Dec 16 2021

5 Tips for Combining F2F, Asynchronous and Synchronous Instruction

With the right strategies and technologies, hybrid-flexible courses that combine face-to-face and online classes can create a seamless learning experience for students.

During the pandemic, many colleges and universities began offering hybrid flexible (HyFlex) courses. This model allows students to choose among face-to-face (F2F) learning and synchronous and asynchronous online learning formats.

Having more than one way to learn allows nontraditional students — and those hesitant to return to campus — continue their education with minimal roadblocks.

Even long after the pandemic ends, HyFlex courses will continue to benefit students who are dealing with illnesses or long commutes and those who prefer to learn independently. With that said, this flexible instructional mode can pose several challenges.

RELATED: What's the difference between synchronous and asynchronous e-Learning?

Repositioning materials originally designed for an in-person audience may not always work for online formats, and faculty members who are only familiar with traditional F2F teaching may not be comfortable with creating an asynchronous course, says Brian Beatty, associate professor of instructional technologies at San Francisco State University and author of Hybrid-Flexible Course Design: Implementing Student-Directed Hybrid Classes.

Another issue that often arises is finding an effective way to encourage all students to participate in class. “You have to be able to serve those two modes of students equally well,” Beatty says. “It takes intention of design to figure out how I can engage online students as frequently, and hopefully as well, as the face-to-face students so that they don’t feel ignored. How can everyone feel valued?”

To help educators design a flexible course model that seamlessly combines in-person, asynchronous and synchronous delivery models, consider these five strategies from HyFlex experts.

Click below to check out CDW's roadmap for designing flexible learning environments.

1. Facilitate Online and In-Person Interactions

Educators may want to utilize engagement techniques such as the jigsaw cooperative learning method, which involves forming student groups that learn by teaching each other different subjects. It’s a technique that increases engagement, says Natalie Milman, professor of educational technology at George Washington University.

Including periodic poll questions in PowerPoint presentations gives the class a chance to participate in lectures. Polls also help instructors gauge student comprehension, something that can be difficult to observe when students are wearing masks, Milman says.

She also suggests establishing a buddy system to connect remote attendees with designated in-person classmates. “The buddy could videoconference in the remote student and have a computer open, so, if they’re having group discussions, everyone can see one another,” Milman says. “They could also engage in a back-channel chat, sending messages in the videoconferencing tool, which could be private or open to the full class.”

Brian Beatty
It takes intention of design to figure out how I can engage online students as frequently, and hopefully as well, as the face-to-face students so that they don’t feel ignored.”

Brian Beatty associate professor of instructional technologies, San Francisco State University

When Maria Bergstrom, a lecturer in Michigan Technological University’s humanities department, taught her first HyFlex courses in Fall 2020, she needed new ways to encourage student interactions.

Bergstrom decided to fully utilize Google’s suite of tools — especially Google Docs, Google Slides and Google Jamboard, which are all applications that allow simultaneous student interactions. “I really took a deeper dive into the Google suite,” she says.

“They did a lot of writing work in Google Docs,” she says. “I would develop slide decks and assign each group different slides. What I love about Slides is you can see everyone’s icon pop up. I could literally see where my groups were and if they were progressing through the slides.”

Student Perspective: An adult learner navigates asynchronous online classes. 

2. Expect Students to Learn at Different Speeds

Some remote students may learn at a faster pace than F2F students, and that is fine. According to Beatty, educators can accommodate different learning speeds by having everyone align periodically for an online discussion or complete an assignment together that involves specific subject matter.

“Typically, we reinforce the synchronicity at least on a week-by-week or topic-by-topic basis in our classes,” he says. “Maybe there are some expectations — ‘We’re going to do a forum, so you have to post by day three, and need to reply by day five’ — or something like that. But in general, they’re controlling their own time.”

Bergstrom found that popping in and out of breakout room conversations caused disruptions. Instead, she reaches out to individual students who seem to be falling behind.

Maria Bergstrom
I did a bit more checking in through messages and email if people didn’t seem to be completing assignments or logging in to the learning management system.”

Maria Bergstrom Lecturer, Michigan Technological University

“They had online assignments in our learning management system, so I could see who was completing weekly assignments,” she says. “I did a bit more checking in through messages and email if people didn’t seem to be completing assignments or logging in to the learning management system.”

Ideally, the synchronous and asynchronous classes would be designed to offer the same level of difficulty. Because students may have different backgrounds and abilities, Milman suggests building progress checkpoints into courses, possibly on a weekly basis.

“I usually incorporate a peer and self-review in group assignments,” she says. “That helps me see how the group functions, but also asks individual students to grade themselves. How did they contribute to the group goals? Did they come prepared whenever the group met?”

READ MORE: A student offers six tips for supporting online learners with ADHD.

3. Utilize Technology That Supports Multilateral Communication

The basic “hardware of the classroom,” according to Beatty, includes AV technologies such as microphones and speakers. He personally likes to use an extra computer monitor. In addition to using the camera on his MacBook Pro, he also uses a Panasonic pan-tilt-zoom camera that can follow his movement. This way, remote students see a more dynamic visual.

Beatty also has wireless table microphones in the active learning classroom he typically teaches in.

“Your IT staff has to work with faculty to see how they’re using the room, so they can get an audio solution that captures student voices well,” he says. “And, of course, you have to bring in student voices who are joining you online synchronously.”

The IT department can also help instructors make sure they aren’t frequently walking off camera.

“Having someone to assist is really beneficial when the instructor has to stay within an area,” Milman says. “There should be some training on the best ways to move around and how to use equipment.”

She suggested that her university purchase a 360-degree camera, microphone and speaker from Owl Labs.

“It really is best for small group discussions,” Milman says. “You put them in the middle of a table. The owl can turn its head and zoom in on whoever is talking.”

READ MORE: See what college students had to say about their online learning experiences.

4. Recognize Some Subjects May Not be a Good Fit for HyFlex

While virtual reality and extended reality advancements can create effective virtual labs, not every lab course can be translated into an online environment. “The lab component is often very difficult to learn online,” Beatty says.

If 80 percent of a course centers on in-person engagement such as clinical exercises, HyFlex may not be the best option.

“Ask yourself, ‘Do we have the resources to support it as an online course?’” Beatty says. “If the answer is no, then it’s not a good fit for HyFlex.”

5. Give Professors and Instructors Room to Grow

Compared with F2F, HyFlex is a very different teaching method. It’s an entirely new genre, and it will take time for some instructors to develop their own approach to HyFlex, says Beatty. Examining what worked in their previous hybrid classes — and what didn’t — can help a HyFlex course reach its full potential.

Midway through a semester or after a course ends, Beatty makes adjustments based on student feedback. For example, if a sizable number of students are gravitating toward one instructional method, that could suggest something isn’t working.

If that happens, Beatty will reassess his instruction to make sure he isn’t creating additional anxieties for students in one mode. “A lot of students will make choices based on what’s convenient,” he says. “But there are other students who make choices because they have anxieties about participating in a particular mode or the amount of work they see happening in that mode.”

“When I build an online or HyFlex course, I know the first time is not ideal,” Beatty says. “It works and every student learns. But the next time I teach it, it’s better. The third time I teach it, it’s even better. I’m layering in different sets of activities, or maybe different engagement approaches.”

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