March 11, 2020

Hybrid Flexible Classes to Meet the Needs of All Students — An Example of Universal Design for Learning

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

This article is a translation of a text published in the French edition of Profweb.

Inclusive pedagogy means—among other things—providing choices for students. What if students were offered the choice of attending a class in person or remotely?

In-person class attendance: a must for success?

Class attendance is valued, for several good reasons. Indeed, most of the time, attendance is necessary for quality learning. To experience the activities that help develop skills, students need to be present in the classroom.

That said, aren’t there times when teachers “trick” students into attending? To ensure that students come to class, a teacher may want to increase the number of low-stakes summative assessments in class, distribute important materials (such as assignment instructions) in class only, etc. What is the purpose of this? Students come to class, but do all of them really benefit from attending? Some, perhaps, but likely not all of them. Even if the course provides active learning opportunities, some students may be able to achieve the objectives autonomously using the course materials available to them, without having to be present.

As a physics teacher, I often like to give my students exercises to do in class as a team. I walk around the classroom to help the teams, and I intervene at the front to guide the group. I tell myself that this allows them to help each other to succeed with problems that they might not be able to solve individually. But some (a minority) have difficulty concentrating in class, and tell me that they would do better alone at home. The strongest students—also a minority—are both autonomous (they don’t need my help or that of their peers) and lonely: they intervene little or not at all to help others. They gain nothing from being in the classroom to do activities they could have done alone elsewhere, and do not contribute much to the group.

Could courses be designed to give the students who benefit from such a formula what they need to succeed without having to go to class? After all, isn’t attaining the course competency more important than attending all classes ?

Thinking in this direction leads us to hybrid flexible (HyFlex) learning.

HyFlex learning

HyFlex learning makes it possible for all students to choose, for each class, whether they attend in person or synchronously online, or whether they complete the course work in an asynchronous distance format. It’s really up to the student to decide which mode suits him or her from one class to the next.

Two variations on the HyFlex approach

Synchronous broadcasting

In the most straightforward version, therefore, offering a HyFlex course involves filming all the classes and broadcasting them live, so that students can follow them synchronously online. The broadcast has to be on a platform that allows remote students to interact and ask questions to the teacher live, as if they were in the classroom. And the videos are also recorded so that students can watch them later… Or watch them again!

You may have the impression that this wouldn’t work in a CEGEP, but it does… In 2010 already, Jean Labbé, then a teacher in Electrical Engineering Technology at Cégep de Lévis-Lauzon, implemented the HyFlex approach. He reported on this in a remarkable real life story on Profweb [in French]. It’s impressive to think that Jean Labbé was doing all this 10 years ago–very innovative! I’ve already said several times that I’m a big fan of Jean Labbé; I still haven’t changed my mind.

In 2019, Collège LaSalle received funding under the Digital Action Plan to set up a room specifically to facilitate the implementation of hybrid courses filmed and broadcast live. Profweb presented the project at the beginning of the experimentation, then reported on the preliminary assessment [in French] made by LaSalle College after one session.

But there are other ways to implement a flexible hybrid approach than live broadcasting and recording a lecture.

Asynchronous distance learning

My fellow Profweb editor and English as a second language (ESL) teacher at Cégep Limoilou also uses it for part of one of his courses. For the “grammar” portion of one of his ESL courses, Andy Van Drom lets students (whose English skill levels vary greatly) choose between:

  • coming to class for a workshop where Andy explains the grammar rules being studied and gives them feedback during guided practice exercises
  • reviewing the theory of the chapter at home and completing the same exercises as the other students, but online, autonomously and at the moment of their choice, before the second class period

To guide the students in their choices, Andy gives them a weekly online diagnostic test on the targeted concepts.

Participation rates have considerably increased. Whereas in the past, stronger students tended to skip certain (parts of) classes, the combined online and in-class participation for each lesson is between 90% and 100%. On average, in-class attendance is between 50% and 75%, with the remainder of students completing the lesson online.
I can accompany students more effectively. Since there are fewer students in class and those present are more motivated, engaged and focused, I have much more time to give students personalized feedback and help.-Andy Van Drom, after having implemented a HyFlex approach in a portion of one of his courses

Andy’s approach seems very promising to me, as it allows the distance students to adapt the pace of learning according to their needs. Distance learning is not just a carbon copy of the face-to-face course “in the comfort of your own home.”

These 2 examples are practices that are part of the Universal Design for Learning paradigm.
These teachers are moving away from the beaten path in an attempt to adapt to students’ realities. Could you see yourself doing this in your own courses?

About the author

Catherine Rhéaume

Catherine Rhéaume is an editor and writer for Eductive (previously Profweb) since 2013. She also teaches physics at Cégep Limoilou. Her work for Eductive fosters her interest for technopedagogy and encourages her to try innovative teaching practices.

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