFlex has some downsides, such as infrastructure requirements and faculty preparation. First, to do synchronous meetings where students can join both in-person and online, there is a need for well-equipped classrooms in terms of video and audio. The classrooms need to have microphones that pick up students’ discussions additional to the teacher; this is necessary to have an inclusive setting. Another need is at least one big screen dedicated to online participants and a high-quality camera that shoots the entire classroom and the teacher at wide-angle. Another requirement is a tremendous amount of faculty preparation. In the traditional setting where the teacher holds lectures and delivers all the content in class, only one preparation is needed, which is the lecture. However, in the case of using three channels, it is necessary to prepare content for all. This requires more content preparation because especially self-paced synchronous learning mode needs specially prepared content. Additionally, the teacher needs to make a special effort to keep in touch with all the students when the online environment comes into play. She needs to make sure that everyone is still on track which is possible with constant communication.
In my opinion, HyFlex is a system that will become popular after a pandemic. It requires more technology use, content preparation, and classroom technologies. However, considering that it provides an inclusive and flexible research environment in which students can choose among modalities based on their learning methods, I think it is definitely worth the extra effort.