Unit 3: Managing the HyFlex Environment

Picture of a woman juggling on a beach
Photo by Peggy Anke on Unsplash

Managing HyFlex can be a juggling act. 

The idea of simultaneously managing students in front of you, students joining class live via online web conferencing software, and students that choose to learn asynchronously might seem scary. The unknown element of which students will choose which learning mode may also leave you feeling uncertain about how to plan lessons week by week throughout the semester.

You may be concerned that you are going to serve one group of learners at the expense of the other group, or even worse, fail to serve any group in terms of the excellent teaching you are used to delivering in a single delivery mode. This is a concern many faculty express about HyFlex teaching.

Luckily, there are several course management strategies you can use to create a positive and engaging learning environment for all students while creating a work environment that is enjoyable for you as an educator.

The following 4-minute video from educators at the University of Windsor may provide some inspiration from the recent experiences of post-secondary HyFlex experimenters.

High Praise for HyFlex: Teaching & Learning in the COVID-19 pandemic [3:50] Video Transcript [.docx]

Keep in mind that results may vary. These instructors may have more (or less) support than you have available at your institution. Your course teaching needs may be quite different than those depicted. Overall, the idea of this video is “give it a try”. It won’t be perfect the first, or possibly even the tenth time, but you will gain skills and confidence, which go a long way.


Computer with lightbulbs Activity

The following 10 minute-read, Chapter 2.1 in Brian Beatty’s Hybrid-Flexible Course Design book may help you gather some ideas for the art of HyFlex teaching and classroom/course management. As you read this short chapter, consider the following segment:

Regardless of instructional mode, three aspects of high quality teaching are relevant in each delivery mode, and are perhaps most critical in supporting student learning in the fully online asynchronous mode since there is no live faculty engagement to rapidly address emergent (and often individual) student learning support needs. These aspects are 1) providing relevant and meaningful content, 2) engaging students in memorable activities and learning experiences, and 3) assessing learning and adapting instruction to meet student needs; supporting student self-assessment when appropriate (Beatty, 2019, Chapter 2.1, para 7.).

High-quality teaching should be the goal. 

There are many teaching methods that may contribute to successfully managing the HyFlex course environment. As you have probably discovered by now, there is not a single “right” strategy; however, a good starting point would be to focus on Brian Beatty’s three aspects of high-quality teaching: relevant and meaningful content, engaging students in memorable activities/learning experiences, and assessing students/student self-assessments.

You will find specific strategies and suggested class activities for each aspect below.

Include relevant and meaningful content

A key strategy for managing a successful HyFlex teaching and learning environment is the preparation of a robust and helpful course LMS. Your course LMS should, in part, be repositories of well-curated, current, and relevant content. The content in your course may include your own writing or recorded videos of you, but you should definitely not be the only voice students hear or the only face that they see (as intriguing as you may be). Diversity is an important part of relevant and meaningful content.

It is important that students see themselves in the courses they take. 

Consider using quality content from underrepresented creators (women, Indigenous writers and artists, LGBTQ++ writers and artists, discipline experts from countries other than your own) and visual representations of people of all colours and ages. This diversity will help ensure your students are exposed to global perspectives and begin to see themselves as capable experts in your discipline.

Computer with lightbulbs Activity

Take a moment to reflect on one of your current courses.

To what extent is your textbook (if you’re using a required textbook) diverse in terms of underrepresented people in images and authorship? To what extent are the supplemental resources you choose to enhance your content diverse? What might you do right away to make small changes?

Design and populate your course LMS as a toolkit that is useful to you and your students for your weekly topics and deliverables. Be clear about what content is required and what is optional.

If you have been teaching the same courses or types of courses for a while, you have likely developed a wide collection of required and supplemental resources that are relevant for student learning. You may have a core textbook, go-to videos, articles, web pages, audio content and other content strategies that you’ve tested with students over time.

If you do not have a deep collection of diverse, relevant, and meaningful content for your courses, there’s a willing and engaged group right in front of you every week that can help you build – your students. Consider what “meaningful” content means to you and ask your students what meaningful content means for them.

It is important to consider that those might be different definitions.

Screen with a pen and charts Example

Activity #1: Create an assessment designed to reward students with grades/points for finding (or creating) and sharing content that helps them learn weekly topics successfully. Have them sign up for a week to peer share. Have them write a brief summary of the resource they share and why they believe it has value for learning (this is good practice for annotation).

Activity #2: Students create an infographic to summarize the key learning points of a weekly topic into a short and creative guide for other students. With student permission, these weekly ideas and creations can be shared forward in future iterations of the course. Create a good rubric to clarify your expectations for quality and the number of points available.

Leverage the diversity, interests, prior knowledge, and capacity of your students to help each other learn through review and curation of useful content. Peers helping peers not only aids with managing multiple modes of teaching but also empowers students to retain their learning more effectively.

Rather than standing alone at the front of the classroom, you are engaged with a group of learners that have prior knowledge and enjoy sharing it with others. As the course knowledge leader, provide guidance and feedback, set expectations of high quality versus low-quality content, and support their skills of digital literacy for searching and discerning.

Engage students in memorable activities and learning experiences

Learning can be fun. Repeat, learning can be fun. There are several engagement strategies that can help make learning more memorable for students and more interesting for you as you facilitate their learning.

In previous units, ideas for engagement technology have been shared. Review those ideas and consider what engagement activities align with your topics and learning practice strategies.

In this section, you will consider how humans learn, what might increase learning retention, and expand/deepen student interest in your discipline through intrinsic motivation.

Computer with lightbulbs Activity

The following 15-minute read, Creativity as a Reflective Learning Exercise: Informing Strategic Marketing Decisions Through Digital Storytelling, provides easy-to-apply information about digital storytelling in a Marketing course. The concepts presented are applicable to most disciplines. As you read, think about how you may apply some of these strategies in the HyFlex environment.

The following 20-minute read, Active Learning in Hybrid and Physically Distanced Classrooms by Derek Bruff for Vanderbilt University shares some very practical instructions for active learning including class-wide discussions, live polling, fishbowl, group work, and collaborative note-taking. As you read, think about how these suggestions complement what you learned in Module 2 and how you can apply active learning strategies for HyFlex.

Screen with a pen and charts Example

In order to activate learner creativity and combine factual reinforcement to achieve learning outcomes, try a multi-modal group activity such as creating an interactive timeline with the use of images.

Consider using an open-source tool such as Timeline JS. Here is an example timeline:  How Wine Colonized the World

This is also the perfect opportunity to teach your students about using openly licensed, copyright-available images and alt text in their timeline. The following resources explain copyright and accessibility requirements and include some open source, copyright-available websites that students can use when gathering images:

While there are a variety of engaging activities you may choose for the HyFlex environment, remember this: students want to be active and creative in their learning. They want to experience curiosity and intrinsic motivation. They seek to learn because the topics are interesting to them, rather than simply wanting a high grade.

The readings and concepts above are just a start on the many discipline-specific ways you might engage learners as co-creators in your course and empower them to tell stories, create projects, and learn more in their communities.

Assess students in meaningful and impactful ways

In Module 1, you explored HyFlex assessments within the primary context of course outcome/objective alignment. In this section, take a deeper dive into collaborative and self-assessment strategies that help bridge the spaces between in-person, synchronous online, and asynchronous students. Issues of academic integrity in HyFlex courses will also be shared in this section.

Computer with lightbulbs Activity

Let’s first explore David Wiley’s movement to eradicate disposable assignments.

Disposable assignments are the ones that students create, you grade, they do or do not read your feedback, and the assignment goes into the trash bin. This is a deeply cyclical problem in post-secondary contexts.

The following 15-minute read from David Wiley’s blog entitled Killing the Disposable Assignment describes what is meant by reusable assignments and why you might consider adding them to your mix of teaching options.

A key feature of reusable assignments is that students may use it as a portfolio piece or they may grant you permission to use it as a high-quality example for future students. They might consider posting it publicly on a blog or sharing it with others if it is a useful element of learning. For example, students may have created infographics or other visual learning materials that would benefit other learners.

Reusable assignments are perfect for peer feedback and self-assessment.

When students take pride in what they are creating, they also seek to continuously improve it. Use rubrics and guidance for how quality is defined in the context of the assignment, what it means to review a project and how to provide positive, meaningful feedback.

An additional feature of personally relevant assignments where collaboration and peer feedback are encouraged is academic integrity. The more you seek projects and assignments where students tell their stories about their interests and provide reflections on their learning, and where active collaboration is sought in the form of peer feedback, the more challenging it is for students to use the work of others.

Just reading the words academic integrity in the context of HyFlex course design and teaching is likely somewhat anxiety-inspiring. Designing and helping to ensure academic rigour in digital teaching and learning contexts can be challenging and frustrating for educators. One interesting movement for reducing concerns about academic integrity is intentional global issues and strategies of student collaboration to inspire and engage learners.

Computer with lightbulbs Activity

In November 2021, UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) published a ground-breaking report on the future-forward role of education called Reimagining our futures together: A new social contract for education. The purpose of this lengthy document was to provide a vision for what education should be as it relates to saving the planet (and the humans on it).

Please read chapters 3, 4, and 5 as they are very relevant to the practices and possibilities of HyFlex teaching and learning; it would be worth your time to dig in and consider what course design and assessments might look like in your discipline if you focused on current planetary issues.

Tip: Scroll down the page and download the report for ease of reading.

Another way to incorporate global issues when designing meaningful and impactful assessments is to consider the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Create assignments and self-assessment opportunities where students choose the goals that matter to them personally and then apply the topics and skills they are exploring in your course to these interests. How might students do this in groups?

The following 10-minute video created in 2020 provides an intro to the SDGs and a few early ideas on how you might use them as collaborative assignment foundations.

SDGs OER20 [10:32] Video Transcript [.docx]

Screen with a pen and charts Example

The following sample assignment, Deconstruction/Reconstruction, was originally published by Jenni Hayman as part of a conference workshop activity.

The purpose of the assignment is for students to examine a piece of content they have used for learning in a marketing course (textbook, videos, or any reading). They must find ways to improve the resource with a more community, social justice, and/or global lens. Students will use the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their values to critically assess the piece of content. This assignment may be accomplished individually or in groups of 2-4 peers.

As you read through the assignment, feel free to adopt, adapt, and revise for your own course.

Unit Summary

In this unit, you have explored several possibilities for managing the HyFlex teaching environment in student-centred ways by incorporating relevant and meaningful content, engaging students with memorable (and hopefully fun) active learning methods, and considering ways to assess students that reduce concerns about academic integrity. Rather than adapting your course, content, and activities for students that you have not yet met, you can focus on seeking student input while you are teaching, learning with and from them.

Managing HyFlex teaching and learning can be more effective by prioritizing student involvement and empowering them to manage their own learning with you as their guide. When that type of learning environment is present, it doesn’t matter quite as much whether it is face-to-face, sychronous online, or online asynchronous; student engagement is a high probability.



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HyFlex Course Design and Teaching Strategies Copyright © 2022 by Angela Barclay; Krista Ceccolini; Kathleen Clarke; Nicole Domonchuk; Sidney Shapiro; Jupsimar Singh; Mel Young; Jenni Hayman; Joseph Beer; and Courtney Arseneau is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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