Near the beginning of my HyFlex journey, I wrote about using HyFlex courses to bridge the gap between classroom and online instruction. (Beatty, 2007) Many others have talked about using blended learning to bridge the gap between classroom and online instruction. (Gounari & Voutropoulos, 2015) One of our early goals for HyFlex in the Instructional Technologies department at San Francisco State University was to use this “bridge method” to develop a fully online program to replace our classroom-based program over time. We didn’t initially have the capacity or capability to flip our traditional degree program to online; like many others, we wanted an online program to attract more students.
HyFlex – Living on the Bridge
Over the first few years, it became clear to us that teaching our program with a majority of HyFlex classes could allow us to attract additional online students and didn’t require us to leave the classroom altogether. The value of offering both online and classroom participation paths for the long term was more evident as we continued to attract a substantial number of students most interested in the face to face learning experience available in the classroom. In 2013 I started talking about teaching in HyFlex mode as “Living on the Bridge” connecting the physical classroom to the online classroom (Beatty, 2013). I was quite happy living (teaching) on the bridge of HyFlex; anchored on one side in the classroom and the other online. Students could join me on the bridge as they shifted from one mode to another, or stay fixed on one side or the other as a fully classroom or fully online learner.
Pandemic pushes us off “the bridge”
The classroom shutdown in March 2020 pushed us off the bridge, to continue the metaphor, to fully online for almost two full years. Only recently have we been allowed back into our classrooms (this Spring 22 semester in my case) but still with limited restrictions – mask mandates still being common. I was happy to offer my classes as full HyFlex again, with three participation options again But what about the students?
Teaching with very few students in the classroom
When our classrooms reopened, I surveyed students in my classes and more broadly in our degree program three times to ask them who was interested in returning to classroom instruction. Very few were interested in the classroom path; typically one or two in each class and even those were conditional on what was being covered. In the HyFlex Learning Community FAQ, we answer questions about what happens when classroom participation is very small (or zero). It is not the same as a normal classroom experience. Not even close!
If you need to offer a classroom option for students even when only 1 or 2 may show up in person you certainly need to design that class session for that possibility. You might have a bunch of online synchronous students and they will likely take most of your attention. So rather than making sure you aren’t ignoring the online students as you pay most of your attention to the students in front of you, you have to intentionally pay attention to the few students in front of you as you interact with the bulk of students online. This is different.
In our case, we decided to just keep teaching online only, allowing flexibility between two paths, online synchronous and online asynchronous. With the costs of commuting increasing (gasoline, parking, time in traffic, etc.) and our growing evidence of strong student learning in both online modes, this seems to be our best choice for all concerned. A few students are disappointed, of course, but they still have access to learning and they are still learning effectively. We’ve scheduled HyFlex classes again in Fall 2022, and we’ll survey students once again to see if any (optimistically “how many”) are interested in the classroom experience after this coming summer. I hope more are, enough for at least a regular 3-4 students in the classroom, to complement those participating online.
Have we crossed that bridge, finally?
For me, the big question that remains is this, “Have we finally crossed the bridge, following our students, to become a fully online program?” This might be the case, and if so, so be it. We’re doing this for our students, anyway, aren’t we?
Beatty, B. (2007). Transitioning to an Online World: Using HyFlex Courses to Bridge the Gap. In C. Montgomerie & J. Seale (Eds.), Proceedings of ED-MEDIA 2007–World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications (pp. 2701-2706). Vancouver, Canada: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved April 5, 2019 from https://www.learntechlib.org/primary/p/25752/
Living On The Perpetual Bridge: Connecting Yesterday To Tomorrow With Today’s Technology. Invited keynote presentation at the 2013 International Conference on E-Learning: Trends for 21st Century Learning Technology, Taipei, Taiwan. (May, 2013)
Gounari, P. and Koutropoulos, A. (2015). Using Blended Principles to Bridge the Gap between Online and On-Campus Courses. In L. Kyei-Blankson and E. Ntuli (Eds.) Practical Applications and Experiences in K-20 Blended Learning Environments. (pp. 178-190). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.