What Can We Learn from HyFlex Teaching? Engaging Online and On Campus Students in Bichronous Environments

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Brief Abstract

From 2020-2021, Social Work committed to creating lively, active classroom engagement while adhering to safety precautions. With enrollments too large to bring all students on campus at once, the presenters modified evidence-based HyFlex strategies to teach in a bichronous format, with students participating both on campus and simultaneously synchronously online. 


Terri Ann Guingab, MEd, is an instructional designer supporting faculty, staff, and students in online, online-enhanced, and face to face courses. She manages the CHHS Healthcare Technologies Innovation Lab (Sponsored by Reston Hospital Center) on the Fairfax campus. Terri Ann is an Online Learning Consortium Online Teaching Certificate program alumna and received the inaugural Distance Education Award at George Mason University in 2012. In her spare time she enjoys ballroom dancing, tabletop and computer gaming, photography, and participating in MOOCs.

Extended Abstract

The Social Work program faced the challenge of bringing students back to campus, maintaining lively and active classroom engagement while honoring safety precautions. Class enrollments were too large to bring all students back at once. After a literature review, we looked at HyFlex strategies to modify teaching for a synchronous hybrid format. Courses were taught bichronously with half of the students attending class on campus and half the students participating online.  

Faculty modified their teaching to address technological challenges such as online audience disengagement, limited microphone range, and audio lag.  This presentation will present techniques to address these challenges. These include utilizing a video conference device known as a Meeting Owl Pro, enlisting a Zoom assistant to monitor chat, connecting a second device to the Zoom call to better see and connect with online students while screen sharing, adjusting physical and online small group activities for the split environment, and establishing clear classroom participation norms,.  

Technology used in the classroom included a Meeting Owl Pro, a classroom presentation kiosk which included a desktop computer and projector, and either a laptop or tablet. Meeting Owl Pro is a conference device featuring a 360 degree camera, a microphone with an 18 foot pickup range, an amplified speaker so participants in the classroom could hear online students, and motion detection that points the camera on speakers in any part of the room.  By placing the Owl in the center of the room, both the faculty and in class participants could be heard by the students attending online. The Owl was connected by USB cable to a classroom presentation kiosk, which hosted the Zoom call.   

Faculty were also encouraged to join the Zoom call with a second device, typically a laptop or tablet. To eliminate feedback, this second device joined the Zoom call without joining audio.  By using a second device, faculty were able to see and feel more engaged with online participants. They could also monitor the chat and be alerted to raised hands from online participants. This left the presentation kiosk free to focus on screen sharing and hosting the call. Some faculty also recruited an in-person student as a Zoom monitor to keep an eye on chat. 

Based on literature focused on engaging students in an online format, best practices that were shared with faculty to manage the online/hyflex classroom were using breakout rooms for small group discussions, having the groups report out in the larger room from the breakout room discussions, having students turn their cameras on while on zoom, and using platforms like Kahoot or polls in zoom to provide more engaging activities in the class. 

Faculty facilitated small breakout room activities that blended in person and online students. Students were encouraged to bring a laptop to allow online participants to collaborate with face to face students. Groups met in the hallways surrounding the classroom so that online students could hear and be better heard.  

Adding a layer of technology to course delivery also required establishing course norms to account for some of the challenges technology introduces.  Zoom communication is slightly delayed, and the delay is lengthened by the amount of time it takes for a student to unmute themselves.  Faculty were coached to wait slightly longer than usual to give time for online students to respond to discussion prompts.  

Presentation Objectives 

Participants attending this session who are teaching a synchronous hybrid course (virtual and physical) will be able to utilize classroom management strategies that maintain student engagement for both audiences. They will apply techniques that address the challenges this format presents.