This summer, when we put together the ACE Framework for faculty preparing to teach in the fall under the reality of Covid19, one cornerstone practice we included was “HiFlex Course Design.” “HiFlex” is our version of “Hy-Flex” with an emphasis on “highly flexible” as opposed to “hybrid flexible.” We wanted faculty to think about how they could bake flexibility (for f2f, synch online, and asynch online) into their courses, and perhaps worry a bit less about hybridity on every front.
One piece of this approach were the Four Models for Hi-Flex Course Design that I developed. These models were an attempt to show faculty how they might focus first on online, asynchronous course design (the most accessible, but, often, most unfamiliar pedagogy of the three), and then “backfill” into the synchronous experience. In essence, we were encouraging them to create a fully online, asynchronous course and then use whatever synchronous opportunities they were afforded to augment, align, and delve deeper into student learning.
As we enter the third week of the term, however, I’m hearing more and more from faculty who are at their wits end trying to figure out how to approach those f2f and online synchronous sessions — even if they are imagining them as additions and augmentations to the larger online course, the sessions seem to fall flat.
Faculty share that they feel pulled in too many directions: setting up and managing the tech, attending to students in the physical classroom, and being there for the online students as well. At any given moment, they are juggling multiple inputs and needs and it is overwhelming and even demoralizing.
Hearing faculty share these stories reminded me of when I used to volunteer in my daughter’s kindergarten class. As someone who easily experiences sensory overload, I was always amazed at how well my daughter’s teacher could attend to so many different needs and demands without losing it. Just sitting with two children and helping them through an activity left me drained. At one point, a few years later, I mentioned this to my daughter and she told me that occasionally her teacher would put herself in “time out.” Presumably this was her way of acknowledging that even she was human and sometimes needed a reset.
My first piece of advice to faculty who are feeling overwhelmed is basically a version of that kindergarten teacher’s technique: acknowledge your own humanity and limitations and be patient and gentle with yourself.
Faculty have often told me that approaching the work in a highly structured, scripted way, while seemingly the “right” way of dealing with so many competing demands, left them feeling like their teaching was stilted, flat, and “too choreographed.” This made me think, in turn, about the practice of dance and choreography, and how when learning a new dance routine, the steps are often stilted and stolid. It’s only once the mind and body begin to build memory and familiarity in a new routine that something fluid and natural emerges. Even then, I think dancers would tell you they still have to constantly attend to the details and steps, even if they are doing so on a subconscious level. (Full Disclosure: I’m not a dancer. You should probably ask a dancer if this is true, because I’m kind of guessing.) So, my second piece of advice was to try and become comfortable with the discomfort and unfamiliarity as your own body and mind learn these new approaches.
One faculty member particularly was worried about community. She’s someone for whom this normally comes easily, but in the “split” world of Zoom/f2f, community seemed to be slow in emerging. We talked a lot about trust (which I believe is the pre-cursor to community) and how trust is built in-person versus online. I had a few suggestions:
After sharing this advice, though, I felt like it wasn’t enough. In fact, after posting some of this in a private PSU group from the ACE Workshop, several faculty continued to say how much they were struggling with community building and the hy/hi-flex model. So I went to Twitter and asked for advice about both issues, and I wanted to summarize some of what was shared, because so many people are thinking about this and doing great work on this front.
Deanna Mascle (@deannamascle) shared some great ideas she uses in her writing classes:
This is what I did with my first year writers and their reflections were very positive. I really loved having them share their personal anthems that reflected their values and find values they share https://t.co/jQ0lofjmZJ— Deanna “Teaching Online Pre-Pandemic” Mascle, PhD (@deannamascle) September 4, 2020
We have more community building activities to share with you soon! You can check out the ones we launched last week from @UnboundEq here: https://t.co/zFlDGYfx0t#TeachingOnline #onlinelearning pic.twitter.com/1xcZiYpWJz— OneHEglobal (@oneheglobal) August 24, 2020
And then there were a few specific activities that people talked about:
Class is divided into triads. Each gets a three-circle Venn diagram and a list of questions about favourite food, movies, music, etc. Each student has a circle. Things common to all three in the center, things common to two in overlapping circles, unique in only one's circle.— John Oughton (@JohnOughton48) September 4, 2020
So lots of great ideas, from more elaborate assignments/projects to quick, 5-minute icebreaking activities. Hopefully, someone finds something useful in there!
This faculty concern, which I’ve also been hearing a lot, feels much deeper and more complicated: how to manage this new kind of classroom in which:
People on Twitter had things to say about this, and I’m just going to include that advice below and let it more or less speak for itself:
I can report that it worked well.— TammyWarnerKeene (@KeeneWarner) September 7, 2020
I read a two things that come to mind, 1) set a timer as a reminder to check-in on the online group 2) Build as slide into your PP as a reminder to check-in with the online group— IanAugust (@eomonroe00) September 9, 2020
I think this is right. We expect a lot of ourselves as teachers, but we can’t be in three places at once. So, encourage virtual folks to structure their community but don’t expect ourselves to be inside it, just like when doing small groups, we aren’t in all small groups at once.— Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer) September 7, 2020
Thanks — This is a great resource and we will definitely share it with our faculty!— martha (@mburtis) September 7, 2020
We're hearing that remote students really appreciate being able to see the in-room students on the Zoom call too. In-room students have to stay muted in our experience, unless you're doing breakout rooms, but seeing faces helps. (It's not only about teacher attention!)— Joe Murphy (@joefromkenyon) September 7, 2020
My student reviews have showed that they really appreciate a student in class being a dedicate chat jockey for them who is also in Zoom. This student is the voice to the chat and my eyes for when I’m on mute, not recording etc. This student serves as our connector!— Kayla Gaudette (@KaylaGaudette3) September 8, 2020
On the less-scripted side, some remote students are suggesting that they leave their mics hot (instead of "mute unless talking") so they can participate more naturally and just deal with whatever background noise comes. Which seems really thoughtful to me.— Joe Murphy (@joefromkenyon) September 7, 2020
Today I also had some self-inflicted and unlucky tech issues in my very large hy-flex course and I jokingly berated my students for not keeping me in check. When I finally told them they can tell me when I mess up, they actually did and it was kind and super helpful.— Elisabeth Rosencrum (@DrRosencrum) September 7, 2020
I am really struggling with the weirdness of it and feeling like I’m trying to be all things to all students (for good reasons, that I believe in!!) but not being so good to any of them as a result...? 😕. Nice to see this thread so I know I’m not alone... hoping for tips too— Kerry Yurewicz (@KYurewicz) September 7, 2020
That last one, from PSU colleague Kerry Yurewicz, feels like the most important of all: None of us are alone in this. Rely on your colleagues, friends, networks, and perhaps most of all, students. Community is what matters here, and it is how we’ll get through it together.