Nearly every higher education institution today recognizes how essential it is to be able to provide a quality online education. Even colleges and universities that are primarily residential have come to recognize they need contingency plans in the event that a crisis makes it impossible to hold class in person. But online education isn’t the same across every institution – there are now numerous alternative delivery models, which can vary in quality.
While there are multiple ways to offer programs online, the HyFlex learning model is quickly gaining recognition for its potential to transform higher education for the better. A HyFlex course includes in-person, synchronous online and asynchronous online elements, allowing students to choose how they participate in each class.
It’s easy to see the appeal of this alternative delivery model – it offers unparalleled levels of flexibility and convenience for today’s busy learners. Successfully launching a HyFlex learning model, though, hinges on leveraging the right digital solutions.
“The key to making everything work is highly reliable and functional technology that allows collaboration,” says Todd Pombert, vice president of information technology and campus CIO at Collegis Education.
7 key technology components required for HyFlex learning
It’s important to point out that intentional course design and adequate faculty training are essential components for a quality HyFlex course.
“A fully trained and supported faculty member who is comfortable and effective in the HyFlex modality can make up for a lot of technology limitations,” explains Dave Lungren, vice president of digital content solutions at Collegis Education.
That said, in order to deliver a quality HyFlex course experience, there are certain tools and related support that institutions simply need. Without a sophisticated technology ecosystem, students and professors alike will struggle. Several of these requirements include:
1. A centralized hub for the course
While a learning management system (LMS) is a standard tool for online learning, it’s been viewed as somewhat unnecessary for in-person classes. Why take the time to upload materials that students acquire during class? But as more and more institutions work toward offering a HyFlex modality, making use of an LMS is going to be necessary.
Students need to be able to log into a centralized system to access course materials, participate in discussions and verify due dates. And these platforms are just as crucial for instructors.
“The learning management system is critical for handling all administrative aspects like collecting assignments and grading,” Pombert explains.
2. Synchronous web conference system
The key differentiator between HyFlex learning and other hybrid models is that the former makes use of video streaming to allow remote students to attend class in real time. One undeniable benefit of this is that participants are still able to see one another.
“For students, being on camera supports better student engagement and interaction,” Lungren offers. “And for faculty, being on camera helps support their sense of presence in the course.”
There are many types of web conference systems on the market, but they can vary considerably. For starters, some options pose more security risks than others. It’s also worth considering what features are essential and whether it’s worth investing in a tool that can further enhance the classroom experience.
Depending on the platform, some useful features can include:
- Breakout rooms
- Chat functionality
- Screenshare capabilities
- Lecture capture
- Mobile apps
3. Video platform service
Streaming classes isn’t the only way HyFlex courses should leverage video. Some students will inevitably want to participate asynchronously all the time. There will also be instances when students will need to miss class due to illness or a scheduling conflict. In any of these cases, being able to access recorded content is crucial.
Pombert says there’s a lot of potential for video that’s only just being realized as well. Some video platforms, for example, make it easy to label videos with useful information and search by keyword. It’s also becoming more common for students to produce their own filmed content.
“Students are doing more video projects,” Pombert says. “It’s important to have the technology that enables students to upload videos and faculty to grade them and mark them up with feedback.”
4. High-quality classroom hardware
To implement a HyFlex learning model, a typical classroom just isn’t sufficient. Faculty need to be in an environment that’s equipped to support video streaming and collaboration. Because both students and instructors need to be able to see and hear one another, there are more tools than you might expect.
Ideally, a HyFlex classroom setup would include:
- High-quality cameras
- Multiple microphones
- Monitors or displays
This can be a lot for instructors to handle, so it’s worth having some backup. “For schools that have the resources, having a teaching assistant in the class to run the technology for the faculty member so they can focus on teaching is ideal,” Lungren offers.
5. An integrated ecosystem
Many schools have implemented something akin to hybrid learning in the past by making use of a patchwork of disparate tools. While this approach can work for a while, it’s really only a temporary fix during an emergency.
“Today, students are expecting and demanding a high-quality learning experience that provides them value for their investment in tuition,” Lungren notes.
The only way to deliver HyFlex that’s truly effective is to integrate all of these technologies.
“The microphones have to talk to the video software, the video software has to talk to the LMS, the LMS has to talk to the student information system (SIS),” Pombert explains. “And ultimately, you’re also communicating with a person’s home office network – all of those have to work together.”
An instructor leading a well-designed course that incorporates technology is only going to be effective if students are able to participate. But bad internet connections and lacking an adequate device can pose serious problems for students.
There are a few ways schools can circumvent these types of issues. One is to make sure that asynchronous content is always available so that students can catch up later if they were struggling with their internet connection during class. Some schools have even helped students who lack access to a computer with laptop loaner programs.
7. On-demand support
Lastly, being able to receive 24/7 support is critical for sustaining a HyFlex learning model. It’s always possible that something could go wrong during a critical moment during class.
“If there’s an issue with something like turning on a computer, connecting to the Wi-Fi or getting into the video conferencing software, as seconds tick by, you erode the learning experience,” Pombert points out.
Instructors and students alike should be able to call some sort of hotline to seek assistance with their issue. According to Pombert, the vast majority of problems can be solved remotely. But should the problem persist in a classroom, it’s important to have a dispatch system in place so someone can come to provide assistance – whether that be physically or through remote access.
Adapt to the next generation of online learning
There are clearly several technology considerations that go into deploying and supporting a HyFlex learning model. Most institutions will likely find they need to invest in some new tools and possibly use existing ones in new ways.
While prioritizing numerous technology initiatives can be daunting, it’s essential for providing the type of education experience students expect. Fortunately, institutions don’t have to implement the seamless technology ecosystem that higher education now demands on their own.
Find out how enlisting an external team of technology experts can benefit your institution by visiting “IT Staffing in Higher Education: Is Outsourcing Right for Your Institution?”