Hyflex and Team Based Learning

The 2020-21 academic year has been a year of challenge, but also opportunity; to try new teaching approaches that combine the best of in-person and online modalities. In this blog I report on my thoughts about how to continue this journey of innovation, with the ultimate aim of delivering authentic Team Based Learning in a fully Hyflex mode.

I have been fascinated how Team Based Learning (TBL) has been particularly well received by students in the online environment; the students really appreciate the intensely social nature of the RATs and application activities. My classes have attracted record participation; while TBL had already increased attendance rates from a minimum of below 50% (pre-TBL) to consistently 80%+; my online TBL classes achieved close to 100% attendance. Of course, this might be because students were short of chances for social interaction during the spring lockdown (in the UK, no face to face teaching was allowed in this period) but this was also true in the fall, where students were allowed to come to campus once a week. Interestingly, attendance was lower in the in-person  sessions, and the number of students who rated the in-person  sessions the “Most helpful part of learning” was half those who said this about the live sessions.

In the upcoming year, UK Universities are planning on a ‘return to campus’ for most students. There is significant, and understandable, nervousness about online teaching with some Universities facing a backlash for introducing a hybrid model. Yet with international travel restrictions and health issues, we expect a non-trivial minority of students who will need to study remotely, at least for the start of the year. For such students, universities typically offer access to lecture recordings and other asynchronous online resources with some additional online pastoral support. In my University, we are also allowing some online teaching to supplement the (expected majority) of in-person  teaching (for my students, the mix is 70-90% in-person  overall; on my TBL course I am offering a full third (33%) of contact hours online for reasons I explain below).  

My question is: for in-person  teaching, can we be more ambitious than simply providing remote students with a post-hoc recording? This is the tough nut I have yet to crack; namely hybrid teaching; the simultaneous inclusion of both in-person  and remote students.

It’s not that I haven’t tried. As I reported in my blog my ‘in-person ’ sessions (in the fall semester) were initially configured with hybrid teams. Yet remote students felt excluded from the social buzz in the classroom that they could see but not hear. It was difficult for in-person  teams to communicate with their remote team members, the majority of whom were not first language English speakers.

The in-person was disjointed between those online and those in-class.

End of semester student feedback

Remote students thus appeared to be experiencing a ‘second class’ experience.

My solution was to reconfigure the teaching to offer parallel ‘in room’ and ‘online’ sessions; each team was solely in one or the other; no single team was hybrid. We had two facilitators, one who stayed online and one who stayed in-person . Sometimes we had a joint group briefing (and wrap up), sometimes the sessions were completely separate.

This did mean that I had to shuffle the teams around (potentially each session), breaking a key TBL principle of permanent teams. Is it possibly to keep the teams together? I am not keen to resort to an intituively workable model of requiring all in-person  students to connect using their laptop and earphones as this reduces the social learning advantage of them being co-located and – it seems to me – offers an insufficient pedagogical uplift to an online session.

The gold standard here is HyFlex – offering maximum flexibility to learners who choose whether to study in-person , synchronous online or asynchronously on a session by session basis. Hyflex dates back well over 10 years (Beatty 2007) with some core principles summarised by a more recent paper (Beatty 2019)

  1. learner choice : learners choose a mode and can change each week/session.
  2. equivalency :  equivalent learning, not necessarily identical means. 
  3. reusability : all resources available to all learners (e.g. recordings of sessions, pre and post learning resources, forum discussions).
  4. accessibility : all learners can (if they wish) access all modes.  

Hyflex offers an important nuance over most blended models; the student chooses which mode of study works best for them, potentially changing their choice between sessions. This increases student agency and also – if done well – offers inclusivity advantages for working students and others who might find it difficult or impossible to come to campus. It is also a way of reducing the climate impact of teaching by reducing unnecessary commuting. 

These topics have been explored at the excellent TBLC monthly social meet ups. Through this I have had some useful follow up conversations with TBLC colleagues, notably Irene Lee and Raihan Jumat from Duke-NUS Medical School Singapore. I have investigated the Hyflex TBL literature, and have involved the audiovisual (AV) department from my University, where the staff are very keen to try new approaches. From these investigations I have collected a few promising approaches to keeping teams intact

  • Allow some teams to be remote (for example in a student house). This should allow for much less ‘noise pollution’ between teams when working in breakouts.
  • Have some purely online sessions, thus keeping equity between remote and campus based students. (for my course, I will include a 1.5 hour online only session every week that complements the 3 hour in-person  (Hyflex) weekly session).,
  • Enable automated transcription services for remote students that will help them keep up with the verbal conversations.
  • Keep RATs and application exercises as specific choice (a 4S principle) with even free text responses having a strict word limit.
  • That said, a collaborative output (eg google jamboard) can be a good way of including remote students in non verbal interactions (I use these more complex outputs for summative in class work).
  • Use modes other than fast-paced conversation for communication between team members; for example, text chat, collaborative editing tools, mind mapping. Relying less on fast paced verbal conversation could also help non-native English speakers in-person .
  • Give primacy to remote students in recording RAT/application responses, (verbally) reporting back, screen sharing, and other ways to increase their involvement.
  • Experiment with some ‘flexing’ to the TBL model such as limiting remote student-student interactions to pairs (in-person  students could take turns interacting with their remote peers) or even jigsaw (online students consult together and then come back and share their learnings with their team). I found this blog quite useful for inspiration.
  • Have check-ins with the teams to find out the challenges that they face. Last year I arranged specific team consultations with my excellent postgraduate teaching assistants, this worked very well to surface any concerns and in one case made a transformational difference to a team’s behaviour; they started turning up to sessions early so they could have a pre-class team check-in, they made sure they listened to all inputs, they worked efficiently and completed the tasks ahead of time; their summative scores for team outputs improved dramatically.

There are also some technical tips which I have picked up:

  • Use audiovisual technology such as Owl 360 cameras (which focus on the person speaking) and Catchbox or bigmicball microphones which allow in-person  activity to be more effectively shared with those remote.
  • Designate a team spokesperson (perhaps a remote participant) for each class (rotating the role each session) so that the teams don’t scramble each time they have to present. As Bender et al (2021) sagely note, “In an online setting, 10 seconds of dead air seems like an eternity”.
  • Technical/admin support should be on hand for each class to help with all technical issues.
  • It’s essential to create an asynchronous mode of involvement not least as a backup in case technology fails but more positively to create a truly Hyflex experience. For example, a forum/discussion page could host application outputs which can be asynchronously reviewed and discussed.
  • Encourage teams to have multiple and alternative modes of communication.

Challenges

I am anticipating some significant challenges:

  • Online TBL took longer than in-person TBL to prepare; I expect Hyflex TBL to take even longer.
  • Just as in online TBL, I expect that it won’t be possible to cover as much ground during the Hyflex sessions; I expect to use the asynchronous mode more actively.
  • Application activity design might need to change, particularly if I include the ‘pair’ communication or ‘jigsaw’ approached mentioned above.
  • Assessment design may need to change. I have done some of this already; for example I have designed my asynchronous RATS to be open book (though still time limited).
    • This means the teams can work on the tRAT ahead of class. In my classes, some teams did so – this is obvious since they complete the tRAT super quickly in class. I actually encourage this behaviour since it improved team bonding, and I give 15 minutes before my online class for teams to join an online breakout room and do just that.
    • In theory, students could collude on an asynchronous iRAT; I’m not aware of students actually doing this in practice, the spread of scores are pretty similar to those in a synchronous iRAT. It appears students are naturally competitive! 
  • Working out the timing of everything including the asynchronous mode. A great example of this is shown in figure 1 although this example is blended and not fully Hyflex.
Fig 1 : Example of scheduling for a blended TBL course (Clark et al 2018; see also Dorneich et al 2021)

Team allocation is a key area, and here I would adhere to the TBL principle of distributing assets and liabilities, but consider the (likely) physical location of each participant. I have not yet decided whether it would be better to attempt to have mostly online only or in-person  only teams, with hybrid teams being managed as exceptions to the general rule, or ensure that every team is hybrid so there are no disadvantages and that all students gain the useful professional experience of working in a hybrid setting.

Of course one possibility is to ask the students! Adding this to a pre-class survey could be a useful source of data, at the very least I should get a sense of the likely split of online/in-person  students in advance of the first session. In addition some agility and flexibility could be useful to adjust the format over the course of the semester (I use 360 evaluations with instructor feedback at the end of each TBL module to help with this). Finally, students can be rewarded for tackling the challenge (and opportunity) of Hyflex working by including a reflective element to their end of semester summative assignment, an approach championed by Palsolé and Awalt (2008).

The TBL orientation module has always been a key moment for me, but this year I suspect it will become even more pivotal. This is an example for the team to set up initial ground rules, plus some agreed protocols (for example electing a spokesperson) with the understanding that these can be modified throughout the semester. Given that students are coming new to this, I will of course them give some suggested tactics that they can choose from.

I include my current thinking in tabulated form below (table 1).  

I conclude with 3 concerns and one key opportunity:

Concern #1 – will the technology work? I have enlisted my wonderful AV colleagues at the institution to help with this, fortunately they are both enthusiastic and knowledgeable to this alleviates this concern to some extent.

Concern #2 – will the students engage constructively with Hyflex? Unequal team contribution is a perennial problem in any team work, this may be exacerbated in Hyflex settings. I will need to carefully design my teaching and work with my students to adaptively improve the method through the semester.

Concern #3 – will the course achieve the pedagogical aims – given all the complexity, it might not be possible to achieve the learning outcomes. Again, design will be crucial, and providing a set of ‘fallback’ positions (for example moving to parallel delivery, and using asynchronous resources) will provide the required safety net. 

Opportunity – I am convinced that HyFlex TBL is a prime opportunity to increase yet further the inclusivity and power of active learning. The academic year 2021-22 offers an unparalleled opportunity to test this hypothesis.

I would be interested in connecting with anyone who is also trying similar approaches, or has experience to share.

References

Beatty, B. (2007). Transitioning to an Online World: Using HyFlex Courses to Bridge the Gap. In C. Montgomerie & J. Seale (Eds.), Proceedings of ED-MEDIA 2007–World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications (pp. 2701-2706). Vancouver, Canada: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved July 26, 2021 from https://www.learntechlib.org/primary/p/25752/

Beatty, B. J. (2019). Values and principles of Hybrid-Flexible course design. In B. J. Beatty (Ed.), Hybrid-Flexible course design: Implementing student-directed hybrid classes (chap. 1.3). EdTech Books. http://edtechbooks.org/hyflex/hyflex_values

Bender, H. S., Garrett, K. M., & Hostetter, S. J. (2021). Engaging students with team‐based learning in courses taught at two campuses synchronously: Two case studies in health sciences. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2021(165), 107–121. https://doi.org/10.1002/tl.20440 

Clark, M., Merrick, L., Styron, J., Dolowitz, A., Dorius, C., Madeka, K., Bender, H., Johnson, J., Chapman, J., Gillette, M., Dorneich, M., O’Dwyer, B., Grogan, J., Brown, T., Leonard, B., Rongerude, J., & Winter, L. (2018, March). Off to on: Best practices for online team-based learning. White paper presented at the Team-Based Learning Collaborative Conference, San Diego, CA. https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/celt_pubs/1/  

Dorneich, M. C., O’Dwyer, B., Dolowitz, A. R., Styron, J. L., & Grogan, J. (2021). Application exercise design for team‐based learning in online courses. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2021(165), 41–52. https://doi.org/10.1002/tl.20435

Palsolé, S., & Awalt, C. (2008). Team-based learning in asynchronous online settings. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2008(116), 87–95. https://doi.org/10.1002/tl.336


ActivityExplanationIn-person  groupremote groupremote individualAsynchronous
MotivationWhy students might choose this modeOn campus – students in a familiar and controlled environment, also face to face with teaching staff.Working off campus can provide extra social bonding by working in a shared space (e.g. student house) that all students are comfortable in.Allows flexibility for students for whom to travel to campus is impossible or inconvenientAllows flexibility for students (e.g. in work or in a different time zone) for whom the session times do not work
Didactic briefingMini lectures; briefing application activitiesListen acoustically[1]Listen via zoom and group speakerListen via zoom and individual laptop or phoneWork through prepared briefing and post hoc recording
Individual contribution or question in plenary –Choose speaker randomly (roll dice) or with a preference for remote speakers Use warm calling – nominate team spokesperson in advance) Could allow students in the room to ‘phone a (remote) friend’Using portable mic or eg micball (https://www.bigmicball.com/). Can listen to others’ contributions acoustically or via the room speaker for remote contributors I might use Owl360 camera (https://owl360.co.uk/) to focus on the person talking Some rooms might have push to talk micsContribute via zoom and group microphone (probably a single laptop for the group) Listen via a (single) speaker, probably laptopSpeak via zoom and laptop or mobile phone mic. Listen via individual speakerForum contribution
Group discussion Option 1 Parallel online and in-personTeams mixed depending on who is presentGroups discuss in room, with some merging of groups if required – all in-person   Can talk socially (acoustically)  to each otherGroups can discuss in their own space (this allows some self selection of team) If the team is not at full size then they would be joined by online students as described below. They should still be connected and in a breakout room for facilitation along with other online studentsStudents discuss in one or more breakout rooms depending on numbers of online students Talk in breakout rooms Facilitated in parallel to physical roomForum and other asynchronous modes of communication
Group discussion Option 2 Permanent teams. Base level option.All in-person  students connect to breakout room via laptop and earphones Provide resources for application activity in advanceCommunication with all other team members (including in-person ) through own laptop both verbally and non verbally (e.g. group chat) Earphones neededCan talk socially (acoustically) For remote team members use shared speaker and microphone or if necessary individual laptops depending on acoustic environmentContribute using zoom and individual speaker/mic – or failing that, zoom chat For other solutions see previous columnsContributes to team asynchronously, for example by contributing analysis ahead of class or reviewing team output
Group discussion Option 2 Permanent teams Other modelsUse of non verbal communications (chat, collaborative editing tools, mind maps) Use of 4S activities (specific choice) and keep output simple Asynchronous exchanges can also be useful for facilitator to look at and reviewCan talk socially (acoustically)  to each other Can listen to remote students through a shared speaker Communication with remote students: OPTION 1: through a shared microphone OPTION 2: done on a point wise basis (1:1 in-person :remote taking turns) OPTION 3: Use of group chat and other non verbal methods  Shared speaker/microphone solution might work better than a campus room as there may be less noise pollution Other methods as per previous columnsShould take control of any screen sharing for the group unless wifi issues Remote students to drive conversation by entering tRAT choices or screen sharing Contribute using zoom and individual speaker/mic – or failing that, zoom chat For other solutions see previous columnAs above
Jigsaw modelGroups split into parallel groups with cross team meetings either in-person  or online These meetings complement but do not replace permanent team meetings which are managed as above The point is to have cross team discussions on an aspect of the applicationGroups are mixed in the room according to jigsaw model with some flexibility depending on who is there in the dayMembers of the group will be mixed as per online students for the jigsaw discussions (this may reduce the advantage of them being in a shared space)During the jigsaw sessions students discuss in online breakout rooms with other online students (and groups)As above
Online onlyStandard online session with breakout rooms – full equity for studentsn/aIt would be possible for a team to join using a shared space/laptopCould provide optional 1:1 bookable slots to address any issuesAs above
Table 1 current design thoughts for HyFlex TBL. Nothing in this table is fixed, they are all ideas to explore. This table should therefore be read as a work in progress. I also don’t expect any ‘asynchronous’ students in 2021-22 (although I might in future years) and in any case this mode will provide a useful complement and fall back to ensure the learning outcomes are met even if, for example, the technology fails.

[1] I am using the word ‘acoustic’ to mean listening through the air rather than digitally through earphones.

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