HyFlex learning: the learning method none of us expected, nor was quite ready for. On March 12, 2020, my school, the University of St. Thomas, announced that we would be transitioning to online learning for a few weeks – maybe even longer. That following fall semester was when HyFlex learning kicked into high gear, giving us students control over choosing the learning modality that worked for our needs. Though HyFlex learning came as a surprise, sometimes the least expected things are the most worthwhile. With over a year of online/HyFlex learning under my belt, I am now reflecting on the positives and the pitfalls of the time spent inside and outside the classroom as a college student.
With that being said, here is what I recognized as my top three positives of HyFlex learning.
Flexible, flexible, flexible
Should I say it once more? The flexibility of HyFlex learning has proven to be a major benefit to students who have busy schedules, who live out of state, or who simply learn better in a “nontraditional” format. It allows students to take charge of their own learning and determine where, when, and how they will learn. With all the uncertainty that the last year has brought, I was grateful to have been able to pull out my computer from just about anywhere and acquire new knowledge (Would you believe me if I said a ping pong table was my desk for a while?). Whether I was sick and in quarantine, bringing a family member to an appointment, or traveling to a different state, the flexibility of HyFlex learning meant that I could take care of my personal commitments while also managing my academic ones.
Improvement in technological skills
With HyFlex learning being so heavily dependent on technology, students and staff alike have vastly improved their technological skills. Our world is ever-changing, and technology is constantly evolving, so an increase in these skills is setting students up for success in the workforce and beyond. Canvas, Zoom, Panopto, Microsoft PowerPoint, SharePoint, and many more sites are ones that I have become extremely familiar with, and this learning format means that more tools will be utilized to enhance learning. In just one year of HyFlex learning, my tech skills have substantially developed, and I know there is only more room to grow!
A learning format like this one allows students to learn at their own pace and revisit old material. For quieter students like myself, it can often feel like a burden to speak up in classes and ask professors to repeat themselves and/or explain a topic more. This is when online material proves to be extremely helpful, as I can rewatch videos, lectures, and review PowerPoints I did not understand from class as many times as I feel is necessary to understand the material. I can also make sure I fully understand one topic before moving to the next. This allows for a more individualized way of learning, whereas in a standard classroom setting, each student may be at a completely different level of understanding of the material. I have found that I have improved my self-discipline by taking the initiative to review class materials at my own pace.
Of course, transitioning to a brand-new learning method is prone to challenges. Here are three of the pitfalls I have noticed while continuing my schooling, as well as my take on how to avoid them.
Difficulty staying focused/motivated when not in a physical classroom
Picture this: it is a Friday (sooo close to the weekend!), a beautiful day (70 and sunny!) and you have 30 minutes left of that class that feels never-ending. You peer out the window, and so many things are on your mind… how late is the beach open? What is the UV index? Next thing you know, you get called on. Here you sit in a moment of panic, having no idea what was asked of you because you were completely zoned out. This has happened to me all too many times (uh, I mean a couple…), and I am sure other students have been in a similar situation. When I am behind a screen and not physically sitting in a classroom face-to-face with a professor, I tend to lose focus easier and have difficulty staying motivated in the class. Here is my take: if possible, students should attend class in person to hold themselves accountable. HyFlex has made it an option for students to attend class face-to-face or online and figuring out what is best for each learner will be the key. Online students should find a quiet, distraction-free area to attend class. A student’s academic experience is at stake, so they should continue to put forth an effort – why let a good education go to waste?
A potential disconnect in the community
With some students attending class in person and some attending online, it can be easy for the “Roomers” and the “Zoomers” to lose touch with each other and/or the professor. It is more difficult to build a community when not all students can be in person together. However, when everyone makes an effort to bridge this gap, the learning becomes much more consistent among all parties, and the disconnect becomes much smaller. Here is my take: students should make the effort to reach out to fellow students and professors. They should attend office hours. They should actively participate in group discussions. Furthermore, they should treat people the same, whether someone is attending online or in person. Intentionally doing these small things will be a huge step in creating a stronger community within the class!
Simply put, my Mac and I have officially bonded due to the countless hours spent together amidst the pandemic. However, the more time spent on my computer means I will likely run into more issues. Whether the computer is dead/isn’t working/not charged, the camera will not start, the microphone is not picking up the sound, the microphone is picking up the sound when it should not be (Oops, forgot to hit mute!) or the Wi-Fi is down, many challenges present itself when navigating an online class. There are so many resources out there to help resolve these problems! Everyone should be aware of how to handle these challenges by themselves and have the necessary contacts handy for when it is out of their control. Also, stay calm! The problem is only temporary and will be back to normal in no time.
HyFlex learning is no walk in the park, but it has drastically improved from where it first started. Through all the challenges faced, professors and staff have worked tirelessly to improve it and do not plan on stopping. Students have continued to attend class, complete assignments, and most importantly learn, despite the challenges occurring in the world and the classroom. Though HyFlex learning came as a surprise, I am grateful for the effort and adaptability of all involved and am excited to see what comes next!