It was 2018, I had just completed my bachelor’s in history at San Francisco State University (SFSU). I was ready to go forth into the world and teach some history. As it happens, that would not be my path. However, I did make a plan to return to graduate school within one year of finishing undergrad. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any clue what I wanted to go back to school for. What I did know was that I didn’t want to commute. For all but my first year attending SFSU, I commuted from San Jose to San Francisco. Every. Morning. If you’ve ever had to sit in SF Bay Area traffic during the morning rush, you can understand why I wanted a program that didn’t require a commute. If you’ve never experienced it, consider yourself lucky. However, I was skeptical about online programs. I had taken online courses before and it always felt like it was three times the reading as an in person class and double the amount of work and time spent with little to no interaction with professors or peers beyond two forced posts a week. You may have seen something like this in your online forums “Wow *insert name* what an in-depth analysis! I agree with you that blah blah was blah blah. I liked how you mentioned blah, blah in your response. I didn’t mention that but I did include blah blah.”
This method always left me frustrated and burnt out by the end of the semester feeling that I had done twice the work and retained less than half the material. If that was my experience with just a few courses then what would be like in a fully online program? But then, like most of my classmates, I stumbled upon the Instructional Technologies Program at SFSU. This is where I came across “HyFlex” for the first time. Initially I thought it was just a clever way to rebrand online learning. I thought to myself “Nice try! You can’t fool this gal!” Nevertheless, being a good history grad I researched further to see what I could uncover about HyFlex. This led me to Dr. Beatty’s faculty page on the SFSU website. I took a deep dive into his CV, found his book and started to realize there was a lot more to this HyFlex stuff than just clever rebranding. All the things I was looking for in a program started to emerge: student-centered, flexible, choose how you participate, online or in person. My interest was officially piqued. Fast forward to today, I’m three semesters in and loving every second of it!
So how exactly do I decide how to participate from week to week? I always start my week with the intention of attending the live session. That being said, if I have to go into the office and get stuck in traffic on the way home, then I attend asynchronously. Other times, the day is simply exhausting and I’m unable to lend my full attention to the live session so I participate asynchronously. Regardless of how I choose to attend in any week, I always feel like a full participant. Of course, there are other benefits to HyFlex than just being able to attend asynchronously. Because the sessions are recorded, if I ever have a hard time understanding a concept I can always go back and review them. Since I have a terrible short-term memory and note taking is not my strong suit, the ability to review lectures is a great way for me to stay on track and not get lost within the course.
In addition to flexibility, the HyFlex course model is also more resilient to things outside of our control. Let’s fast forward to March 2020, I think you know what’s coming… Yup, Covid-19. While everyone’s Spring Semester was being flipped upside down, it felt like mine had not suffered at all. HyFlex allowed the ITEC program to transition seamlessly into distance learning. For students who had to move home or to cheaper areas outside of the Bay Area they were still able to get a high quality education. If I’m being honest, being 100% virtual actually made it more convenient for group work. It pushed us to get creative in how we collaborate amongst each other. Of course we utilized video conferencing but beyond that it pushed us to be more comfortable using asynchronous communication such as email or Google Docs.
All in all, HyFlex allows the learning experience to truly be centered around the learner. It provides flexibility for students regardless of their location and work schedule. And perhaps most importantly, it transfers the online schooling experience to be accessible to a wide range of students all while allowing them to be full participants. Now instead of feeling burnt out at the end of the semester, I feel confident and excited for the next one!
As a graduate student at SFSU I have been attending HyFlex courses for nearly 2 years. Before entering the program I had no idea what a HyFlex course is and neither had I heard this term. I have tried all three modes (before the pandemic period), depending on the situation and I had the best learning experience in my life.
Having the option to attend classes online while not missing anything from the teacher-learner and learner-learner interaction allowed me to continue to work as before entering the program. For instance, this year there were days that I finished my work 5 minutes before starting my classes at SFSU. I did not have to choose between work and studies because I knew that in HyFlex courses I can have the same access to learning as in face-to-face instruction. Not only that, but I was able to take care of my family without missing on my learning since I did not have to commute for 2 hours.
Additionally, in-class and synchronous online learning allows for maximum interaction with teachers and students. Simply because all can share ideas, resources, their feedback etc. in the chat something that is impossible to happen in face-to-face learning experiences without the use of technology. (Not everyone can share his knowledge in face-to-face instruction especially in classes with big audiences).
Some other benefits I can list:
– accessibility to resources that are available in different formats,
– deeper learning for many reasons like review the lectures if we need it, participation in online discussions to interact with the online learners, and ongoing interaction with the instructor apart from the synchronous class.
Personally, I believe that the HyFlex model is one of the best examples of learner-centered instruction for adults.