Here is a comparison among eight options for large undergraduate course delivery modalities. For purposes here, “large enrollment undergraduate courses” (LUCs) have a student enrollment greater than 100 students. The eight modalities range from fully face-to-face with the course split into sections for social distancing through a spectrum of variations on flexible and hybrid models, to fully synchronous and asynchronous options. Benefits and challenges, examples, selected research and additional resources are presented for each model.
The capacity of large auditoriums can be reduced to allow social distancing. A 300-person class could be split into four sections of about 80 students each. The challenge is identifying auditorium or large classroom space for these classes, available class times, and instructors for these classes, but this solution still allows for continuation of face-to face instruction.
Students would have the choice of enrolling in either the F2F section or the online section. The benefit of this model would allow for F2F instruction for students who desire such a modality, online learning for those whose situation necessitates remote instruction, flexibility for instructors to choose online vs. F2F instruction, and opening availability of classroom time slots and space to other courses. Challenges would include ensuring equity of instructional modes between F2F and online, developing comparable lesson plans for the two modalities, and time for the instructor to lead both the F2F and online modalities.
If an instructor wants to ensure all classes have some face-to-face element with social distancing, a traditional blended model can work within the normal class schedule but instead with rotating cohorts. The “guts” of the course are delivered online, but 2 or 3 distinct cohorts of the class meet for 1-hour a week class periods for discussion, recitation, lecture or other pedagogy. These rotating cohort sections may be taught by teaching assistants and instructor depending on curriculum.
Example: Half the students come to the F2F class on the scheduled Tuesday class time for in-person learning, while the others take part in the online aspect; this reverses on Thursday. The instructor would cover the same content during the F2F time as was done on Tuesday. (For a MWF class, a third of the class would meet each time.) In such a setting, the class does pre-reading, completes a worksheet or quiz (to check for understanding, preparation), and watches a video.
Benefits: Time spent in class same as for normal class periods; students more participatory and felt they learned better with instructor present (Sweeten 2015).
Challenges: student presence/attendance requirements for the F2F setting would require flexibility in modality options for students with health/domestic situations; possible reduction in content coverage for courses.
Resources, Reviews, and Literature:
- Sweeten, T.L. (2015). Interactive videoconferencing versus the face-to-face biology classroom: Understanding student attitudes and behaviors.” In A. Blackstock & N. Straight (Eds.), Interdisciplinary Approaches to Distance Teaching: Connecting Classrooms in Theory and Practice (39–51). Routledge.
Course varies between 0% and 100% online and “in-person”, where the in-person component can be some version of an instructor-led classroom in either a traditional F2F or synchronous web-conferencing online mode and the online component is self-paced asynchronous. The percentage varies by instructor or institution when the course is built, and the students must follow schedule once it’s set. A helpful step-by-step guide on how to best design and structure a blended online course can be found here: https://ethinkeducation.com/blog/step-by-step-guide-designing-blended-online-courses/
Benefits: Convenience with self-paced, in-class can be customized to students’ current needs, lectures are recorded for review, can result in high levels of student achievement, facilitates a simultaneous independent and collaborative learning experience for students, adds engagement and social presence to online course.
Challenges: requires engagement and effort for instructor; dependence on IT resources; can be difficult to design class well and find the right balance between student self-preparation and instructor-led online synchronous teaching; requires learners to have more self-regulation and independence; requires the physical presence of both teacher and student (either F2F or synchronous).
Selected Research Findings:
- Students who received a video assignment were more likely to attend class than students who received a textbook assignment. Students who solved problems in class performed better than students who only listened to a lecture. Video assignments were more satisfying to students than textbook assignments. (Stockwell et al. 2015)
- Study reports only half students watched lecture videos on regular basis, nearly 40% of students watched several weeks’ worth in one setting. (Groen et al. 2016)
Resources, Reviews, and Literature:
- Blended Synchronous Learning Handbook [pdf] includes a Blended Synchronous Learning Design Framework that offers pedagogical, technological, and logistical recommendations for teachers attempting to design and implement blended synchronous learning lessons, and guidance on selection of technologies for different types of learning activities.
- Alammary, A., Sheard, J., & Carbone, A. (2014). Blended learning in higher education: Three different design approaches. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 30(4).
- Groen, J. F., Quigley, B., and Herry, Y. (2016). "Examining the Use of Lecture Capture Technology: Implications for Teaching and Learning," The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Vol. 7: Issue 1, Article 8. DOI.
- Stockwell, B. R., Stockwell, M. S., Cennamo, M., & Jiang, E. (2015). Blended learning improves science education. Cell, 162(5), 933-936.
Type of blended learning in which lectures or course content is viewed outside of class time (online), and students meet with instructor and classmates for individual or collaborative group work and activities in either a traditional F2F setting or synchronous online. A flipped course is one where students do most of the learning on their own and then participate in application-based, hands-on, problem-solving activities or discussions in class that promote higher levels of thinking, facilitated by the instructor presence during problem-solving recitations, lab settings, discussion groups, etc.
Benefits: Allows for student work with instructor support and facilitation on activities, assessments, projects, etc.; allows for deeper understand of concepts, applications, and connections to content are made; students can participate in peer instruction, group discussions, and other interactive learning situations.
Challenges: May not always result in higher learning gains; and may require more planning and preparation time for content creation relative to traditional F2F classes; assumes students will complete the out-of-class preparation.
Resources, Reviews, and Literature:
- “Flipping the Classroom.” Center for Teaching Innovation, Cornell University.
- Hamdan, N., McKnight, P., and McKnight, K. (2013). Review of Flipped Learning. 10.4236/ce.
- O’Flaherty, J. and Phillips, C. (2015). “The use of flipped classrooms in higher education: A scoping review.” The Internet and Higher Education, Vol. 25, p. 85-95.
Course and all learning activities are offered both in-class and online, and students have the option of choose participation type from three modes on any class day: F2F, online synchronous, online asynchronous. Set up with equivalent F2F and online structures running simultaneously (through streaming video, recordings, or both), HyFlex allows each student to determine their own F2F-online ratio and their own schedule, based on needs and life situations in the moment. This model is easiest to implement where institutions already have an established path and resources for the faculty to offer their courses online (synchronous online moderation, ready availability of lecture-capture technologies).
Learning activities are available for both F2F and online students, and assignments can be selected from a range of options tailored to either the online or F2F environments. Such a model does not require 2-3 separate activities for an assessment per se, but one activity that is "forked" in 2-3 different ways. HyFlex learning is not simply recording class sessions and making those available to students. Much of the time it will be more effective to have activities, videos, podcasts, mini-cases, etc. that are equivalent to what happened in the in-person class, but not identical. It is important that instructors make plans for how they can give some choices for students about how they will learn, at the same time integrate across those by co-creating or curating activities and work done in one modality for equal usability in others (Linder, 2016).
Example: a) F2F students do the activity and write their work up on the whiteboard (following social distancing requirements); b) Synchronous students do the activity and write their work up on Google Jamboard, Google Document, or other tech at the same time, or on a piece of paper than they then scan and post to the discussion board during the same time frame; c) Asynchronous students do the activity on their own schedule but turn it in by a certain time, along with additional steps where they explain their reasoning and engage in metacognition.
Benefits: Flexible to different situations (e.g., size of the classroom, subject matter, instructor preference) and different technological options; issues with absences, excused vs. unexcused, no longer a concern; provides a more customized teaching and learning approach that is more likely to meet individual student needs.
Challenges: Open, flexible model might only be appropriate for those students (professional, graduate, upper level) who are highly motivated to engage in the coursework; requires dedicated, reliable IT setup for synchronous participation and asynchronous recording. Requires determination of equity in how to track participation; concerns about equity and fairness for most vulnerable students. Students must make choices, accept greater responsibility for their own learning. Instructor will not necessarily know how many students are going to be F2F vs. online each class; curriculum development for multiple platforms requires more instructor effort to ensure equitable cross-platform applicability and accountability.
- To date, studies indicate no statistically significant difference in learning between face-to-face and HyFlex. Student satisfaction significantly increases with HyFlex, because of the flexibility and the class organization, clarity on how to address class presence/absences through the completion of equivalent assignments, for example (see Beatty et al. 2019 and literature reviewed). Anecdotal evidence suggests that students faced with extended periods of absence or commute are able to complete HyFlex courses more easily, potentially boosting student success and retention.
Resources, Reviews, and Literature:
- Beatty, B. J. (2019). Hybrid-Flexible Course Design: Implementing student-directed hybrid classes (1st ed.). EdTech Books. Retrieved from https://edtechbooks.org/hyflex.
- Frass, L., Polykova-Norwood, V. (2020) HyFlex Course Delivery: A Practical Guide.
- Linder, K. (2016). Blended Course Design Workbook. Stylus Publishing.
- Malczyk, B. R. (2019). Introducing Social Work to HyFlex Blended Learning: A Student-centered Approach. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 39(4-5), 414-428.
- Sowell, K., Saichaie, K., Bergman, J., & Applegate, E. (2019). High Enrollment and HyFlex: The Case for an Alternative Course Model. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 30(2), 5-28.
- Talbert, R. “Research report: Experiencing the hyflex model." (May 2020).
Instructors and students gather online at the same time and interact with “real time” exchange and engagement between instructor and students. The online synchronous class does not necessarily follow the same model, structure, participation and content expectations as the F2F due to inability to be facilitated in the same manner, and thus the online course should not be translated directly from the F2F mode (e.g., giving 50+ min. online lectures, expecting student attendance and participation as in F2F).
Benefits: Immediate personal engagement may mean increased feelings of community, lessen isolation, produce more responsive exchanges between students and instructor. Synchronous sessions are recorded and provided as resource for students for later study.
Challenges: Challenges with scheduling shared times for all students and instructor, impacted by health and domestic situations; technology challenges (connectivity, access), many students only have smartphones for accessing class materials with limited streaming capability; can be difficult to facilitate interactions with individual students while maintaining class control and content delivery; inability to gauge engagement, participation, attention, and other in-class visual cues (both BB Collaborate and Zoom do not allow monitoring of all screens at once in such large numbers); problems associated with accessibility needs for students.
- Lecture Video / Homework Quiz / Live Q&A Sessions
Create module that contains all materials and activities for that class meeting. Outline clear, specific steps students will need to complete the activities in that class meeting. Build video lectures. Create quizzes as check-ins (see resources list below) that students must complete prior to class (“entrance ticket”) to ensure they are progressing on the homework and keeping up with the material. Set up a Virtual Classroom meeting for office hours, Q&A sessions, breakout group opportunities for working through problems, etc.
- Bookend Approach (Smith, 2000)
Open the class with explanation of goals and an engagement activity, students submit this at the beginning of each class time frame via Blackboard (“entrance ticket”). Use a series of back-and-forth transitions between lecture videos (10 – 15 minutes max.) and student work, done individually or collaboratively. Students can work in groups in Blackboard Collaborate or in group pairings pre-assigned. The final bookend activity is a summary or guided reflection on the class which students submit as a short answer in Blackboard (exit ticket). The collaborative activities and entrance/exit tickets represent low-stakes assessments and can be graded as such. Instructor will need to consider how to provide these learning opportunities to students who cannot meet at the designated times and for students with different accessibility needs.
Resources, Reviews, and Literature:
- Smith, K. (Spring 2000). Going deeper: Formal small group in large classes. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, no. 81. Jossey-Bass Publishers
- “Synchronous and Asynchronous Tools”. Spring 2015. Transition to Teaching Online eLearning Course: Pierce College.
- “Synchronous Learning vs. Asynchronous Learning in Online Education.” 2018. The Best Schools.
Students and instructors do not have a required meeting day or time. All instructional materials are created in advance, and students access materials on their own, with specified due dates for assignments.
Benefits: Greater temporal flexibility allows for learning experiences to be more personalized and accessible to different students, as well as provide an archive of course materials; students have more time to engage with and explore course material.
Challenges: Less interactive, students may feel there is less support, less community and satisfaction without the social interaction; limited options for direct feedback, students may have misunderstandings of course material that persist without check-ins or instructor follow-up, requires higher level of self-regulation
A final point to emphasize is that teaching online, as compared to remote teaching, are two different things. Transitioning to remote delivery under an emergency global health crisis is not the same as the intentional design best practices needed to create high-quality, engaging online courses. Higher education is now in the “Second Pivot”, where things should still be kept fairly simple, but must “now aim for excellence, not adequacy – it’s time to get good at online teaching” (Talbert). “Effective online learning results from careful instructional design and planning, using a systematic model for design and development. The design process and the careful consideration of different design decisions have an impact on the quality of the instruction. And it is this careful design process that (is) absent in (such) emergency shifts.” (Hodges et. al., 2020)
- Hodges, C., Moore, S., Lockee, B., Trust, T., and Bond, A. “The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning”, March 27, 2020. Educause Review.
- Talbert, R. April 2020. “What we need for the Second Iteration."