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9 ingredients for HyFlex classrooms that work – now and in the future

Tricia Whenham
By Tricia Whenham on December 2, 2020
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9 ingredients for HyFlex classrooms that work – now and in the future

Flexibility – it’s something that we’ve all had to show a lot of this year. And that reality doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon. So it’s no surprise that higher ed approaches that let everyone stay nimble are looking more and more appealing, especially when they promise to give students an excellent educational experience whether in the classroom or joining from home or a dorm.

That’s why so many postsecondary institutions are turning to the HyFlex model. In a HyFlex course, every session is delivered online and in person, with students choosing how to attend. Instructors don’t just deliver a synchronous lecture to two groups at once. Student participation and active learning are cornerstones of HyFlex, and they’re prioritized even though part of the class is there remotely.

HyFlex seems tailormade for our current challenging circumstances. But it’s been around long before COVID, helping colleges and universities offer flexibility, without compromising learning. And it will still be meeting the needs of postsecondary students, even when social distancing and COVID case counts become a distant memory.

Are you creating classrooms on your campus that work well for HyFlex – both in the new normal and in the years to come? Here are 9 elements that will help set students and faculty up for success.

1. Reliable full-room audio

Unlike some approaches, HyFlex puts a premium on student participation – so it just doesn’t work if students at home can’t hear the students in the classroom.

Make sure to choose an audio system that picks up every voice, even if people are physically distanced in the learning space. It’s better if you don’t have to keep lapel mics charged and sanitized or pass around shared mics. And it’s ideal if instructors can move around naturally without worrying about dead zones and students can face any direction and still be heard. Here’s how Nureva® audio fits the bill.

2. Video in all the right places

When it comes to HyFlex, training a camera on an instructor’s face isn’t enough. Ideally, you’ll also have a view that shows the rest of the classroom, so students can see each other as they lead discussions or ask questions. Depending on your circumstances, you may also need a camera that shows a close-up of a whiteboard or a document camera for zooming in on the details.

This can all start to get overly complex. The best approach? Figure out how the space is going to be used and then create the simplest setup that meets the needs of students and faculty. For an example, here’s how the University of British Columbia’s law school set up their HyFlex classroom.

3. Easy to use UC&C platform

COVID-19 has brought with it a highly competitive UC&C environment, which means that tech giants are rushing to deliver more and more value. No matter what your institution has standardized on, you’ll have a large toolbox to run your classes.

The biggest challenge might just be helping professors and instructors make the most of what these platforms offer. It’s easy to assume everyone’s an expert – after this many virtual book clubs, family dinners and meetings, maybe we should be. But many features for the HyFlex classroom aren’t obvious – like the ability to create virtual seating charts in Zoom or integrate polls in Google™ Meet. Make sure faculty get the webinars and training they need to take full advantage of what’s possible. Here are some resources from Microsoft, Zoom and Google.

4. Chat or another backchannel

Backchannels can include a class message board or just the chat feature in your UC&C platform. They give students a place to connect with each other, sharing ideas and reactions, without necessarily needing to raise their hands to speak to the professor.

If you enable students in the room and remote to use the chat, it’s also a way for them to flag technical difficulties and help each other without interrupting the flow of the class. Just make sure you assign a student to monitor the chat and raise issues and questions, so instructors don’t have to divide their focus the whole time. Here are more creative ways to use your backchannels.

5. Tools to visualize ideas

For many professors, the whiteboard is still their go-to for helping students get the full picture. In HyFlex classrooms, you can train a camera on the board and then ensure it’s well lit so remote students can see. But consider whether an online whiteboard could give professors everything they need plus digital perks.

Many online whiteboard options are out there – some of which are free or come with the Google or Microsoft® platform your institution already pays for. No matter where students are sitting in the room or if they’re at home, they can have a crystal clear view of what’s being presented. Plus, a shared online whiteboard can be used by students as well, turning it into an excellent collaboration tool that bridges the distance.

6. Movable seating options

HyFlex is all about flexibility, so don’t get restricted by your furniture. You’ll want seating that supports changing health requirements, allowing you to rearrange the classroom to keep students as distanced as possible. But you’ll also want to invest in desks that can be rearranged to create group collaboration spaces when COVID-19 is no longer a concern.

Once you set up your space, make sure to ask for feedback from faculty and students to ensure everyone can see and hear well from their spots. And choose in-room cameras that are easy to adjust plus audio solutions that still work even when a room is rearranged.

7. Great lighting

Learning spaces with natural lighting do make a difference – they’ve even been shown to positively affect student performance. But in a HyFlex room, this gets a bit more complicated. You’ll want to ensure that the instructor, the students in the class and any physical materials are well lit so that those watching at home aren’t straining their eyes to see what’s going on.

If natural light isn’t an option or is creating glare or annoying shadows on your video conferencing feed, you may need to take matters into your own hands. Here are some ideas on how adding the right lighting on Zoom calls can increase engagement.

8. Devices and headphones for students

Having students in class and remote can create a gulf that’s hard to bridge. It helps to ensure in-person students have the tools they need to connect with those at home. Even in the classroom, students will need laptops or another device so they can access posted class materials and take part in online polls and backchannel conversations.

Breakout rooms in your UC&C platform also help students stay connected – and give students a way to work in small groups even when health regulations mandate that they stay distanced in the room. Ensure that all in-person students have headphones with an integrated mic so they can take part in small group discussions and beyond. (If you want to increase student participation, here are more ideas.)

9. All the basic essentials

Got all that? Now you just need to ensure the basics are taken care of. Add extra power outlets for student laptops, and throw in charging stations for phones. Ensure Wi-Fi will be fast and reliable. And keep IT support on standby so that a tech issue doesn’t derail an entire class. Ensure that nothing will get in the way of instructors teaching and students learning.

Topics: Higher education Hybrid classroom Hybrid learning