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Adapting to change by physically reopening campuses this fall has a price. I thus decided to explore the HyFlex (Hybrid Flexible) pedagogical approach to think “outside the box” and respond to students’ needs. HyFlex provides a cloud solution for a “new normal” remote and hybrid world. The model gives students a choice on how to participate. HyFlex classrooms require expensive technology. I designed an inexpensive Do-It-Yourself (DIY) solution.

My HyFlex classroom setting

My HyFlex classroom setting. (Source: pictures by the author)

Students’ concerns

Adopting the HyFlex model allows students to toggle back and forth between in-person and online, while promoting the paperless classroom. It also addresses the following:

  • Some students are struggling with mental health issues.
  • Falling sick during the pandemic may interrupt their education.
  • Traveling into the college every day may be challenging for some who wish to reduce carbon footprints.
Here are the results of an anonymous poll/survey in one of my Fall 2021 classes consisting of 40 students.

Here are the results of an anonymous poll/survey in one of my Fall 2021 classes consisting of 40 students.

  • It allows students to decide they want to stay at home or in person. It gives them the option of having the choice, and if students don’t feel well, at least they can follow through at home. They still have the interaction through Zoom class with the teacher and students.
  • The biggest advantage would be convenience. If I am unable to attend school for any reason I could follow at home. This eliminates the “absence from being sick” since we would be able to follow at home. Another reason would be because it makes it less stressful for students to make it to a class when we know we won’t make it on time.
  • Being able to do your class wherever you are more comfortable. Some people enjoy doing their classes in the comfort of their home and others prefer getting out of their home. HyFlex class allows students to choose the best methods for them
  • Being able to learn at your own pace as you are in control
  • During finals and busy weeks, you can have the option to stay home and do the work to save time on transportation
  • The numbers for covid keep changing, therefore it’s an advantage to have both considering everyone feels different about the virus. Winter is the worst month for the flu, I work at the Jewish General and they’re getting ready for the winter season of colds, flu, etc. There aren’t any disadvantages to HyFlex.
  • If someone is sick, they can stay at home and still follow the class
  • Better for the environment, less pollution
  • We are used to online class, and we could save traveling time especially during winter semester
  • So convenient and commute friendly option.

— Some feedbacks from students

The HyFlex options

Students can choose to participate in one or all 3 modes:

  1. Face-to-Face and in-person, synchronously participating in a physical classroom
  2. Face-to-face, synchronously participating remotely at a distance via Zoom/Teams
  3. Asynchronously, using interactive live recordings

Students can now reflect, contribute, develop ideas, ask questions, and interact collaboratively using breakout rooms resulting in more productivity.

Hyflex approach for inclusiveness

Hyflex promotes an inclusive paperless pedagogy. Using artificial intelligence (AI) add-ons like the Immersive Reader, provides accessibility for students with disabilities. Students who have visual or auditory challenges can now open PDF files and are given the opportunity to equally access all 3 participation modes. If a student has a problem reading material on the screen, the Immersive Reader (a “Disruptive and Persuasive Technology” app) will produce text-to-speech renditions and vice versa in any of 60+ languages. I record my classes using Zoom, after obtaining permission from the participants. The Immersive Reader in Word then converts the recording to text providing my students with a transcript or “captions equivalent” to modify or enlarge the font and background to suit their needs. All students can express their opinion or ask a question in a chat box in Teams, Zoom or Microsoft Word using the “dictate” app.

Introverted students prefer not to speak up or raise their hand, and so usually stay quiet in the back of the classroom. By deploying AI tools, such as the Immersive Reader, this gives everyone a voice to express their concerns or questions.

DIY HyFlex classroom

HyFlex college classrooms consist of one desktop computer connected to a display device (projector, screen, in-room speakers, and webcams). To supplement this basic equipment, I created a DIY portable HyFlex classroom kit that I can install in any classroom in under 5 minutes, without the use of a teacher’s assistant.

I decided to purchase the additional equipment at an affordable cost and have it available when I needed it. The total cost of the material is less than $200:

  • A USB external webcam with stand (pointing to the in-person participants)
  • A cell phone stand
  • A conference 360-degree microphone to pick up voices from the in-person participants
  • A wireless soundbox (to ensure that remote students are heard)

You will need 3 Zoom licenses: one for the host’s personal laptop, a second license for the cell phone pointing to the teacher and a 3rd Zoom license is used by the faculty desktop computer to give the in-person participants a view of the same screens the remote participants are viewing synchronously. Using secure Wi-Fi networks such as Eduroam, now readily available on most campuses, makes it easier for educators and students, without requiring complex networking RJ45 Ethernet cables. This means that using 3 smart devices with 3 Zoom licenses is no longer a complex task.

A HyFlex class uses a central physical hub or portal which is in a college classroom. I take a few minutes to setup the inexpensive hub/portal equipment and make it available to all students before the class is ready to start. Disassembly requires a few minutes as well.

Closing thoughts

Is the value of HyFlex courses worth the effort and investment? Should teachers take it upon themselves to ensure the necessary technology, course curriculum, and teaching strategies are in place so that all students have a comparable educational experience? Definitely! Why? This article was composed in early December 2021. With increasing COVID infections and new virus variants of concern (Delta, Omicron), the possibility of delaying mandatory back-to-in-person work by major organizations and teaching institutions (Google, IBM, Facebook and others, including community colleges and higher education institutions) and continuing remote work, teaching and learning is increasing.

The HyFlex approach supports engaged learning in many ways that a solely in-person format cannot. Students with schedule conflicts, travel difficulties, or other legitimate reasons preventing their in-class participation now have options and will not miss learning opportunities.

The additional online resources that students can take advantage of, and the additional time and flexibility provided by the asynchronous interactive video mode may directly improve learning for students.

In conclusion, students get to choose what is best for them! HyFlex classrooms will never replace the social interaction and social cognition of the the in-person social communications environment. However, they represent a resilient alternative contingency plan, to expect the unexpected in the new year and beyond!

About the author

Vincent Maggiore

Besides accounting and computer science experience, Vincent Maggiore has science degrees from McGill University in Physiology, Biochemistry, and BioPhysical Chemistry. He received a Teaching Excellence Award from Dawson College and was a member of the Dawson Board of Governors. He developed the first online eLearning course at Dawson in 1999. He has also taught computer courses for Performa of the Université de Sherbrooke and for Concordia University’s Continuing Education. As a member of the AI Advisory Board of the Adaptech Research Network, he is also developing apps using artificial intelligence for students with disabilities.

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