HyFlex Course Planning Strategies for High School Teaching and Learning: Consolidating the Right Questions for Crisis and Non-Crisis Times

“To hope for the best and prepare for the worst, is a trite but a good maxim.” –Attributed to John Jay 

Most educators agree that effectively planning for the next school year requires us to plan for three potential scenarios: 

  1. Face-to-face instruction as traditionally delivered
  2. Face-to-face instruction but with social distancing and distance learning support components 
  3. Complete distance learning

I’ve noticed that high school and the college levels are having very similar discussions about these scenarios in many ways. For public schools, it sounds like the most likely way would start in the fall is with some sort of hybrid as in #2 above. However, there is also a #4 consideration: Sudden shifts to total distance learning. This additional challenge to planning entails the possibility that a resurgence of the Coronavirus cases could require a sudden shift to complete distance learning. 

In light of these possibilities, it seems helpful to consider recent discussions at the college level that involve the notion of HyFlex course planning and delivery. Inside Higher Ed has pulled together a wealth of resources to sift through about this topic. The discussions adapt well for secondary levels, especially at the high school. The video discussion on the page above reveals insightful and cautious wisdom about this approach–in fact, much of the discussion seems to relate to any issue of school improvement. 

Realistically, a fully effective and widespread use of HyFlex is not likely to happen too soon, but the approach is noteworthy for discussions about how to humanely design teaching and learning for rigor and for maximum access by students with varying access issues.  

Basically, the HyFlex approach to course planning focuses on how to develop all the elements of a thoughtful and effective course while allowing students three different ways to access and participate in that course: face-to-face access, a mix of face-to-face and distance access, and total distance access. 

Some educators at the college level have been working on this challenging approach to course planning and delivery for a while, even before the current crisis conditions. When done well, it looks like the model can provide effective learning of content, interaction, and other features of good learning. The examples found in “7 Things You Should Know about the HyFlex Course Model” are compelling as they address issues such as college students who work and who would spend excessive time traveling to and from class on top of the work if they tried to attend face-to-face courses. Such issues for college students are often found with high school students who need to work to support themselves and often their families. If such an approach can help students with work-related access constraints, it also shows promise for the challenging distance issues related to the current pandemic.

It’s a lot to think about as we’re wrapping up a school year, but I’ve long known that we’re never wiser than this time of year, even though we’re never more tired. As soon as summer vacation hits, we lose much of the weary knowledge and wisdom that we have now. It’s always a trade off, but I’ve learned to take good notes here in the home stretch. So it’s worth looking over some of the information related to this topic, taking notes, and having some good discussions now. 

In the HyFlex Discussion found on the Inside Higher Ed page, the participants share realistic insights that can apply to anything we adopt for our strategies to be ready for distance learning in public high schools next year:

  1. Be clear about what you are talking about. This includes such important terms as synchronous versus asynchronous learning. 
  2. Think about what contexts distance learning can work well in and what contexts that it may not work so well in. Certain forms of science labs may be most relevant here concerning not working so well. I likewise find Socratic seminars hard to do as well in distance formats as in face-to-face situations.
  3. Think realistically about fidelity issues. Not everyone is likely to do all elements of distance learning well. Likewise for face-to-face instruction. In that light, what work-arounds might be needed to make instruction work well?

In my own reflections about HyFlex possibilities for my courses, I am developing a HyFlex wishlist with items such as the following:  

  • I want to protect and further pursue complex, knowledge-rich courses with my students so they can grow more knowledgeable. 
  • Likewise, I want my students to grow in their abilities to work with complex literacy challenges. 
  • My main challenge is finding affordable technology that will facilitate good discussions, asynchronously and synchronously. This week I’m doing a trial run with a debatable discussion topic using Kialo-edu, and so far it looks promising. 
  • Google Classroom has some practical advantages (and I’m grateful to have it and other resources), but it lacks the integrative options found in many LMS systems, so I’d enjoy having something with more features such as analytics for discussions on my end and more user-friendly ways for students to access on their end. 
  • I would like to find easy ways to record tutoring sessions with students that I can save in a well-organized format with features similar to what I’ve encountered in livestreaming formats. 
  • I currently have access to Turnitin.com for similarity checking, and it is an essential tool. I’d like to see a similar tool for easily checking students’ daily assignment postings as well. 

In the last few years, I have moved many of my resources online to help students who frequently miss my high school English classes for different reasons. That preparation seems compatible with some of the thinking involved in HyFlex course design. Obviously , this is all a work in progress, filled with all sorts of trial-and-error moves. I’m comforted, informed, and encouraged by how much others have thought through many of our common schooling challenges at the college level. Many of their analyses and insights adapt well for secondary public school levels. Some of their strategies may prove useful for non-crisis times as well. 

Invitation to Reflect and Consider: 

  1. What has been your own experience with in-person, distance, and blended approaches to learning? Which do you prefer? Does your preference depend more on content and quality of the course or are there other features that factor in? 
  2. What are you ready to use for your classroom or for your home-support teaching as a parent? What type of learning scenario is the hardest? What would you put on your wishlist to be ready for any of these scenarios or for a sudden shift in scenarios? 

For Further Reading and Reflection: 

The HyFlex Option for Instruction if Campuses Open This Fall,” by Doug Lederman

Hybrid-Flexible Course Design, by Brian Beatty 

7 Things You Should Know about the HyFlex Course Model,” by Educause

4 Expert Strategies for Designing an Online Course,” by Rottmann and Salena Rabidoux

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