The concept of hyflex classes gained popularity as pandemic lockdowns started to ease. More people wanted to go out in public, while others felt it was too soon. Like many other organizations, schools had to figure out how to provide a balanced solution.
Though not created during the pandemic, many institutions adopted the hyflex model in the last couple of years. Now, the question is if this method will continue even if we put COVID-19 behind us.
You may wonder if hyflex classes are in your future as an instructor or professor. Or you may already be using this method and want to know if it’s here to stay. Let’s break down everything you need to know about them and how they may change the Higher education landscape.
What are hyflex classes?
Hyflex is short for “hybrid flexible.” The hybrid part you understand thanks to COVID-19. It means the class is sometimes in person and others online. The flexible part introduces the concept of when it occurs. It gives students the option to participate at the specific time the class takes place or to catch the lesson on their own time. This is known as synchronous or asynchronous learning.
The in-class part of a hyflex class is the one we're all familiar with because it’s what we’ve known as the norm for years. The class meets in a specified room at a set time for a specific duration.
During this session, you, as the instructor, proceed with the lecture or lesson. You can call on students, write on the board, and explain previous assignments.
One word of caution here is that you don't adopt a passive learning style. Hyflex classes should improve student engagement and studies show learners engage best with active learning methods.
Students who don't attend class in person can join the class live from their devices. Your lecture is being broadcast to these learners. Ideally, your whiteboard and active screens are also broadcast.
The hyflex classes with the best results engage with both the in-class and online synchronous students. Instead of having your TA answer the questions, set some time aside to have them feed you a question or two. Now your online learners feel included.
This is where hyflex classes stand apart from traditional hybrid ones. Besides in-class students and online class students, you also have a group that doesn’t attend the class at the specified time. These are asynchronous learners.
Asynchronous learners are dependent on the recording of your lecture along with any supporting materials. This asynchronous part is what makes a hyflex class effective as a learning tool.
In hyflex classes, all students have access to all materials created for the course at any time. Students no longer need to call others to try to get notes after missing a class. The class is available for them to watch from bed if they are sick. This is the power of hyflex.
Another key benefit of the hyflex format is the discussion forum. A solid hyflex class includes an area, or several, designed for ongoing conversations about the class. Students at any time can review these discussions to better understand material. They can join in at any time and continue the conversation.
Are hyflex classes new?
The concept of the hyflex class is not new. In fact, hyflex classes were originally developed in 2006. The reason the conversation around hyflex is prevalent now is due to COVID-19, like so many other technological experiments taking form in 2022.
The person widely accepted as developing hyflex classes is Brian Beatty. He is an associate professor at San Francisco State University. He shared the concept in 2006 and laid out four principles for every hyflex class. They are:
The learner, and not the instructor or school, should have the ability to choose how to take in the class information and lessons. Prior to hyflex, schools would dictate when a class was held on-campus or online. Students had to make a choice upon registration and were held to that choice for the duration of the class.
The options provided to the student all lead to the same outcome. An in-class learner should not learn more or less than an asynchronous learner. This prevents any sort of favoritism toward students that attend the physical location of the class. It ensures that regardless of how a student wishes to take the course, they should have the same level of learning.
All activities are designed to reach all students. For example, a class lecture is broadcast to synchronous learners and recorded for asynchronous learners. This way, everyone gets the same out of that lecture. The same is said for handouts in class later offered as digital documents. Materials are reused across the three formats of the class.
All students have access at any time to all materials and classes. This means students who are primarily online can attend class if they so desire. Likewise, in-class students can watch recorded sessions and access material online whenever they need.
Are hyflex classes effective?
As hyflex classes are only now being implemented widely, the data is not extensive. However, early indications are that hyflex classes are an effective way to get more students engaged. This is because not all students learn the same way and hyflex classes account for that.
One study mentioned by Educause found that “students' needs may change unexpectedly during a course, and physical and online spaces are needed to meet students' preferences and needs.”
“We have students who, quite literally, would have had to drop out if their courses had not been available in the HyFlex format,” – Kevin Gannon, Professor of History, Grand View University
Hyflex classes are also effective at creating a more inclusive campus. Some students may have anxiety issues that prevent them from learning comfortably in a classroom. They may prefer to learn in the privacy of their own room.
Nontraditional students may have to juggle work or family responsibilities that other students don’t have to worry about. Offering these highly flexible courses can create a campus that appeals to many different types of students.
What are the challenges of hyflex classes?
There are two major challenges for hyflex classrooms. One is in set-up while the other is related to the actual instruction.
Setting up a hyflex class
Traditional classes consist of a classroom, instructor, learning materials, and learners. Online classes conducted during the pandemic were primarily ad hoc and relied on an instructor, students, learning materials, and an internet connection.
Hyflex classes combine three ways of learning into one class and require additional tech and planning. In order to provide the best student experience, schools have to consider new equipment such as lapel microphones, cameras, hybrid AV carts, interactive displays, lampless projectors, and more.
Running a hyflex class
It’s hard enough to keep students engaged in the class but now teachers and professors must adapt to speaking to both in-person and remote learners at the same time. In addition, they’ll need to use additional hours to engage in discussions that occur outside of class.
“You’re aware of the students in front of you, but then you also have to think: how do I include those students over Zoom? You can’t do this by yourself, you have to have somebody else there with you.” – Diane Thompson, instructor, Langara College
This is when the concept of a hyflex teacher’s assistant, or TA, becomes necessary. While you focus on the students in the class, your TA is online gathering questions, ensuring everyone is getting the information and not having technical issues. Your TA can answer questions live in the discussion forum and save some more pertinent questions for you to answer live.
Learning methods are always evolving. COVID-19 forced higher education institutions to adapt and hyflex classes are a popular approach with multiple benefits that seem to outweigh any drawbacks. Time will tell how many schools adopt hyflex permanently, but early indications are that learners want options that fit their lifestyles.