Thoughts About Using the HyFlex Model for Science Instruction

empty classroom

My university adopted a version of the HyFlex course design to accommodate learning in the time of SARS-CoV 2. In short, HyFlex incorporates an online portion to a F2F (face-to-face) course that can be synchronous and/or asynchronous. Students decidce how to participate. It appears to have been developed to solve the problem for large enrollment courses that are at physical capacity in order to allow additional student enrollment by way of participation online.

So my university implemented this for all F2F classes in the following way:

  • the university installed moveable webcams with decent microphones in all classes and encouraged the use of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra to live stream and record lectures in real time for students attending class either in person or at home.

For the most part my university gave faculty the general guideline of how to do the HyFlex model (now dubbed NAUFlex) but also the flexibility to choose how exactly faculty want to implement it in their courses.

So what did I do for my science courses? I created the following framework for my courses this semester: Hold regular lecture and labs while observing social distancing and wearing face masks (the university supplied facemasks, digital thermometers, and hand sanitizer to all students and faculty). Before and after each class each student was expected to wipe down their seating area with disinfectant wipes. If a student felt uncomfortable coming to class or ill in any way, I would live stream and record the session. I preferred using BB Collaborate instead of Zoom in this instance because it would automatically save recordings in the course shell after each class. I put no pressure on students to show up on-site or to stay at home. Their choice.

Surprisingly, the majority of students came to campus. A couple, intermittently, choose to stay home. And from home I encouraged them to participate virtually as much as possible while attending online synchronously.

WIth regards to this instructional approach- thumbs up? thumbs down? So far I like this modality, but there are some limitations that I am still working out. I'll discuss a few below.

First- it is problematic to monitor and determine if students at home understand the material compared to students attending in class. I use PowerPoint extensively so in order to see online students I am at the podium computer and switch views (from PowerPoint to BB Collaborate video) in order to see them. It definitely isn't the same as gauging their reactions in class.

Second- students not attending in person nor online synchronously don't appear to spend time watching the video lecture recording and are, as a result, missing out on learning anything from lecture.

Third- lab, the achilles heel of the HyFlex modality. Yes, streaming the discussion/lecture/explanation part is fine but the actual hands-on part is lacking for students in attendance from home. I have used- to a limited extent- on-line simulations and currently have students who have completed their lower division science courses online. But it appears that students who have experience doing a physical lab perform and adjust better to other live lab exercises than students who have less experience doing physical labs. I am normally open to new technology in the classroom but the more I experience the results of virtual labs, the more I am left to conclude that the virtual lab experience is inadequate for students.

Perhaps there is something- undefined, unwritten, and unknowable- to completing a lab technique under the watchful eye of an experienced faculty member compared to current digital exercises. Or the software/technology isn't there yet to adequately mimic the physical experience.

The lab is as an opportunity for students to gain tangible skill sets to use for on the job work if they choose to enter science. My expectation is that a student should be able to practice and demonstrate on multiple occasions safety habits, situation awareness, and appropriate techniques or physical manipulations, in addition to the critical thinking and conceptual understanding of the work at hand.

What are your lab expectations? How does that differ or vary amongst your colleagues in your department, institution, or externally (other academic institutions or industry)?