Since the pandemic began, universities worldwide have implemented new teaching and learning methods to accommodate some or all students who can’t be onsite.
New to Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University this semester is a blended learning and teaching method being used in some modules called Hybrid Flexible, or HyFlex. In HyFlex teaching, an instructor simultaneously teaches some students onsite and others online (hybrid online-onsite) and also records lectures. Students then have the choice to watch these recorded lectures outside of class time (flexible).
But as Charlie Reis, Educational Developer for Learning and Teaching at XJTLU explains, HyFlex didn’t come about just as a response to a crisis.
Instead, he says, it was developed 15 years ago to provide students more choice in how they learn and to benefit from aspects of online teaching – such as students’ ability to re-watch a recorded lecture.
“HyFlex maximises flexibility while capturing benefits of asynchronous teaching, when part of learning occurs outside class,” Reis says.
“When discussions and lectures are recorded, they become reusable. Students can then use them in learning as they see fit – watching them multiple times whenever they want, slowing or speeding up the playback, annotating or adding subtitles,” he says.
“This was overwhelmingly what students identified as a positive of online learning last semester.”
Other learning outside class may occur when instructors ask students to study material in advance.
“This provides more time for in-depth discussion and analysis when the class meets,” Reis says.
Equal access and educational quality
Whether students are online or onsite, they all hear the lecture, see the whiteboard and participate in discussions – the learning outcomes are the same for all.
“An important HyFlex principle is that groups of students in different places – in the classroom and online – receive equal access and educational quality,” Reis says.
“One of the things that is so valuable about our University is that we offer modules and degrees moderated by the University of Liverpool. The pandemic has not changed that – we are responsible for quality assurance in the same ways we always were.”
Equal access and educational quality are achieved through a combination of technology and teaching methods, he notes.
In HyFlex teaching, when online and onsite students attend class at the same time, technology links them to each other and the teacher. Instructors can use a tripod to point the webcam to different areas of the classroom or the white board.
Students can communicate with the instructor and the full class via an onscreen class chat or with microphones that are in the classroom or on their devices.
Getting students involved in learning
Teaching methods that engage the student promote equality and quality in a HyFlex environment, Reis says; the instructor does not simply lecture while the student passively absorbs information.
“Instead, the learning content is broken into manageable bits. Each of these chunks is followed by activities that allow students to recall and do something with the knowledge.”
The activities might take the form of polls, group work or discussions, debates, peer reviews, student presentations, role playing or brainstorming.
“Studies show that in order to learn best, students should express ideas, listen to others, interact, and do student-to-student activities related to what they are learning,” Reis says.
XJTLU’s research-led focus is another important way students will be engaged in a HyFlex class, he notes: “Students might cite sources when they talk about ideas, study research findings on a topic, learn how to do research, or conduct their own research as part of learning.”
Leading to the future
Aspects of XJTLU’s new teaching and learning methodologies will remain even when all students can return to campus.
“HyFlex is a great approach to instructional method and practice and to real-time, flexible learning,” says Dr Bill Boland, Director of the XJTLU Learning Mall.
“Offering multiple windows of engagement, it appeals to students with diverse learning needs.”
When the XJTLU Learning Mall launches its expanded website with global partner content in 2021 and its onsite facility in 2022, it will continue to offer learners flexibility.
“A critical XJTLU Learning Mall strategy will be to focus on the intentional instructional design of its content across different learning mediums,” Dr Boland says.
“With an audience of not only XJTLU students but also the Chinese lifelong learning audience of all ages, flexibility is key.”
For example, he explains, a single program may be delivered in multiple formats: online, onsite face-to-face, and a blend of both. While the learning content will be the same, how it is designed and delivered will fundamentally differ, he says.
“Each learning medium attracts a different learner type and accounts for the audience – in our case that includes a large audience geographically dispersed across China,” Dr Boland says.
“It also accounts for time – many lifelong learners are professionals working full-time jobs who need to learn on-the-go.
Dr Boland highlights: “The future of lifelong learning focuses on engagement flexibility tailored to the individual needs of learners and their learning experience.”
By Tamara Kaup