HyFlex: Trepidations and Tips.

Pandemic circumstances over the past two years have created a situation where many classes have, for better or for worse, included some level of simultaneous integration of face-to-face teaching with synchronous online teaching. This is an area of rocky pedagogical terrain, and many faculty and teaching units at Trent and elsewhere have worked to avoid this kind of situation as we navigated teaching through a pandemic. In my own experience, trying to integrate students participating via Zoom or another video conferencing platform with live action in my classroom has been difficult. But, at some point I decided to stop pushing against the tide of requests for remote access to my in-person class, and allowed myself to experiment with this “Hyflex” teaching and learning–what some have named “hybrid” delivery (though this term has been used in a few different ways, and I want to be clear about what I am describing).

The results of my experiments have been mixed when teaching while some students were around me in the classroom and others were online. But, I am a ‘never say never’ kind of educator, and while pandemic accommodation for students to participate remotely in face-to-face classes may be waning, there are non-pandemic related reasons that an instructor or instructional unit might want to enable remote participation in face-to-face classes. For example, it can be a way to allow access for students who live in remote communities and have legitimate personal, academic, or cultural reasons for attending classes from afar. We sometimes need and want to accommodate students’ individual circumstances and it may not be possible for all degree requirements to be met through courses only delivered online. Likewise, sometimes students may have legitimate excusable short-term absences that could be accommodated by remote participation, like ‘zooming-in’ to an important class session that is happening while they need to travel for a family emergency or professional obligation. Let me be clear in what I am suggesting here, though: You don’t have to do this, and nobody should be forced to teach this way! I’m merely hoping to offer some suggestions on how to navigate this tricky means of teaching if you feel that there are times where you want to do this. 

My experience in this pedagogical realm includes both formal teaching (for a graduate course in Fall 2021) and for co-curricular events that I hosted as Graduate Director for the IDSR PhD. In both cases I was working with mid-sized groups (around 20 learners), and we were engaging in a mix of pedagogical approaches including lecture, discussion, and active learning exercises. Based on these experiences, here are some tips that I can offer to instructors brave enough to traverse the terrain of simultaneous online and in-person instruction.

Room layout and camera

I was excited about using a “nice” camera when I first started planning for hyflex teaching, with the hopes of drawing students in through good quality video connection. But, in the end it turned out not to have as big an impact on student experience as I hoped. As it turned out, the way the video conference software processes video, and variability in students’ individual internet connections meant the excellent video quality that I had envisioned turned out to be “just okay” in practice–not really different from the quality of the standard issue webcam furnished in classrooms at Trent. Also, students said their experience wasn’t really improved by a better camera. So, after a few weeks I stopped using my own camera and just used the webcam that was installed in the classroom. This saved me set-up and strike time for each class session.

Most classrooms at Trent have the webcam placed at the top of a video display at the front of the classroom, assuming a “boardroom” type of approach to hyflex. Depending on the layout of the classroom and number of students participating in-person, this might be fine. But, it might also not be the best setup for delivery if the instructor is not sitting with students facing the camera. For my purposes, I wanted the camera to be able to move to focus on me, or the students in the classroom at different times. Two solutions were helpful here. First, I learned that the webcam atop the video display wasn’t attached, and actually had a bit of extra cord, meaning that I could remove it from its normal home and place it on a tripod next to the display that allowed me to redirect the camera based on changing action in the classroom during different kinds of pedagogical activities (e.g.: on me if I’m lecturing, on the class if we’re having a dialogue or doing an activity). Also, having the webcam a bit lower means it is more at eye level to students sitting at tables in the classroom. Second, I would often log into the Zoom call on both the podium computer and on my laptop. Importantly, if you do this you need to make sure that when logging into the call from your laptop that you DO NOT connect to the Zoom audio on the laptop, otherwise you’ll get awful feedback. This set up would allow me and the classroom to each have a ‘square’ on the zoom screen. Zoom even has a feature that allows you to “spotlight” these two zoom squares so they are the main view for all users in the zoom call.

Finally, one other thing that I found helpful was a rolling chair. At times when we were having dialogue, it would allow me to quickly reposition myself to either face the in-person classroom as a whole, ‘roll’ over to a small table grouping, or face my laptop camera when need be.


Whereas video quality turned out not to be a big factor in student engagement, audio quality was of primary importance for students who were joining the in-person class remotely. Much like when you are watching a movie, you don’t really notice how important the quality of the audio is until it is really bad. In most Trent classrooms, the audio for video conferencing is provided through a microphone that is built into the webcam that sits on the main video display. If the in-person population of a class is small enough to sit boardroom style in front of the webcam, this might work. But, in my experience with a class of around 15 in-person participants, people sitting in the far reaches of the classroom could not be easily heard by participants on Zoom. So, use of an external microphone was critical. I did some research, and used my professional expenses fund to buy a RODE Wireless Go II microphone setup (around a $400 investment). This gave me two wireless microphones that transmitted to a single receiver that I could plug-and-play into a front-facing USB port on the lectern computer in the classroom, and easily set as the microphone for the Zoom video conference. 

Depending on what was happening in the class at a given moment, I could wear one of the mics, while the other was somewhere in the classroom capturing audio from students sitting farther away (often clipped to the back of a rolling chair so it could be easily repositioned). This was a simple and easy to implement solution that student anecdotal reports suggested was a big win for remote participation in an in-person class. 

Sometimes separate activities

I use a fair number of “active learning” pedagogies in my classes (teaching through initiative tasks, use of manipulatives, etc.). Sometimes these kinds of activities couldn’t translate to the video conference world that some class members were using to join the class, or even when they could it was difficult to integrate online and in-person class members during an activity, or split my own presence between independent activities in simultaneous online and in-person classrooms. 

In these instances, I planned an alternate activity for those connecting remotely. This was a little bit more work for me in the planning of a class session, but generally much less stressful than trying to include Zoom-based participants in a hands-on in-class activity. My alternative activities were usually fairly simple web-based explorations, and I allowed students to either complete the task independently, or to join the Zoom space with their online peers, but knowing that the instructor and their in-person classmates would not be connected to the video conference for that portion of the class (typically the first 30-60 minutes). 

Wanted: Technical production assistance

One thing that I did not have during my experiences in hyflex teaching is the support of a technical producer. This, I hypothesize, would make the whole enterprise of hyflex teaching much more effective by at least partially separating pedagogical leadership from technical production of the online to in-person classroom integration. Ideally, I would want this support person to have some knowledge and skill with regards to the course content so that they could function in part like a teaching assistant (e.g.: leading an independent discussion group in moments where it was ideal to separate dialogue between the online and in person participants), and enough technical prowess to manage all the could set up, take down, and monitor all the connective technology during the class (webcam, microphones, zoom chat, etc.). If I undertake a teaching approach like this again in the future, I will seek out a funding source in order to allow for this support. 

In closing: Never say never

Teaching my mid-size graduate course using a hyflex teaching approach was challenging. It’s much simpler to simply employ one delivery model very well, rather than trying to do both at the same time, and I look forward to that in the future. However, there are times when it may be desirable to enable students to participate remotely in an in-person course, for one reason or another; for a short period of time, or for a whole term. As a result of this experiment during the pandemic, I now have a small toolbox of skills and strategies for reasonably effective delivery of simultaneous, synchronous online and in-person teaching. I think it makes me a better teacher overall. 

Blair Niblett

School of Education,

Trent University


Photo by Beth Macdonald on Unsplash

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