Building community without borders

What forms of student/student-instructor interactions do you plan to implement in your course prototype (e.g. LMS forums, Flipgrid, blog comments/pingbacks, hashtags, video chats, etc.)? What justification can you provide for choosing these forms of student interaction? What guidelines or assessment practices will you adopt to ensure that interactions are meaningful, supportive, engaging, and relevant?

This week’s asynchronous class included practical videos and readings to help prepare us for the creation of our class prototypes. The videos by Michael Wesch provide useful tips and tricks to make high quality (and low budget) instructional videos. Above this, his raw honesty about his struggle to be in front of the camera is refreshing-not all of us shine in that kind of spotlight. I can relate to this a lot as I can get pretty nervous speaking in front of people, camera or not. I mentioned this to my husband and he said “…but you’re a teacher…” Yes, I’m aware. But talking to a group of adults is more difficult than talking to 13 year olds if you do it long enough. And even then, just because I’ve become used to it doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with it.

In terms of student/student-instructor interactions, my major focus is designing my course so that the students with exceptionalities do not feel like they are in some sort of separate “group” as much as possible. I’ve based my learner personas on the most recent class I taught, which was during the 2022-2023 school year. While I consider this to be the best class I taught in my career, it did not come without its challenges, which I don’t imagine is surprising to a group of educators. Even with the large majority of my students working at grade level quite independently, the handful of students who needed unique types of additional support was difficult to plan for and manage. I think that having an LMS like Canvas, designed specifically for education, is going to be a major asset and support in bridging some of the gaps I witnessed and experienced last year.

Canvas is a brand new LMS to me, but as I peruse the platform, I have come across a couple of potential tools for interaction, both of which I plan to use in my course. They include a discussion section where the facilitator can post a discussion topic and students can comment, like, etc. The benefit of this is that even with students who are working at a lower grade level, and perhaps not completing the same assignments/tasks as the rest of the group, I can tailor the questions so they relate to a broader context and everyone can participate in the discussion.

Another section in the Canvas courses is something called collaborations, which appears to be the equivalent of a Google Doc or working document of some kind. The nice thing about this feature is that it exists right in the LMS platform. While this isn’t a unique feature just to Canvas, it is handy that students don’t have to navigate far if they are working in groups, some of which are completing the coursework from outside the classroom.

Another interactive method I plan to use in my course is assigning video blogs in which students can respond and hopefully carry on a discussion about. My justification for doing this is that traditionally, and even still today in middle/upper elementary especially, math is typically a subject where students work independently. You don’t see a ton of group math projects or reflections on math questions. Until more recently with methods like Peter Liljedahl’s Building Thinking Classrooms, deploying these types of lessons would have probably gotten some strange looks from people passing by wondering why you aren’t doing math the “normal” way. While I’m still a bit of a traditionalist at heart in this area and have fond memories of how I learned (and loved) math, I think it’s tough to argue that collaborating and connecting with classmates even in this typically isolating subject area is not beneficial for learners. In this course, students will have the opportunity to JAM (Journal About Math), video blog, and communicate with one another about their thoughts, ideas, struggles, and suggestions, hopefully creating a sense of comradery as they learn that many students have similar thoughts and feelings to them, or perhaps something a classmate explains helps to foster an understanding or way of thinking they didn’t have before.

So how will I implement guidelines so these things actually happen? I think my best bet will be setting the stage right away with the insistence that this course will be different than what they’re probably used to in math. Following some tips from this blog from The Innovative Instructor, I will have students create and post introductory videos of themselves, even if they are taking the class fully in person. This will serve as their “practice post” in the walkthrough lesson of Canvas so they have a chance to use the discussion feature before the actual math course begins. During this introductory lesson, I’ll also emphasize the importance of collaboration, explaining to students that commenting and posting vlogs is not just “extra” to the actual math assignments – it’s a central part to this method of inquiry, collective, constructivist learning. We are learning with each other, from each other, for each other.

Working the criteria of engaging with the course into assignment rubrics will also be helpful. Canvas has a a built-in rubric feature, and co-creating them with students will help collectively decide on expectations for interactions.

There is a lot to think about when designing a blended course, a lot of moving parts. As I embark on the module design process in this new (to me) LMS, I imagine I’ll think of/stumble upon other ideas for student interaction. I wish I was teaching right now to be able to implement it in my classroom and be able to evaluate it, but I suppose that will just have to wait.

ADDIE Model Template & Course Overview

After much deliberation, I finally settled on creating a blended course for grade 7 math, focusing on fractions, decimals and percent. As someone who loved the traditional direct instruction, drill and practice math growing up, it is difficult for me to venture to the more abstract, problem-based methods of math learning, but I figure this is as good an opportunity as any to broaden my horizons. Oh, and I’m gonna give Canvas a whirl while I’m at it, too.

ADDIE Model Template

Course Overview

High Hopes for HyFlex Learning

This week in class we learned all about blended learning. We looked at the (many) definitions of it and discussed the different ways institutions classify and implement it. Needless to say there isn’t a consensus on what makes an environment truly blended.

Once again I was quite interested in Katia’s lecture which was mixed in with some small-group discussion on the topic. I was reflecting on my own teaching practice and the ways that I’ve utilized this style of teaching and learning in my own classrooms over the years. While I could spend quite a bit of time outlining several ways I’ve incorporated technology over the years (quick shout out to the pandemic), I’m more interested in exploring HyFlex learning and the ways this particularly complex and complicated type of blended learning is carried out in different institutions. In my research I hope to find some information about the real-life successes and challenges of offering a course that is authentically HyFlex.

The Prompt:

Research and discuss HyFlex learning (see Beatty’s work). What are the advantages and disadvantages of this model? Is this a feasible model for learning or just a trend of the moment?

According to his book, Brian Beatty describes HyFlex (or hybrid flexible) learning as “…multi-modal courses which combine online and onground (classroom-based) students…”. Brian Beatty is an associate professor at San Francisco State University and is credited with developing the HyFlex approach. Simply put, HyFlex learning offers flexibility to students while maintaining the same level of instruction (this description from Barnard College continues to describe this method clearly. Sounds pretty awesome, right? Parts of it certainly are, like the ability to provide learning opportunities to meet the physical, social, and environmental needs of all students. There are, however, some drawbacks. I’ll do my best to outline the benefits and challenges of the HyFlex approach below.

Free vector ethical dilemma illustration

The Upside

As touched on above, HyFlex learning is just how it sounds – flexible! This is a significant benefit to students with a wide variety of needs and preferences. Further, it serves to challenge a more traditional style of instruction where teachers hold the majority of control for how learning takes place, whether that be face-to-face, online, synchronous, asynchronous, or some prescribed combination of these or other modes of instruction. In the “Student Experience” section of his book, Beatty states that “The HyFlex course design proscribes nothing about the way multiple perspectives are represented or supported in the specific content and/or activities used in a course, but does encourage a variety of ways that students can access content and complete course activities”. Described in this way, HyFlex learning reaches a significant number of students in ways that other more rigid types of instruction are incapable of. In this chapter, Beatty goes on to explain how the hybrid-flexible model shifts ownership of learning from teacher to student, making the learner significantly more responsible.

On the surface, and from the perspective of the learner, the HyFlex option is a great one. If implemented true to its form, HyFlex allows the learner to choose when and how they learn during each class time. And even then, asynchronous options may be available for those unable to attend during a class’s allotted timeframe. This flexibility gives learners from all stages or circumstances of life the opportunity to pursue higher education. Students who are working while going to school have the freedom to continue earning an income while scheduling around their job. Students who have family responsibilities of their own can dictate their educational pursuits around the high demands (and unpredictability) of parenting. Students who struggle with mental health challenges can adjust their school schedule to suit their needs on a day-to-day basis, which is a major advantage for those who experience anxiety or depression. Physical disabilities can also be a barrier for students, one that HyFlex learning allows students to freely participate in from an environment that is more conducive for them. Ultimately, HyFlex learning is kind of a dream for students who are motivated to learn but want or need the freedom and flexibility to complete it on their own terms, in their own way.

The Downside

As Beatty goes on in his book, he addresses the costs and benefits of a HyFlex environment. He points out that “[i]n a HyFlex class, the instructor is challenged to design effective learning experiences for students in both online and in-class modes”. As Katia touched on in class this week, this is quite difficult for teachers to plan for. This really got me thinking about myself planning for a truly HyFlex class. Let’s say I had 20 students in a post-secondary class. The class runs Tuesdays and Thursdays for an hour and a half each day. On Tuesday, 5 students attend in person, 10 attend synchronously, and 5 asynchronously complete the coursework on their own time, following along using the recorded instruction. Then on Thursday, 13 attend in person, none attend online, and the remainder of the class chooses the asynchronous route. Yikes! The time, effort, and meticulous attention to detail that would have to go into planning for all of these variables would be exhausting, especially if it is the first time creating the course material. What a challenge to attempt to plan for unpredictability. The “plan” would have to be flexible but also comprehensive and include reasonable options for all scenarios. In addition, it’s hard to believe that the quality of instruction wouldn’t be impacted having to juggle so many possible learning situations. Ultimately, a HyFlex learning environment would be tremendously difficult to plan for, especially upfront. It would also need to be carefully implemented to be done well and adequately measure up to its claims.

student sitting on chairs in front of chalkboard

I was curious about how institutions are currently implementing HyFlex learning. A quick Google search helped me with that:

York – some classrooms are equipped with technology that allows remote participation in real time; there is no mention of an option for asynchronous learning

Carleton – the description outlines the options of in-person, online, or asynchronous learning where the student is able to choose their mode of attendance on a day-to-day basis

Columbia – the description mirrors Carleton’s, and includes some helpful graphics for instructors creating their courses. Also included are sample lessons. I took a peek at one and wanted to share a section of one:

This is just a small section – 5 minutes – out of a 50 minute lesson, and if I imagine myself carrying it out, it would feel like teaching three classes at once. Over time, I know this would get easier and become increasingly seamless for the instructor, but initially, it would be a major undertaking.

A Final Word

Anytime learning is made to be more accessible to more students is a positive thing. Therefore I think that it is a feasible model for learning. HyFlex is an attractive option to students looking for a non-traditional environment to better suit their needs, whatever they may be. This method of instruction can help students learn successfully in a variety of ways, assuming that the student is motivated enough to do so. Teaching a HyFlex course does, however, appear to be a daunting task, involving a significant amount of preparation. If well-planned and carried out, a HyFlex course could be the perfect option for self-disciplined students needing a higher degree of flexibility.

black flat screen tv turned on near green plant