What is HyFlex?

And why do we care?

I worry that the terminology around hybrid learning has become confused. I think this was caused, in part, by the innovation of HyFlex teaching and learning in the fall of 2020. HyFlex sounds like Hybrid, and sort of looks like Hybrid, but it is something different.

HyFlex is in-person teaching to some of your students, and remote teaching to others, at the same time - mediated by some sort of technology. (Thus the name: Hybrid Flexible, or HyFlex for short.) So it is hybrid primarily in the delivery method, not the content. True hybrid teaching is in-person teaching to all of your students, with some online content - and perhaps occasional fully online (synchronous or asynchronous) classes for all students. These online classes and/or modules are purposefully added to enhance the teaching and learning taking place in the classroom.

HyFlex often requires a super-human effort by the teacher to bridge the in-person classroom with those at home, teaching essentially with two heads if you will. It can be done, but with no preparation in the Fall of 2020, it was probably too much to ask our teachers to do with any regularity or expectation of simultaneous success in both spaces at once. One day, the technology will be better, and ubiquitous - with the bandwidth to support it - such that students in multiple places can be truly “present” in the classroom all at once. But for now, it’s not there.

Hybrid teaching involves a unified effort with a group of students with whom the teacher can create a community of learning. Part of the learning activities take place when everyone is together in the classroom, and part of it takes place outside of the classroom. If that sounds not radically different than what we have already… that’s right. As I explained in this letter to you from last February, we are talking about moving the “slider bar” - at different amounts depending on the subject, and level of schooling, and numerous other factors we are only just now beginning to discover. But I believe that slider bar generally should be moved starting from a Hybrid teaching and learning environment, not a HyFlex one.

My disparagement of HyFlex in education is mostly based on the combination of poor technology to support it, and lack of experience with it to date. With improvements in both areas, HyFlex could work, and perhaps even work well. And we do not have to go all the way to Zuck’s vision of the Metaverse to get there. Ideally, students should be able to be physically present in the classroom, or not be present, with all students (and you) connected through technology that works. Tech that works not just for the student, but also for the teacher to manage both spaces well, and reduce the distance between them to near zero. At that point, HyFlex models can be successful in education, particularly higher education.

Further, my disparagement of HyFlex might seem at odds with my belief that we are moving toward more hybrid lives - outside of the educational space. Indeed, I suggested last week that doing so might revive some of the civic engagement we have lost in the last 40 years, partly due to the explosion of various forms of online engagement and entertainment algorithms, but also demographic changes. But the technology for joining a HyFlex Rotary meeting doesn’t have to be as invisible as it should be for the classroom.

But it does need to work. Perhaps two cameras on two laptops, with a decent podcast microphone, and that should be sufficient. Oh, and of course sufficient bandwidth to run it both ways without hiccups. Zoom works fine for now, but I think we will soon start to see the next generation of video conferencing software that will more elegantly integrate multiple cameras and microphones. Not very expensive (as a more sophisticated set up for a HyFlex classroom would be more so), and easy enough to operate by a committee member who is part of the in-person gathering.

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Letters of Recommendation

This week’s recommendation is Mark Edmudson’s book Teacher: The One Who Made a Difference. A wonderful memoir and a tribute to his high school philosophy teacher, newly out of Harvard in 1969, who withstood all manner of disrespect and abuse from the tough guys of Medford High to reach at least one of his students, and “turn his life around.”

Q of the Week

The Q of the Week this week is a Quote, this one from the poet William Carlos Williams (1883-1963):

It is difficult to get the news from poems, [but] men and women die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.

Refer a Friend!

Would you consider referring this weekly newsletter to a friend? I have been writing these missives for almost a year now, and have gathered a wonderful community so far, but it is time to grow that community. So if you have a moment, please think of one friend or colleague who would enjoy thinking about how technology impacts our teaching, our lives, and the lives of our students - and encourage them to subscribe. Thank you!