This is a guest post written by Brett Haensel, a junior at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
As universities across the country brace for the impact that the COVID-19 crisis might have on the upcoming fall term, Inside Higher Ed brainstormed 15 possible scenarios, ranging from a return to normalcy to a continuation of fully remote learning. In an effort to offer a student perspective on the ongoing debate surrounding learning options for the fall, I wanted to take a closer look at a particularly intriguing possibility — Fall Scenario #13: A HyFlex Model.
As the name suggests, the HyFlex model aims to offer a hybrid of the two ends of the continuum, providing students with the flexibility to choose between both remote and in-person learning options. Below, I will offer a brief description of what this potential scenario could look like before evaluating its pros and cons.
HyFlex Model Overview
HyFlex courses offer students the ultimate flexibility: the choice between either physically attending the classroom or opening up a laptop and participating online — for each and every class. That is, each course would be “delivered both in person and online at the same time by the same faculty member.“
Provided the necessary technology and equipment, professors would have live interaction with in-person and remote students while simultaneously recording these lectures for later viewing by students who are unable to attend synchronously. Ideally, technology (cameras, video conferencing monitors, microphones, etc.) would allow for the experience of the student sitting in the classroom to be the same as that of the student at home.
If both social distancing guidelines and travel restrictions remain in place for the foreseeable future, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which physical classrooms are not allowed to be filled to capacity or certain students are unable to safely return to campus. A HyFlex model would allow cohorts of students that live on or near campus to rotate between attending classes in person and online, and allow for those in another state or country to keep pace all the same. The model, in theory, offers the option of returning to the status quo while continuing to cater to the wide variety of individual student circumstances.
From a student perspective, the HyFlex model offers two rather appealing benefits:
- Choice. Even without the uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic, I’ve long wondered when students would be presented the option to attend class from their dorm room. Whether due to miserable weather, health issues, or just an early morning class, many students would love the option of tuning into the live lecture remotely from time to time and avoiding the long walk across campus. With the level of video conferencing technology that is readily available, I’m actually surprised that students have not yet been offered this autonomy over where learning takes place, regardless of the coronavirus. When taking into consideration the circumstances of the virus, however, the level of choice offered by the HyFlex model becomes even more appealing. There is still the chance that some sense of normalcy will have returned to life by the time the fall comes around, placing some students back on campus and opening up classrooms under certain restrictions and guidelines. In that case, the benefit of HyFlex is obvious: students can choose whichever setting — in-person or remote — is safest and most desirable according to their own individual circumstances.
- Equity. If executed correctly, HyFlex has the potential to be the most equitable learning scenario for students. Some students may prefer to return to in-person classroom settings if the opportunity presents itself, while others may be inhibited from making such a physical return to campus due to restrictions relating to travel or other personal circumstances. In theory, the HyFlex model should serve both groups’ needs. Other options that take this autonomy out of individual students’ hands will inevitably leave one of these two groups feeling slighted. Offering students a choice — for each and every class — between attending in person or online may be the best approach to ensuring equity for all.
The aforementioned “pros” section can certainly be viewed as a glass-half-full perspective. “In theory” is the key phrase that the success of such a model hinges on. Barring a near-perfect implementation of HyFlex, the positive benefits of the model laid out above may very well cease to exist.
Essentially, the cons of the HyFlex model arise under three scenarios:
- What if universities fail to provide faculty with relevant technology? A lack of video conferencing, microphone, or camera equipment could cause students attending remotely to suffer through a severely watered down version of the curriculum. Online participants may be resigned to strictly watching lectures rather than engaging with the professor and other students.
- What if faculty are unable to successfully cater to both groups of students? Even with perfect technology that picks up every sound in the room and allows for everybody — whether in-person or on a computer — to see and hear each other, a professor may be unable to manage and teach both groups. Unless given additional help, professors could easily become overwhelmed with the demands that HyFlex imposes upon them. Facilitating class discussion with and answering the questions of students attending class in two different settings will inevitably be challenging. No student should feel as if they are receiving less attention than anyone else.
- What if asynchronous learners are left behind? Time zones and individual circumstances will always guarantee that some students, if learning remotely, will need to attend class asynchronously. While efforts can be made to ensure that lectures cater to live in-person and online audiences, special attention must also be paid to designing a course that ensures those students watching recorded lectures aren’t impacted negatively in terms of the complete learning experience.
Overall, the HyFlex model seems to be beneficial for students if and only if universities and professors take it upon themselves to ensure the necessary technology, course curriculum, and teaching strategies are in place so that all students have a comparable educational experience. HyFlex possesses the potential to offer students autonomy, flexibility, and equity, yet it also has the capacity to treat online learners as “second-class citizens.”
If institutions of higher ed are unable to guarantee that remote learners will not be at a disadvantage, then they should abandon considerations of the HighFlex scenario. If the right measures are taken to ensure there is no difference — outside of personal preference — between attending classes in person or online, then I believe this approach to learning should be considered and employed, even after concerns over COVID-19 disappear.
Written by Brett Haensel
Brett Haensel is a junior in Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In addition to his Journalism major, Brett is pursuing minors in both Classics and Business Institutions. He has written for the News & Observer in Raleigh, NC, and he has interned at the University of Chicago Urban Labs for Crime and Education. Brett is an avid runner and an aspiring writer who spends his free time watching and playing any and all sports. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.