Submitted by Stephanie Whalen, Academy Chair

During the Spring 2022 semester, the Academy for Teaching Excellence hosted a “Building Capacity for Flexible Learning” series developed and facilitated with Dr. David Rhoads, Director of Teaching Excellence and Digital Pedagogy at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California. In his role as Director, Dr. Rhoads has provided programming for faculty peers on many topics related to leadership and educational technology, including online pedagogy and non-traditional enrollment and serves as a consultant with the Online Learning Consortium. Dr. Rhoads’ many years of teaching at the high school and college level has inspired him to equip faculty colleagues with solutions and best practices for encouraging students to be passionate, life-long learners.

Faculty explored the principles of hybrid-flexible (HyFlex) pedagogy and completed reflection assignments for each session as well as a capstone project designed to prepare them for the pilot and provide Academy partners with the information they need to provide individualized support. Each faculty member who attended the sessions and completed the assignments were provided a stipend and will be compensated for piloting HyFlex courses of their own design, which will include participating in related meetings to support the program and assessments for gathering data.

In order to explore HyFlex, faculty in the pilot will provide instruction in a minimum of two of the following modalities: face to face, online live, or online asynchronous. Dr. Rhoads recommends that each course provides a fully developed course shell that can be utilized asynchronously and then determining what face to face and/or online live instruction best serves students in each type of course. Another important concept for HyFlex learning is that activities don’t have to be done the same way across the modalities offered within a course. For example, how responses to a quiz question might be submitted for students in the classroom might be different for the participants streaming in who could answer in a digital format. Faculty may need assistance determining how to go about differentiating for multiple modalities within a course, so the Academy will provide support for working to provide these options.

Academy Instructional Design team members will be partnered with each faculty member to help them prepare their pilot courses and utilize the available technologies, which include ongoing use of the portable Swivl set-ups where iPads on a rotating stand follow the instructor for online, live instruction and/or recording purposes, OWLs that are stationary but have panoramic cameras and powerful microphones, and hard-wired equipment that is gradually being installed in classrooms across campus.

Three faculty will begin testing the HyFlex equipment hard-wired into classrooms for Math, Physics, and First Year Seminar courses this summer. The remaining faculty will begin their pilots in Fall 2022 and Spring 2023. Throughout the pilot semesters, the Academy will work with faculty to gather data on the faculty experience, student experience, utilization of the flexible learning modalities available, and student success outcomes such as course grades.

Data will be compiled by the Academy and then evaluated by the pilot group who will then make recommendations to campus leaders about how HyFlex courses might best serve our students.

Early adopters of HyFlex learning such as University of Massachusetts Amherst discovered in their development of UMass Flex that they needed to put a limit on the amount of distance learning new students could take and lessen restrictions as students made progress toward their degrees. They also found that providing specific course information as a description in the registration system for each HyFlex section offered clarity to students in terms of how instruction would be offered and any requirements for in-person or synchronous sessions.

Students need connectedness and deep intellectual engagement as much as ever, so careful consideration will be required in order to ensure that we create opportunities where students can benefit from flexible access.