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FSU Combines Best Practices, Tech Tools to Make HyFlex Work

The Campus Reimagined initiative at Florida State University has attempted to combine pedagogical best practices with simple tech tools to maximize student engagement whether they’re learning remotely or in person.

A young student sitting at a desk wearing headphones and looking at a laptop.
Amid growing demand for flexible online learning options in higher education, educators are experimenting with new instructional methods and ed-tech tools to boost student participation — a key concern in remote and hybrid course models. Possible remedies for this problem are coming out of an initiative at Florida State University (FSU), which has had some success in using polls, discussion forums and short personalized lesson plans to encourage “engagement equity,” equalizing engagement of students attending classes remotely and in person.

Leading a recent webinar at the Educause Annual Conference, FSU’s Solveig Brown, research lead at the Campus Reimagined initiative, said the university recently experimented with a “flex learning” hybrid course model in which students could attend either in-person or remotely whenever they chose. The case study focused largely on flex course design for a cohort of students in the Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship.

“The students really like the flex format, and we received lots of positive feedback from them,” she said, noting “almost full attendance for every class” under the model.

Brown said this past year was the first time the university experimented with a hybrid flex, or HyFlex, course model. She added that the intention of FSU’s HyFlex course design was to maximize student engagement for both in-person and remote students, to build a rapport and strong sense of community, to create a personalized experience for each student, to help students succeed academically and to help them develop and showcase new skills.

“Many of the students who participated remotely said that what they appreciated was that this was the first time they [took] a flex class where they felt like they were part of the class, rather than just watching an online class being taught,” she said. “We designed this course around pedagogical best practices for online teaching, as we know it is harder to keep remote students engaged than in-person students.”

Brown said they used Microsoft Teams, where students had easy access to polls, course materials and ways to discuss the content among each other and with their instructor. She said the model utilized sets of three- to six-minute mini-lectures called “tales,” and encouraged every student to engage with the lesson content frequently.

“The instructor could see which student answered which answer,” she said. “And students would share why they chose the response they did.”

According to Brown, the goal of the course model was to have students talk 50 percent of the time and to have every student participate in class discussions, while keeping track of who has talked and who hasn’t to encourage participation. She noted that a strong rapport is a “key factor in student success.”

“We wanted them to feel like they were part of the classroom community, to be able to engage with the course material, and to feel like they got to know the instructor,” she said. “And we wanted students to get to know each other.”

In order to make lessons more personalized, Brown said, students often were not asked to complete the same homework assignments. She said they would often choose which prompts to respond to, and took surveys about what topics they were most interested in within the curriculum to give educators a feel for their interests and strengths.

Brown said the Campus Reimagined initiative has encouraged the university to experiment more with the learning model after noticing consistently high attendance rates, as well as the positive student feedback about how the model worked to facilitate more engagement regardless of whether the class was remote or in-person.

“We did all this because the literature suggests that students are more successful if they feel like they have control over what they learned, and if they feel that the information they are learning is valuable to them and relevant to what they want to know about,” she said.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.