Many current educators have developed a strong reaction to the term “hyflex”—most often one of horror, an involuntary recoil as they relive forced emergency instruction and the chaotic semesters that followed the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, some instructors and institutions have embraced hyflex and other blended modalities for the flexibility they afford students, allowing increased access for some populations and potential benefits to students’ mental health. Hyflex combines the terms “hybrid” and “flexible” to refer to classrooms where learners can choose whether to participate in-person or online, often through synchronous online participation via video streaming. Blended instruction is a more general term for courses that incorporate some mix of online and face-to-face instruction (which is arguably most university courses now, with increasing use of online and digital tools in learning management systems).
EDLI’s Work in Hyflex Courses
A group of EDLI team members and affiliates conducted research in blended courses across MSU’s campus to determine what features of course design impact an instructor’s willingness to engage in blended teaching, particularly synchronous hyflex courses. These results have been used to develop a guide for instructors interested in teaching blended, hyflex, or multimodal courses. The research team has also presented this work at two conferences during October: the SoTL Summit hosted by Kennesaw State University, and the Lilly Conference on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning in Traverse City, Michigan.
Instructors’ Satisfaction in Hyflex Courses
Cui Cheng, Jun Fu, and I collaborated on an oral presentation for the SoTL summit focusing particularly on instructors’ willingness to teach hyflex courses in the future. The presentation slides can be viewed here. The main findings were that the following features of course design improve instructors’ satisfaction:
- High levels of interaction between face-to-face and online students
- Smaller class sizes
- Availability of teaching assistants
- Perceived benefits for student learning outcomes
You can view a recording of the session here, with our presentation beginning at 25:10, or view the slides here.
Students’ Satisfaction in Hyflex Courses
I then converted this presentation to a poster with added data on student satisfaction in hyflex courses for the Lilly Conference. An essential component of student satisfaction was their ability to feel connected to other students in the course and the course instructor. A PDF of the full-size poster is available here, and you can view the poster with a one-minute descriptive audio clip below (it can be viewed with subtitles here).
Conference participants’ feedback largely centered around questions about how, specifically, to develop and engage students in hyflex courses. Instructors adopt various approaches to student engagement, but some tips can be found from Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching and Times Higher Education.
Reflections and Future Directions
It’s clear that there is still troubleshooting needed in hyflex course design, both pedagogically and technically, but another theme from attending these conferences was clear: hyflex and other blended modalities are not likely to be going away, particularly as many institutions face declining enrollments and a sustained rise in students who either require this flexibility due to significant commutes, work obligations, and family roles or simply prefer it over full-time face-to-face instruction (for example, see the EDUCAUSE 2022 Students and Technology Report). Continued work from education researchers, instructional designers, and teaching and learning centers in collaboration with instructors, students, and administrators is critical to improving these experiences.
A corresponding theme to the use of blended or hyflex modalities at the Lilly and SoTL conferences was the need for compassion for instructors and learners. Broadly, these themes tie into important questions around teaching and learning, such as: how can we expand access, maintain boundaries, critically reflect, and improve learning while providing both structure and grace? These are questions that motivate my scholarship of teaching & learning research and my work with EDLI.
If you want to connect around hyflex teaching, reach out or find us at the AERA 2023 meeting where we will be presenting further findings at the virtual meeting.