Club Admiralty

v7.0 - moving along, a point increase at a time

Multilitteratus Incognitus

Traversing the path of the doctoral degree

HyFlex is not what we need (for Fall 2020)

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HyFlex (Hybrid Flexible) is a way of designing courses for (what I call) ultimate flexibility.  It takes both ends of the teaching spectrum, fully face-to-face, and fully online-asynchronous and it bridges the gap.  Back in the day, I learned about this model of course design by taking an OLC workshop with Brian himself, but you can learn more about the model in his free ebook.  I liked the model at the time (and I still do), because it gave more options to learners in the ways they wanted to participate in the course. They could come to class, they could participate online synchronously, and they could just be asynchronous, or a mix of any one of those depending on the week.

Quite a few people on twitter, including @karenraycosta, were pondering whether they don't like HyFlex (in general), or the implementations of HyFlex that we are seeing. Heck, It seems like HyFlex has become the white label flex model for universities because some of them are creating their own brands of flex!🙄. I wonder what marketing geniuses came up with that.  Anyway, colleagues and I have been trying to flex our learning for the last few years as a trial, with mixed results.  The main issue that comes out a lot is a critical mass of students, with a secondary issue of staffing.  In "pure" modality (full F2F or full-asynch) you need to have a critical mass of learners to be able to engage in constructivist learning.  If lectures are your thing and you expect people to sit down, shut up, and listen, then it works just fine.  However, for the rest of us who want to build learner connections and interactivity in the classroom we need a minimum amount of students, and we need to have a sense of how many there will be so we can plan activities.  An activity for 20 people won't necessarily scale down to 2 people.  The same thing is true in asynch, if most people are F2F, writing in the forums might feel like speaking to an empty room.

Things become more complicated if you want to create a sync session online and merge that with a F2F meeting.  The instructor becomes not only an instructor but a producer.  They need to manage the tech, ensure that everyone on-site has devices that they can beam the online folks in (zoom, adobe connect, etc.) to work in groups, for team presentations you gotta work wizardry to ensure that all people are well represented and the tech works. I've seen this type of producing happen in distance education classrooms of old where people connected 2 physical classrooms via P2P connections, and each site had a producer to manage the cameras that connected the students from one classroom to another, and the remote classroom had a tutor. In total there were 4 people to make this happen for a class of 40. HyFlex (the way it's implemented) expects one person to do this: the instructor.

While I think HyFlex is an interesting model to pursue, I think it's something to pursue for large class enrollments (think classes of 80 or more students), or multi-section team-taught courses (ENGL 101 for example that might have multiple sections taught by many people).  HyFlex isn't good for a "regular" class size class (regular defined as 12-20), because you need to design and plan for possibilities that might never occur.  This makes course creation more costly, and course maintenance an issue, which falls upon one person: the instructor.  Considering that the majority of courses are taught by adjuncts these days - who aren't paid well - this also becomes an issue of academic labor.  Think about it (and use my university as an example): 

  • One course is compensated as 10 hours of work per week (at around $5000, or $33/hour)
    • Assume 2 hours per week prep time (really bare minimum here, assuming all course design is complete and the instructor doesn't have to worry about that). That leaves 8 hours
    • 3 hours of that is "face time" each week.  That leaves 5 hours
    • 2 hours per week are office hours. That leaves 3 hours.
    • Assume 3 hours per week that you are spending engaging in things like forums, mentoring, reading learner journals, and responding back to them (an equal amount of time spent as on-campus). You are left with no paid hours to devote.
  • So what's left out?
    • What if you need to do more than 2 hours/week of student conferencing? Do you take a pay-cut? or do you say "first come first serve, sorry!" (not very student-friendly!)
    • Who grades and gives feedback for papers and exams?  Are they all automated?  That's not really good pedagogy
    • When does professional development take place to be able to use all the tech required for HyFlex?  Is this paid or not?
  • Parking on my campus costs $15 per day, so $225 per semester if you are only teaching one-day per week. If you are unlucky and teach 3 days per week (MWF) or five days per week (MTuWThF), then your parking costs are $675 and $1125 respectively.
    • This makes your compensation per course:
      • $4475 ($31/hour) - one-day teaching schedule
      • $4325 ($28/hour) - three-day teaching schedule
      • $3875 ($25/hour) - five-day teaching schedule
    • While these costs are incurred for people teaching on-campus anyway, when they are off-campus they are not working, however, with HyFlex they still have their online obligations.
  • There is a commuting cost associated with going to/from home. Those hours are not compensated or accounted for.

I think HyFlex can work, but not for everything.  Furthermore, for fall 2020 it puts the lives of faculty in danger because faculty would have to come in to teach on-campus.  The "flex" option seems to only be available to learners.  When Brian Beatty originally proposed the HyFlex model (from what I remember of my OLC workshop), the flex was a two-way street.  The faculty member could also say "well, this week we're online because of obligations I have" - but the flex proposed by colleges and universities doesn't seem to include this two-way flex.

Anyway- that's what I have to say about HyFlex.   How about you? 
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Is "online learning" the new "community college"?

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Me, pondering
OK, maybe the analogy isn't totally clear to you, so let me explain my context. 

When I was in high school (mid-to-late 90s) the advertised (or expected) path after high school seemed pretty clear to me: go to college. There were really no "buts" about it, and there were no gap years considered (those were luxuries that well-off people had since they had money to burn). It was an expectation, from guidance counselors, from teachers, from parents, maybe even from society. Higher education was the path to a good middle-class life, and people were willing to take out loans to go to their dream school in order to achieve this goal. This was a pretty important goal for my parents considering that neither one of them made it to university and I'd be the first in the family (maybe even my broader family) to do this. No pressure, eh? ;-)

One thing that seemed like an underlying current was how dismissive some (many?) people were about community colleges at the time. I had never really thought of community college as an option because of jokes like this one:

You better do well in __(subject)__ otherwise, you'll be attending Cape Cod Community College!

I don't know why CCCC was the butt of the joke for this particular teacher in high school, but the frequency of such jokes (and the virality of them between students) definitely left an impression of community college being a consolation prize, rather than a fantastic (and comparatively cheaper) educational resource! Imagine how much money would be saved if students decided to complete the first two years of their higher education studies at a CC and then transfer into another school! Or graduate from CC and then go into university with advanced standing. From what I know, in my local context, CCs were (and are) commuter schools.  You don't live on-campus at a CC. Compare that to some big-name school in Cambridge (Massachusetts) that my folks wanted me to apply to that required first-year student to stay in the dorms if they wanted to attend that school.

Anyway, I diverge from my point I started with.  The main idea here is that CC, although valuable, was constantly dismissed.  Fast forward to our current pandemic-world.  Students are suing universities for the return of their tuition and fee costs. Nevermind that some of these law firm pitches sound a lot like ambulance chasers, let's dive down to the core:  Universities have been pitched as a place where people go to explore subjects and topics; a type of free-range learning. This is true for both undergraduate and graduate education. 

In recent years, what you saw in university advertising tended to be anything but the learning.  Learning objectives?  Snore! learning outcomes?  yawn!   Rooms with lavish wood paneling?  Noice!  Parties?  Awesome!   Spring fling dances and cookouts?  I'm there!  When you consider the marketing message of the modern university which focuses on amenities, it's not hard to see why people are pushing back against the price tag.  If you paid for a Cruise in the Bahamas, why would you "settle" for the Holodeck?

What's hiding behind those amenities is the promise of a free-range learning environment where you too can learn and be inspired by the greats!  The reality, though, is that you aren't really in a free-range learning environment.  When your tuition and fees cost $60,000 per year (or more), a wise student would do a reality check and see that it's not free-range learning, but rather a prix-fixe menu (in many cases), and students pick X-many courses from column A, Y-many from column B, and Z-many from column C to graduate as soon as possible.  The longer you stay, the bigger your bill!

Conversely, in online learning, where you don't have the striking visuals of campus life and all the non-academic distractions you are forced to start with the learning outcomes.  You need to assess programs based on the outcomes, and you need to advertise based on the transformative experience of the learning and what sorts of careers you are prepared for, not the extracurriculars.   However, it seems, that prospective students (and their parents) don't have metrics by which to assess programs on their learning outcomes, so lacking the social visuals or metrics offered by a campus experience, they dismiss online education; much like how CC education was dismissed by the relevant authority figures in my teenage life.  I think that for-profit schools also have not helped with the reputation of online learning, but talking about "zoom university" and framing educational costs as an all or nothing is also not very productive.  Education is valuable.  I would argue that education at $60k/year was never valuable to people like me, first-generation students, but I hope that more people are teasing out what matters in education. I hope the medium doesn't impact the message in this case.  And I hope that dual-mode universities finally put some support behind their online offerings beyond the classroom.

Your thoughts?  Do you see a connection between online learning and the community college in how they are talked about?

~AK

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