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In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss additional details on the Hybrid Flexible model (HyFlex). We then address how institutions that have already invested in the social infrastructure to support quality hybrid and online teaching are likely to fare much better than under-resourced schools (in terms of eLearning support and culture).


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly


Phil: Hi, I’m Phil Hill, and welcome back to COVID Transitions. I’m here talking to Kevin Kelly and Jeanette Wiseman. Before we get to the topics of the day, we are lucky to have Janette with us today, because there was a family medical emergency that she’s been going through. That really raises a question about how life affects us during this time of COVID. But, you know, without sharing details, but Jeanette – anything you wanted to share with the hospital experience and what it does to families?

Jeanette: Yeah. I will share a little bit so it’s not so cryptic with people probably thinking it is worse than it is.

My husband was on top of the ladder yesterday and fell. It was a pretty high ladder, and he hit his head, had a skull fracture. He wasn’t at home when this happened – he was at his place of business, just cleaning things up.

What’s really scary is once somebody gets into the hospital, that’s it. It’s sort of like a dead zone. I had no idea what was happening other than he was taken in the ambulance to the hospital. And it’s really scary. It was a scary 12 to 14 hours. Luckily, we have a friend who’s a physician who was able to go and be with him and advocate for him a little bit.

I think it just speaks to you’re not going to the hospital, you’re not going to the doctors at this time. When you do it’s a very different place to be. It’s a very different experience to go through. And you feel really helpless. He’s fine, though. He’s going to be OK.

Kevin: I’m so grateful that he’s OK. And I hope he continues to … to heal quickly. I wish I had less experience with this, to say that sounds so unique. But every time it’s proven to be true that someone needs to be an advocate, because health care has changed so dramatically where the focus is less on the patient and more on completing tasks.

It also makes me think about – to pivot slightly toward our topics – our students and even instructors today who are trying to deal with emergency remote teaching while addressing family needs. I co-teach my online course with someone who’s down in the L.A. area, and her mother had a stroke and recently passed away, and she couldn’t even visit because of the restrictions around hospital visits. The whole experience of not being able to, to be with your own mother in a time of crisis, not being able to attend the funeral except for FaceTime. It speaks to the need to remember the human side of the virtual world that we’re in with these stay at home orders.

Jeanette: What I’ve noticed is that we as humankind are being robbed of ritual. When you hear of things like no funerals. And now we’re looking at May graduations aren’t going to happen. Birthdays aren’t going to happen. Weddings aren’t happening. And that’s major component of being human is not something that we’re able to celebrate or grieve with, or to just be supportive in some ways that we’re used to. We’re having to find new ways to do that.

Phil: I have to say, I’m quite impressed with the joint segue both of you provided there. What we wanted to cover today is that one one aspect of the COVID transition for higher education we’re noticing is that the effect of this on schools as they try to reopen some form of face to face, whether it’s fall or spring, is it’s not going to be an equal distribution of where the pain is.

There’s plenty of conversation and projection showing a significant enrollment decline for higher education, but that’s not likely to affect schools equally. We’re running into a situation where it appears that the strong might be getting stronger and the weak might getting might be getting weaker from an institutional perspective. We wanted to talk about some of that aspect that gets into how prepared schools are for this type of situation, and is it actually too late for schools that have not invested in eLearning infrastructure and a culture that allows quality usage of online tools? Is it too late for them come fall 2020 or spring 2021? That’s the topic we’d like to explore.

But before we get there, I actually want to do a follow up on Kevin’s blog post, which was looking at the Hybrid Flexible model, because we see a lot more discussion of this Hybrid Flexible model going on in the community – it’s getting some interest. Kevin wrote a blog post that goes into it and looks at the pros and cons and more details. But let’s start out, Kevin, could you describe what the model is in a succinct way for our listeners who might not have seen the blog post?

Kevin: Well, I think the easiest way to think about Hybrid Flexible is to determine who’s in control of the decisions. For a typical hybrid course, a faculty member decides ‘hey, I’m going to have the course, be online on Tuesdays, and it’s going to be in person on Thursdays. Put it in the syllabus, everybody’s going to do what I say.’ And they even determine to what extent the course is either online or in person based on the ratio – in a definition campuses have to be over 50 percent to be hybrid or what have you. In some cases, maybe on Monday, Wednesday, Friday class, that Monday would be in person and Wednesday and Friday would be online or what have you. That would be kind of a two thirds / one third split for the whole semester.

When you talk about Hybrid Flexible, the decision making shifts to the student for each and every class meeting. The student can choose to either attend in-person attend at the same time, but via video conference, or attend out of time and space, if you will, by watching the recording and participating in asynchronous online activities.

Phil: I’ve seen a lot of discussion of it. Why do you think this is becoming such a – I don’t know if you call it a popular subject, but a much discussed subject in higher education circles right now? What’s driving this to be of interest?

Kevin: The reason I brought up in the first place is because it does offer the ability to serve a greater number of students with less physical space, which means because typically we know fewer students attend the in-person class sessions. They either attend live via video or they attend asynchronously. That means for a class even as large as 1500 students, which we have at San Francisco State, maybe 150 to 200 show up in the classroom. That means if you’re worried about how we going to fit 40 person classes in their typical classroom, when you have, let’s say, even 25 percent of that, that’s 10, maybe 15 people show up in the class. You can spread them six feet apart and still have a normal class session and have people participate online, live, and have people participate asynchronously because they may be working essential jobs or just unable to get to an Internet connection or a device at the time of the class meeting. It really provides some flexibility for both campuses and students.

Jeanette: Kevin, when planning this out, do you know if administrators were looking at the total number of enrollments then when they were looking for those classrooms? Like what if everybody decided to show up that day?

Kevin: I do because I was involved with this 1500 person class back when it was only 350, and the contract with the local movie theater near the campus broke down. That was a 400 seat room that they were having this class meeting in every three times a week. The instructor when that broke down, we had to have three 150-person classrooms, two with large televisions in the front of the room and one where he’s live. And then we said, ‘well, let’s stream this and see if some students want to do it from their dorm rooms.’ And then because we were streaming it and recording it, all of a sudden we went down to one room instead of three. We kept the three rooms the entire semester and the following semester and even offered an in-person section. But students voted with their feet, and they decided that they wanted to be  in the modality they chose. Some of the research has shown that once they pick a modality, they generally stick with it. But that flexibility of, ‘hey, I would like to go in person this time – I have a couple questions before we get to the midterm’ or what have you.

Phil: For better or worse, though, this Hybrid Flexible is much more likely to be applied as ‘I can’t get to campus,’ or ‘I can’t get there for the first month,’ or ‘I’m not comfortable being in this room.’ It seems like a lot more of the flexibility coming up this fall would be applied much more based off of the safety of the individual students or of the faculty. It’ll be interesting to see if that still applies, where people will pick a modality, students would pick a modality and stick with it.

Kevin: Yeah, and I would say sometimes it was just convenience. When we were tracking the IP numbers for that first round of classes with that 1500 person class, many of the IP numbers were coming from campus dorms, so students just didn’t want to even walk across campus to class. Nowadays, I think you’re right, the safety issue is going to be paramount. Hybrid Flexible situations that provide the course, the ability to keep moving forward without interruption, no matter what happens if the campus has to close for a few weeks because we had another COVID peak, then it’s what I called in my blog post, Remote Flexible, where they still have the option to do it live or asynchronous just happens to be digital either way.

Phil: A question that came up in the blog post was asking “Is there a way to apply this concept to a lab, or situation like an a STEM course with a lab, or is this just a limitation of the model only goes so far?”

Kevin: I think it’s a little of both. And that that question has come up in a number of circumstances, in our work with the Online Education Initiative (OEI) and their Pathways Grant program for Career and Technical Education (CTE), clinical courses, things like welding. Those are all things where you have a hands-on component, and you can virtualize some of it through simulations, but it requires having some hands-on practice. The Hybrid Flexible model, which I put in this recent blog post, could mean that you take a traditional hybrid setting. Half of you get to come on Tuesday and half of you get to come on Thursday. And the others just use the flexible way to to participate. I compared that to Mexico City and their Hoy No Circula, which means no drive days for cars with certain color stickers on their bumper. They basically reduce pollution by having throttling the number of cars that can be in the city. And here we’re going to throttle the number of students who can be in a lab setting. I could even imagine creating kind of a greater pathway for these lab courses by having lecturer faculty and graduate TAs run the labs, maybe late night sessions all the way till 10:00 p.m., maybe some weekend sessions to increase the flow through the lab. You can have that distance between students, but give that time for cleaning in between each group that goes through there, we’re going to have to be inventive about how we meet the needs of these in-person requirements.

Phil: One of the aspects called out of the blog post, however, is a Con for the method, was the additional effort, the planning that it certainly takes, to make sure different pathways are available or different modalities for the same part of the instruction or are available. That gets to the general challenge I think we’re seeing. Schools that are heavily resourced and in particular resourced and having instructional design, support services, professional development for faculty, as well as all the technical support available – that has a big impact on how well these schools are able to make the transition right now in emergency remote learning, and how well they can be ready for the fall. If you look at this Hybrid Flexible model, one of the Cons is the fact of it’s a great concept if you can actually do it. Final question on the Hybrid Flexible before we get more into the general topic. How big of an issue is the resource needs for this type of approach?

Kevin: I would say there are some factors to consider. One, you brought it up, the training for the faculty. I think we need to set a baseline for the readiness of faculty to teach in the fall, regardless of the format the campus chooses as its primary way to go. Next, the tools may be limited to what already exists. If the campus is already using Zoom and Canvas, or Adobe Connect and Blackboard or collaborate, whatever the tools are using those. There’s no extra infrastructure necessary. However, it’s that thoughtfulness that you referenced that’s going to take a little more time.

One might say that that thoughtfulness should be done every time we teach a class. But I do know that instructors who have been teaching for, let’s say, 10 or 15 years sometimes can rely on the fact that they’ve given a particular lecture a number of times and don’t need to really do any prep. I tried to make some examples about how light of a touch it could be. So, for example, here I am, with the only computer as a lecturer in San Francisco State University is my own laptop. If I were to do this and I were to teach a Hybrid Flexible course instead of a fully online course, I could start a Zoom session and throttle whether or not the students could enter the room until I’m ready, with the permission setting. Set it up and basically press record and then open the room for students to enter who are participating virtually while I say hello to the students in the rooms.

I also gave an example of an activity, often in Face-To-Face classes. We have what’s called a think-pair-share, where you ask students to ruminate about an idea, jot down some ideas, turn to a neighbor and discuss what you came up with. You could easily say, ‘hey, I’m going to give you a minute to write down your ideas wherever you are in time and space. If you’re in the room, when you’re done with that minute, turn to your neighbor who’s six feet away and share your ideas. If you’re online, I’m going to put you in breakout rooms. If you’re watching the recording, then press pause and go to the discussion and add your ideas there.’

It takes a couple extra seconds to explain, but while students are doing their one minute of jotting down their notes, that’s when you put people in breakout rooms because they’re not ready to start the discussion yet anyway. I do know that there are faculty members who are not adept with technology and would find this to be slightly taxing mentally – cognitive overload for the instructor – when you’re trying to focus on the content. But it’s something that you could create a script, what I call a Run Of Show, that would make it easy for you to [determine] ‘what do I have to do now?’ ‘Oh, you have to press this button,’ and with enough practice and grab some students to be your tech jockeys to help you out (because students are pretty savvy with different things), you can make it work.

Jeanette: I’m just listening to you talk about this, and I can’t help but just think – all of this amazing content like this, it was just really great hints that you just gave and some instruction about how to do this. But it just goes back to so many instructors not having that professional development that they need to even know that that’s the thing to do. I think there’s two issues that I see is that the professional development is lacking. You kind of hit upon it, is that there are faculty who have been really successful and they’re fantastic teachers. And for the last 10 or 15 years, they have been teaching in their discipline. They’re well thought of by their peers and by students, and whenever they try to implement or use technology in the classroom, it’s failed them. Even if their schools have infrastructure and they have the LMS, and they had the Zoom, and they had a really great web site, or resources that went along with a textbook that they had adopted, or OER resources that they were aware of and they were using – all of that. They weren’t incentivized necessarily to use the technology because either the school or just their own teaching didn’t require them to do that. Then to now – what you just suggested was fantastic – but they need to have that guidance and that instruction to be able to do this successfully.

I think, you know, Phil, you were talking about there are some schools that are going to be ahead of the game and some schools that are not. I think that, sure, the infrastructure is really important here, the ones that have already adopted and implemented these things. But I think it’s also going down to the instructor – how much does that school provide professional development for them to be teaching online? And what are they doing now to help those instructors?

Phil: I think you’re exactly right, but when I say infrastructure, I don’t mean technology infrastructure. I am talking more in the vein of social infrastructure. That actually gets to one of the examples that we’ve heard and we’ve talked about this before. The University of Central Florida – if podcasts are allowed to refer to other podcasts – but in their recent episode of TopCast, where Tom Cavanagh and Kelvin Thompson were discussing some of these subjects.

One of the things mentioned was interesting. 80 percent of the faculty at the University of Central Florida have gone through professional development about teaching with online tools or teaching online – some form of pedagogical and technical training to help them go through this. 80 percent. I don’t think that’s true at most universities. If I look at a University of Central Florida, and I say that they have the infrastructure, that very much includes the culture where faculty accept this and go through the training, and it’s accepted and safe to do this type of activity.

Kevin: Well, I think you’re speaking about a campus that has not only a strong academic technology unit, but a strong educational technology department. When I think of, let’s say, a community college district with zero staff full time and dedicated to distance education, other than the person who is the LMS administrator or the Help Desk person, there is no one other than maybe a faculty member released from one or two courses to help their colleagues with these issues. And they may not feel entirely comfortable doing that. And so you’re absolutely right. When we talk about haves and have nots, where we’re talking about whether or not a campus has put in the budget, we need to not only have the widgets, but we need to have the people.

Phil: Do we actually see the situation where the the difference in support is  going to be getting greater? In other words, the schools that have already invested in some level of support will be able to increase that support adequately – since the situation’s changed – and other schools, the have nots … It’s not just a matter of do you have the support. Are they going to suffer greater enrollment declines and financial challenges because they haven’t invested in this type of eLearning social infrastructure?

My hypothesis is when I say the haves and have nots, it’s the fact that the schools that have already done this heavy investment, they are going to weather this storm much better from a financial and enrollment perspective than schools that haven’t.

Jeanette: I agree. I have a junior going to be senior next year, and if she was right now going to her school of choice out of state, if she was graduating this year, I don’t think I would be paying for it. I know this school. It’s a fantastic school, but it’s not prepared to be teaching online. I don’t think I’d want to pay in-state tuition for her to get that. I would be looking towards other schools that I know are strong and being able to do this Hybrid Flexible or be able to teach online, at least for her first year. I know that I can’t be the only parent thinking that.

Phil: I think it definitely is going to play a role. Anecdotally, one thing I’ve noticed, to throw into the mix, is that if you look at a lot of the schools where you’re seeing the current protests by students, or even lawsuits by students saying we want to have a tuition refund because we’re not getting the same education, there seems to be a skew towards the schools that that are very different than a University of Central Florida or a community college that has invested in having support. These are the high tuition schools that haven’t taken the situation seriously. The quality of the education truly has suffered when they’ve gone to emergency remote. At the risk of calling somebody out, the University of Chicago is an excellent school, but it is not at all known as having a social infrastructure, as I was saying, around eLearning and online tools. That’s one of the areas where you’re seeing the greatest, most public protest and lawsuits. About, ‘we want part of our tuition back.’ Was that just me reading what I want to read? Do the anecdotes of where students protested or are they greater for the schools that have not done this investment in the past?

Kevin: I think might be case by case and may even be instructor by instructor. Some of the things that I’ve seen come across the wire are related to students complaining that instructors are using ancillary materials, like MIT’s Open Courseware or Khan Academy, and not adding their two cents as to why this is important, how it relates to learning outcomes. They’re basically having a set it and forget it moment where they’re creating a pathway for students to learn a concept without the instructor. Arguably the students could say,  what’s the point of paying for this particular institution to provide this when I could go get this from Udemy or some sort of MOOC? I would say the other side of the infrastructure, before I hand over the mic, is the union side of the infrastructure discussion. Campuses where they’re going to say, hey, the faculty need to be compensated. We need to create a baseline for what constitutes being ready to teach online. There’s a lot of conversations, probably not only with the academic union, but the academic senate as well.

Phil: I think that part of the issue is a long history of doing investment in these areas and supporting it. And we’ve disclosed this, that we’re helping the California Community Colleges with the CVC-OEI initiative. Even just that initiative right there, where it’s been more than six years where they’ve demonstrated investment and professional development and support for faculty and helping them redesign the courses with a rubric. You start to build up a culture over time. Time is a huge variable here.

That leads to one of the things I’m most concerned about. I don’t think there’s an easy answer, but it gets to the issue of, what if you’re working at a school that has not done this type of serious investment or culture building, but you realize it’s going to have a major impact on your school for fall and beyond. Is it too late? Are we in a situation where the strong keep getting stronger? Can you cross over from one side to the other? If you’re a school that hasn’t taken this seriously, what can you actually do for the fall time or the spring time that will impact your student population positively, both in terms of learning outcomes but also enrollment so that you can be more resilient, prepared for the future?

Kevin: I would agree, but I would say there are a couple of factors that come into play here. One, leadership. Does the leadership understand online education world? And if not, do they have strong people advising them, even if they’re a veteran online instructors, to what extent are they willing to start that process? While they are starting from farther down the totem pole, or whatever metaphor you wish to use. Obama’s phrase ‘better is good’ applies here. If you stay where you are, you’re going to have that attrition of students and revenue and all that stuff. We’re already going to have additional attrition revenue based on the state budgets. They’re going to have to make up for it in some other way. And then three, I would say just the willingness of the campus, that culture, maybe not in terms of professional development, but, ‘hey, we’re in this together, and we’ll do this as a team.’

Those are probably the three biggest factors that are going to play a role in whether or not these campuses that need to catch up well. I would say there are opportunities here – if we want to be Pollyanna a little bit – for those institutions that haven’t invested up until now to possibly do the leapfrog the same way some of the developing nations around the world are jumping straight to fiber, whereas the United States has a long standing infrastructure for, let’s say, telephones. But it’s aging and and falls apart and causes fires and in California. When you think about starting from scratch, you are not encumbered by the way you’ve done things in the past, and you may be able to leap on to something that’s going to work even better.

Phil: So we have positive, can do Kevin, today.

Jeanette: The other thing we really haven’t talked about, but you did mention earlier. It made me realize the one other area that I think they’re ahead, that they are also really focused on, how students could learn better online and really prepared students for that. I think that’s also something we’re talking about, how faculty can get their courses ready, but I think there’s also a need to make sure that students who have never done this before, except for this spring, they need to have good techniques and solutions for learning online and be aware of their learning styles. What can help them. I think the schools that have done that and done that successfully – this might be a new modality for students to be learning. They need to understand themselves and what their school and their instructors are offering.

Phil: It is time to start taking this seriously and to be prepared for a lot of unknowns once we get get into the fall time, because so much of what we’re looking at, is “we think that we’ll be able to start face to face instruction” in many schools. You’re seeing quite a few of them announcing “our intention is to open up again.” And by that they mean having students in residence on the campus. But that could even change once we get there, if and when we get the second peak. The previous investment is important. But just as positive Kevin was saying, the opportunity is there to other schools to say ‘now we need to not only jump in here, but figure out how can we do it even better, how can we advance the field and how we support students during this time of COVID-19.’ And the mix of face to face and online modalities.

We thank you for joining us again today and look forward to our next discussion. I would typically like to give a teaser on what it’s going to be about, but quite honestly, I’m not quite sure what it is. We’ll just have to read and see what the right topic is for next week. But Kevin, Janette, thanks a lot for joining us. And Jeanette, send our best to your husband and to your whole family. I hope things get a lot better there.

Jeanette: Thanks, guys.