Published on 2013/02/25

HyFlex: Improving Service for Adult Students with Flexible Options for Participation

HyFlex: Improving Service for Adult Students with Flexible Options for Participation
While it takes effort to develop a robust Hybrid-Flexible model, the approach creates a far more flexible higher education environment for busy adult students.

HyFlex courses are helping San Francisco State University (SFSU) fulfill its vision as a “bridge to opportunity” for its students and the communities it serves. SFSU’s most recent strategic plan chose the title of “Bridge to Opportunity” intentionally to highlight its longstanding role in providing access to higher education and the professional future it promises to non-traditional students from the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. The typical SFSU student is in her mid-late 20’s, often is a first-generation college student and may have learned to speak several languages before learning English. Many students work either part- or full-time and often take longer to finish their degrees for a variety of reasons. Though SFSU’s student body has become a little younger and less transitory over the past decade, the need to support adult learners who work and live busy, complicated lives has not abated.

In the mid-2000’s the Instructional Technologies Master of Arts program began offering some of its classes in a new hybrid format that allows students to choose whether to attend class online or in the traditional classroom. The purpose was to offer effective traditional classroom-based graduate courses to students who could not (or did not want to) attend class in person. The online option could be taken in a single week (class session) or for an entire semester. We decided to call this approach “HyFlex” to make the label clearly distinct from a traditional hybrid course, in which students typically complete activities either online or in the classroom under the direct supervision of the instructor. Though the HyFlex course approach was initiated to meet the desire to expand a graduate degree program into the online marketplace, the real value to students was in the flexibility it offers to all, not just typical online students.

When we started using the HyFlex approach with graduate students, about 20 to 30 percent of the students very quickly decided to take the online option each week — though the specific students participating online changed quite a bit week to week. Very few students chose one mode and participated in the same mode every week. On average, approximately 15 percent of the students changed modes, under their own control, each week. For graduate students, who are often a bit older, working and many with family responsibilities, the flexibility this approach provides them is always appreciated. When surveyed, almost every student tells us she would like all of her courses to be delivered with this flexibility.

As the HyFlex model was being developed and tested in graduate education, the lecture capture method became another primary mode of offering participation flexibility to busy students. SFSU developed its first lecture capture system, CourseStream, in the early 2000’s in response to a lack of available space for a very large lecture section. Lecture capture was used initially in a very traditional manner: The faculty member taught a live class, which was recorded by the technology, and students either attended the lecture live, streamed it live (when available) or watched the recorded version on their own time. These days, the CourseStream system (now powered by Echo360 technology) is available in several dozen classrooms and lecture halls and on individual faculty computers (personal lecture capture) to provide this resource to students. Though some faculty only use lecture capture to record sessions for students to review later (as a study aid), many use lecture capture to support a full HyFlex delivery mode.

The benefits of HyFlex to working adults are significant, and each student finds a unique set of values that fit their specific situation and personality. Some of the key value takeaways we hear from students include:

  • I have the flexibility I need to attend class online when I am:
    • traveling for work
    • sick at home
    • taking care of family responsibilities
    • working late
    • on vacation
    • tired of commuting
  • Students who are not close to campus (more than 60 miles away, often) can:
    • complete courses they otherwise would not be able to
    • still attend class in person when they have the opportunity

The HyFlex approach allows a faculty member or an entire program to provide the best of both modes — classroom and online — in the same class, to the same set of students, using the same set of resources for both. It does take an investment to develop the skills, materials and specific implementation plan for an organization (certainly, there are challenges), but the additional value delivered to students, especially busy working adult students, is exceptional.

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Readers Comments

WA Anderson 2013/02/25 at 9:54 am

With about 15 percent of students changing their modes each week, another added value for adult students in the HyFlex option is the ability to interact with different classmates in their program. Different groupings of the same students can produce different dynamics, which can enhance the learning experience of each student.

Yvonne Laperriere 2013/02/25 at 1:33 pm

I’m curious to know what the uptake was among faculty members when the CourseStream lecture-capture technology and HyFlex option were first introduced. It seems like a new technology and program delivery format would require instructors to put in additional work — at least on the administrative end, certainly — and develop a new skill set to use them to maximum effect. Did that create challenges for achieving faculty buy-in? In your experience, what can be done to incentivize faculty to adopt new technology/delivery formats?

    Brian Beatty 2013/03/04 at 7:11 pm

    The extra work involved in setting up an interactive course for HyFlex delivery is something that must be considered. If the new delivery format is treated like a new course, there may be course release or stipends available to support a faculty member in that effort. Some institutions may have instructional design and development support staff who could also carry some of this burden.

    Setting up a large lecture-style class for HyFlex delivery may not require as much upfront work, since the automated lecture capture solutions typically create much (if not all) of the additional content needed for online students. If the faculty decided to also change the pedagogy to make the course more interactive at the same time, then more upfront (and continuing) work may be required.

    Like all of us, faculty have their own, and oftentimes very unique, calculation of cost-benefit for any change to their current practice. Course release, stipend, more satisfied students, more students enrolling in classes, etc. all could be big motivators for some. My suggestion is to take the time to find out what forms of incentive are available to your faculty, what would motivate each one, and then look for fits. A flexible approach to incentives is more likely to be a success than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Natasha Rubin 2013/02/26 at 9:13 am

I wonder if it would be possible to compare SFSU’s enrollment numbers for the Instructional Technologies MA program pre- and post-HyFlex option. I’m not sure how much of a role program flexibility plays in adult students’ choice of school, but it would be interesting to see if it made a difference here. That way, you could say that HyFlex has provided better value for students as well as benefits for your institution.

    Brian Beatty 2013/03/04 at 7:16 pm

    Natasha, the enrollment data is more complicated than just looking at the change in mode from f2f to HyFlex, for a number of reasons: 1) all classes aren’t taught in HyFlex, 2) the university has stopped a restarted graduate admissions at least twice over the past four years, and 3) overall number sin graduate programs have been declining as tuition has been raised repeatedly over the past five years.

    All I can report is anecdotal evidence, and that is that more students who I interviewed for application into the program were mentioning the HyFlex delivery mode as an important factor in their interest. Some because they were planning to be online-only students, and others who knew they needed the flexibility to attend in both modes over their graduate career.


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