It can be quite challenging to teach in a “Hyflex” (hybrid and flexible) environment, also known as the split environment, with some students attending face-to-face, while others join remotely via virtual conferencing. Before the pandemic, some top universities invest millions of dollars in classroom technologies to teach hyflex courses. Now with a combination of existing tools with good strategies, many other teachers can teach in this environment as well. Here are some tips we would give after hearing from many of you.
Have a clear structure
Many activities require good use of your learning management system. Do not use Canvas to dump content. Have a clear structure so that students can follow it. Use modules to post instructional content or activities so that it creates small and manageable units of learning. Mark students with clear tags for their attendance status if you need to follow up.
Hold certain elements constant
You cannot have everything in constant shifting mode. Hold some instructional activities constant, use one modality if needed. For instance, everyone will use the assignment tool of your learning management system to submit assignments. Have everyone take the quiz online as well, whether they come to class or not. Hold your office hours or tutoring sessions for all members of the class to equalize access for students.
Manage your devices
Some teachers use computers in the classroom while also trying to connect their mobile devices to the computers via airplay or cable, which sometimes malfunctions. Instead, we found that it is more reliable to join the same meeting separately with your mobile device using a dial-in mode to avoid sound interference. Share screens on the mobile device when you need to. When you join with a mobile device simultaneously, your mobile device also can serve as an extra camera to show the rest of your room. It can even function as a document camera. Remember to turn off notifications at the start of the session to avoid distraction, and turn it back on when the session is over.
Shift your attention
You can be so focused on the task that you speak only to the students in the class, forgetting students attending remotely. Remember to check-in at the camera once in a while. When checking the remote students, get closer to the camera so that the talking video looks larger and your voice can have better projection. If you are writing on the blackboard or demonstrating on the desk, make sure remote students see what you do.
Have a Zoom assistant
It is beneficial to designate a teaching assistant as your Zoom assistant to help monitor the virtual space. If you do not have a teaching assistant, have students in your physical classroom volunteer or rotate as your Zoom assistant. Encourage your students to help each other when there are technical issues because you cannot spend much time troubleshooting. You will be surprised how resourceful and helpful your students can be when you appeal to their altruistic tendencies. You might also want to check this podcast episode about classroom jobs which may be used to delegate some tasks to students.
Add a collaborative channel
When having a virtual session with blended attendance, sometimes it helps to have a Google Doc for collaborative work or note-taking. The chat function of a virtual meeting tool is useful, but it is limited in functions. A Google Doc allows rich formats, multiple collaborators, and comments, among other things.
Some remote students never turn on the camera, which creates challenges for socialization. Create activities that tap into the social learning potential. For instance, use breakout rooms. Have a Zoom session to ask everyone to turn on the camera. Have students record a short introduction video. Pair up a face-to-face student with a remote one to form what can be called “Zoom buddies” to help each other. It is also possible for face-to-face students and remote students to form different subcultures or even little cliques that can become counterproductive. Mix them up in your group assignment for improved socialization and rapport.
Most educators probably would prefer to teach only face-to-face or only online, but even after the pandemic, a sickness, Injury, or travel due to a UIL competition or performance may present future scenarios that make the hyflex format still a desirable option, even if it is only for a while. It may all seem like a necessary evil to teach in this fashion, but as you become well-versed in teaching HyFlex classes, you are also acquiring skills and learning tools that may help your future career.