In-person Classes are Going to Become Hyflex Courses — And How to Start Preparing

We all want everything to go back to normal. We miss seeing our students, laughter, hugs, working with groups, hands-on lessons and labs, hallway conversations, lunch with friends, and the insights that come out of spontaneous discussions. We miss the joy. Our students miss all of this too.

By the beginning of August, the party line from many schools and colleges has been that they plan on reopening in the fall, and resuming in-person classes. Many people where I teach are eagerly moving forward with planning instruction on the assumption that we will be back in classrooms with our students at least some of the time.

Spiking rates of COVID-19 might force us to start teaching online again; we should all have contingency plans for a repetition of last March. Even if that does not happen, our classrooms are not going to return to normal. Some schools are planning on having each half of a class meet on alternate days. Others are allowing students and their families to choose whether to attend online or in-person.

Even if our classes are meeting in person, teachers are going to have to navigate a patchwork of attendance issues. How will students access our classes if they are quarantined for two weeks? Or if they are sick? Or if they are too concerned for their safety to come to class? Not to mention that we will have to excuse any student who says they feel sick, or who says that returning to school doesn’t feel safe. Attendance policies will become meaningless. Assignment deadlines might too.

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We are going to need to re-think how we structure our courses.

Currently, course structures are usually categorized as:

  • In-person = traditional classes that are entirely in person)
  • Online = courses where all content is provided online and that has two categories:
  • Synchronous online = online courses where people meet at the same time via Zoom or other formats
  • Asynchronous online = online courses where content is provided through text, video, screencasts, or asynchronous chats, where students can do the coursework at any time they want.
  • Hybrid courses = courses where some content is provided online (either synchronously or asynchronously) and some is provided in person
  • Hyflex courses = courses where students can choose to come to the class in person or to access course content online. In some cases the online option might allow people to synchronously “attend” class via Zoom or another format. In others, they might be able to allow students to access the content online in an asynchronous format, such as a video recording of the lecture. Some courses may even allow all three options, of coming to the class in person, “zooming” in to participate virtually, or asynchronously allowing students to view a film of the class or other content at a later time.

Until a treatment or cure for COVID-19 is found, all of our “in-person” classes are going to become de facto hyflex classes. Inevitably, even if our class is defined as an “in person” class, we will end up having to provide online options, and likely both synchronous and asynchronous options as well.

Some of my colleagues have taught hyflex graduate courses, and they say that teaching in that format can double, or even triple, planning time because they need to plan what each class is going to look like for students who are 1) in the room, 2) Zooming in, 3) not able to attend at that time, who will need to access the recorded content later. But they also said that the amount of work involved can depend on how we structure our courses.

I am not writing this to freak anyone out. We can mitigate some of the negative impacts if we start planning for this reality now. We should start considering what our classes and course policies will look like in hyflex formats. I don’t think any of us have all the answers for what quality hyflex instruction looks like — particularly at the K-12 level. But here are some questions and ideas to consider as we adapt to hyflex models:

What would you want students to be in class for? What can students get from face-to-face meetings that they can’t get in any other format?

  • Consider what most needs to happen when you see students in person and prioritize using class time for that.
  • To the extent possible, consider the best ways to replicate that interaction for students who cannot come to class at all. How can they join in through their screens or share their thoughts at other times?
  • Consider flipping your course and providing content online, while using in-person meetings to help students individually or in small groups, or to help them troubleshoot what they were stuck on when they tried to work at home. This format lends itself well to hyflex teaching.

Where will students primarily get information for your course?

  • Lectures — consider ways to film and post your lectures. Better yet, don’t rely solely on lectures.
  • Written directions — make them available digitally as well as in class.
  • Reading texts — can students access the text on PDFs or websites if they aren’t in class?
  • Annotating texts — I haven’t used these yet, but a colleague recommended hypothes.is or Perusall. Both allow students to collaboratively annotate texts online. Incorporating one of these in one or more of my courses might be one of my goals for this term.
  • Video or screencast — ensure that clips or films you would show in class are available online. Here’s how to upload a DVD to youtube. In my experience, streaming a video in Zoom so your whole class can watch it together doesn’t work because it uses too much bandwidth. It works better to give students time to watch the film independently (with their mics off) and then resume the discussion when they have finished.

What will students need to do? What work will you need to see and check?

  • If students are doing worksheets or quizzes, consider putting those in digital formats such as quizzes on your course management system or on Peardeck, Google Forms, Quizlet, Kahoot, etc.
  • If students need to listen and take notes, consider ways for them to listen to lectures or screencasts online. Consider using Google Forms or other formats to create note-catchers and graphic organizers they can fill in.
  • What do students need to turn in to you? Ensure that there is a way to do this online through a course management site like Google Classroom or through another format.

What kinds of feedback do students need from us and at what times?

  • How will students see (and show that they have read) our written feedback? Course management systems like Google Classroom, plus Google Docs, Microsoft Word, and many other systems allow us to write comments directly on documents. Or we could consider or screencasts of us reading their work and providing verbal feedback.
  • How and when will students be able to talk with us about their work? We could consider using Zoom meetings, texting, or emailing.
  • How and when will students use rubrics or other documents to measure how well they met standards? How will we make sure they understand what the rubric is measuring? This is an area where screencasting could be helpful — teachers could make a screencast of a talk-through of the assignment, the rubric, or even a model that a student gave us permission to use.

How and when will students interact?

  • Small groups — create break-out groups in Zoom. Or use laptops to zoom in a student and move the laptop to put them in groups with the students.
  • Whiteboard — Zoom has a whiteboard feature that multiple students can use at once. Or there are multiple other whiteboard collaboration programs.
  • Discussions — use chat discussions in your course management system, or on another site, such as Backchannel Chat.
  • Create posters or a written document — create shared documents in Google docs or Google Slides, and add all students with “can edit” privileges. This will require getting each student’s email and then typing or pasting them into the “Add people/groups” field when you click “share.”
  • Consider finding other ways for students to share their thinking with Flipgrid, Padlet, or other interactive programs.
  • Annotate a text together using hypothes.is or Perusall.

What physical materials will students need?

  • Classroom supplies — ask students to find these at the start of the lesson, or send an email in advance telling them what to bring to class meetings. Work with the district or school in advance to send or loan materials to students who can’t come to school. Or consider other items they could use at home or access digitally.

What else we will need to do to make hybrid teaching a success

Teach norms

Just as we explicitly teach students how to interact with each other in our classrooms, we will need to explicitly teach them how to interact online, or how to interact when some students are in the room and some are online. Consider what you will need to teach your students about dressing appropriately, eating and drinking at appropriate times, appropriate language, turn-taking, attentiveness, how and when to “chat” either in person or with Zoom’s “chat” feature, how to raise their hands, how to be excused, and all other behaviors you would expect regardless of whether they are in person or online.

Rethink class policies

Many of us give credit for attendance, but we are entering a term where there will be multiple, often legitimate, reasons why students cannot attend class. We may need to have more flexible attendance policies.

Homework policies

What would provide students enough structure to be successful while also providing enough flexibility to allow them to manage access, health, and other issues? Perhaps instead of attendance and rigid due dates, we should consider:

  • Check-ins — contact with us by a certain date
  • Progress checks — checking how well students are meeting completion benchmarks in the process of completing a project or meeting a standard
  • Standards-based grading — some schools were already grading based on completion of work and demonstration of meeting standards by the end of the unit. This might be a good time to consider adopting those policies.

Opportunities for Growth

While hyflex teaching is going to create a lot of challenges and changes, disruptions to our typical teaching schemas can also lead to innovation. This can be an opportunity for all of us to rethink what content is really important for students to learn, what kinds of interactions among students we are trying to foster, and what pedagogies and policies will best help students be successful. Are there other forms of instruction that are as good or better than teaching all of our students the same content, at the same time? Are there ways that more choice and flexibility could help students learn better and foster a stronger sense of agency and ownership? Are there forms of interaction that could foster a stronger sense of community or provide better feedback? Does “teaching” always mean having to teach a group of 30 students all at once? Does learning always have to happen in lockstep? So many of us have been working within the brick and mortar classroom paradigms for so long that we haven’t been able to do much thinking out of the box (literally). Maybe we don’t all know what hyflex learning will look like this year, but we will have a chance to work together to expand our thinking about teaching and learning.

I would love to see or hear about what people are doing to move to hyflex instruction. Please add what you’re doing to the comments!

Written by

Suzie Null is a former middle and high school teacher and current professor of Teacher Education. Follow her on Twitter at WritingontheWall @NullSet16

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