Ease and Convenience – Customer-centric Principle Two

2. Ease and Convenience – “What I Want, When and Where I Want It: I experience no hassles in my interactions; the company representative strives to meet me where I am at.”

HyFlex courses implement this principle when they offer a range of participation options that meet the felt and expressed needs of the student/learner. Many students want to attend classes in a traditional classroom setting because they value the interaction, social presence, and immediacy of feedback both to and from the instructor and peers. Many students also want to attend a live class but may not be able to be there in person, yet can connect remotely to watch and perhaps participate audibly in the class. Offering a web conference attendance option can meet this need or desire. And other students want an experience that they more fully control, especially regarding the time of “consumption.” These students need an asynchronous participation option that provides a meaningful learning opportunity as well.

There is one aspect to this principle that may not be appropriate for most educational settings, however. Giving the student free choice in deciding “what I want” is not likely to work in many situations. Instructors design the educational experience so that students encounter information and experience activities carefully selected to help them learn. If students are completely free to pick and choose among options, they may choose an easy and convenient path that does not lead them to a satisfactory outcome. (They may not learn all that is intended or meet the prescribed learning objectives.) HyFlex options must be thoughtfully designed so that the students’ choices do not afford a deficient participation path.

If you design your HyFlex course with the three participation options described above (in-class, online synchronous, and online asynchronous), you are much more likely to implement appropriate elements of customer-centric principle two – ease and convenience.

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Personalize – Customer-centric Principle One

1. Personalize – “Addresses My Unique Needs: Products and interactions with the company are tailored for me and my situation.”

HyFlex courses may be designed to meet the unique (and personal) needs of learners, especially as they relate to completing course requirements and participating in class activities. If one of the main reasons you have chosen the HyFlex design is to allow students the freedom to choose how they participate, then you are probably implementing a “customer-centric” principle, even if you don’t want to call your students “customers.”

You may have chosen the HyFlex design for other reasons that have nothing (or very little) to do with providing a personalized experience for students. For example, you might choose HyFlex to provide scheduling flexibility, allowing students to enroll in two course that meet F2F at the same time but provide students with the freedom to complete the class as an online student. In this case, you may find that an unintended consequence of implementing HyFlex design is that students do get a chance to customize their participation and in doing so create a personalized experience for themselves.

As I engage with faculty and administrators around HyFlex implementation, I’ve found that almost every situation ends up providing a personalized learning experience (or at least the opportunity for personalization) for students.

So I think we can safely add “addresses unique student participation needs” to the growing value-added list!

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Do Customer-centric Principles Apply to HyFlex?

Recently I came across these principles of a “customer-centric” organization. They try to implement these principles in all they do, so they can better serve the needs of their customers (and sell more product, I assume). It spurred me to think about these principles in the HyFlex context, since much of the value returned by the HyFlex design approach is targeted at meeting students needs and desires. I believe that most academics would agree that students are one of our primary customers, even though there are many other customer segments in higher education.

Here they are:
1. Personalize – “Addresses My Unique Needs: Products and interactions with the company are tailored for me and my situation.”
2. Ease and Convenience – “What I Want, When and Where I Want It: I experience no hassles in my interactions; the company representative strives to meet me where I am at.”
3. Delight the Customer – “Anticipates My Needs: My interactions with the company are excellent; they are solution-focused versus product-centric.”
4. Relationship-Driven – “With Me, Along the Way: I have an ongoing relationship with the company; there is a clear focus on relationship-building versus transaction-processing, they manage for the long term value in our relationship.

Do these principles translate to HyFlex course design? I think they all do, at least in some important ways, though the specific translation and ultimate implementation of each principle varies by many context factors (instructor, student, content, etc.).

In the next several posts I’ll address each “customer-centric” principle and explain how I think a HyFlex course design can implement that principle and explain where I see advantages and disadvantages in doing so.

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Setting Participation Expectations

Since the primary distinguishing factor among HyFlex participation options is the way students interact while learning, it makes sense to frequently clarify expectations as needed to ensure that all participants know what to expect and can make realistic choices about participation mode. 

Certainly the participation and communication protocols and expectations should be explained before students enroll in a course or at least at the very beginning of the course. Many HyFlex courses are listed as traditional courses in the course catalog so students are likely to know what the in-class expectations are before signing up for a class. It is unlikely that they will understand the online flexibility options, however, unless they have taken a HyFlex course before (and un some cases it also depends on the instructor’s specific implementation of HyFlex).

Once a class begins, some students will need very specific guidance about how and when to interact online with content, the instructor, and with other students. Instructors should have a detailed explanation of protocols and expectations ready to distribute and available in multiple places as appropriate for their situation. For example, most formal classes will use a syllabus and participation expectations should be included in that document. Most (all, probably) HyFlex classes will use a course website, and the participation expectations might be highlighted on the main page of the website in some way. Weekly agendas and discussion forum prompts are also excellent places to include specific participation expectations for that week, topic, or activity.

I’ve also found it useful to periodically remind all students in a class of the overall participation protocols and expectations during a course. An instructor can observe participation patterns and may sense that participation is deficient in some important way. If this happens, it may be time for a targeted or general reminder about what is required. I’ve found many students are receptive to those reminders and change their participation practice accordingly. 

Regrettably, some students will not change their practice (even if they “appreciate” the value they are missing). This is a problem common to every course I’ve experienced, unfortunately. In this way, the HyFlex experience is the same as any other course experience; dependent on the volition of students to participate actively.

Here’s the bottom line: Communicate participation expectations clearly, frequently, and in multiple ways that fit the specifics of your instructional situation.

…not exactly a big “Eureka” moment for seasoned instructors, but it is a very powerful principle to apply

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Shifting Expectations

Akin to the changing messages to various adoption groups (see previous posts in the HyFlex World), the expected returns (expectations) may change over time as faculty, students and administers develop some experience using HyFlex courses. This is a natural process, and shouldn’t be resisted… but it does inject more change which reveal new areas of [potential] conflict, and requires more effort during implementation and the evaluation of impact.

One area of expectation change is focused on technology support for various delivery modes. As newer (and better?) technologies become available or existing technologies evolve over time, old functions may be enhanced and new functions may be available. For example, let’s say your Learning Management System (LMS) adds a survey function. As faculty and students begin using the survey function and find value in completing surveys, the training for newer faculty will likely change to include the use of LMS surveys. Faculty who have been using the LMS to support instruction delivery without the survey may feel pressure (coming from within themselves or their programs or from the outside) to begin using surveys also. After all, shouldn’t we all be using “best practices” as early as possible? (This is an interesting question, but not the main topic of this post.) Redesigning class activities to include surveys, whether delivered in-class or online, and that means change, and change requires additional effort. Effort uses resources, and therefore encumbers cost. Is the returned value with the additional cost? That’s the key question a designer should answer.

Another area of expectation change is focused on the student digital experience. Even over the past five years that we’ve been using HyFlex, we’ve seen remarkable shifts in the “learning techscape.” Pervasive mobile communications technologies, ubiquitous use of video and multimedia, and the prosumer (producer-consumer) aspects of social media being used in instruction more and more are examples of technology developments that lead to changing expectations. Whether initiated by student requests (“Hey, how come we aren’t using FB or Twitter for this course?”) or faculty interest (“I just discovered Glogster and we’re going to start using it the rest of the semester!”), adding new technologies makes everyone involved change their practice, and change requires additional effort. Effort uses resources, and therefore encumbers cost. Is the returned value with the additional cost? That’s the key question a designer should answer.

Even administrators inject change through shifting expectations. Let’s consider the situation of “scale creep.” For example, a traditional classroom-based course that is limited to 35 students because only 35 students can fit in the classroom could be expanded to accommodate a larger number of students, if the pedagogy (instructional approach) allows, if a HyFlex delivery approach was used. (Note: If the course is designed such that one faculty could not manage the increased workload of reading papers or grading exams, etc., then expanding the number of students would NOT be a good idea, even with HyFlex.) If the course is successful with the additional number of students (let’s say 50, for example), an administration under extreme budgetary duress might decide to “bump up” the course enrollment by 10 percent, to 55 students. Doesn’t that sound reasonable? It may be reasonable, or it may not… that’s not really the point I’m trying to make. What I’m trying to say now is that a change in scale, even a relatively small change of five students, injects change – to both the faculty and student experience. As I said earlier, change requires additional effort. Effort uses resources, and therefore encumbers cost. Is the returned value with the additional cost? That’s the key question a designer should answer.

I think it is safe to say that in every healthy organization, change happens over time. HyFlex designers should be prepared to adapt their approach to accommodate, or even leverage, the changes happening around them. After all, if you are a HyFlex designer, you are a change agent yourself – so since you are “doing change” to others, you should be willing to “accept change” in return. Improving our practice demands it, in fact.

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Effective Practices: Overlapping Discussions

One method of combining f2f and online students that I have found effective is to overlap the two sets of students in a topical discussion. Often, I will use small discussion groups in class to focus on various aspects of a concept or principle we are studying. Those groups will usually create some form of summary to report back to the larger group in a debriefing discussion that I facilitate. Since we have access to our LMS in class, the student groups are expected to post their summaries (text, PPT, web links,etc.) to a threaded discussion forum in preparation for the whole class discussion.

When online students are part of our synchronous class, they join in the live small group discussions, either together with other synchronous online students (using Blackboard’s Collaborate tool) or with one or more f2f students using a local computer workstation to connect. Online students who complete their class activites later that week are required to join in the topical discussion that was started in class. I’ve found that some f2f students are drawn back into the discussion forum later in the week, in response to the participation of their online colleagues, even though they aren’t required to extend their participation beyond the formal class session.

This method provides a richer online discussion for asynchronous online students, since they can join in discussions already started, and their f2f colleagues may be more likely to respond to posts connecting to their previous work (in class). More interaction in the discussion forum throughout the week helps all students stay more closely connected to the class (content and people), because they “see” interaction happening through the regular system messages they receive. Finally, another benefit to the f2f students is that their discussions in class create meaningful artifacts that summarize their thinking and provide an opportunity for ongoing reflection about course content as discussion extends beyond the end of the class session.

Overall I find this approach very effective and easy to facilitate. The biggest challenge is integrating live online students into the small group discussions, but even that becomes quick and efficient with a little practice and experience (both for the instructor and both sides of the student connection).

Try it yourself! Let me know how it works for you.

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Good Enough?

In the early days of HyFlex, “good enough” was good enough. It seems the bar has been raised with my own students and even in my own expectations, which is, I believe, a good and natural thing.

What used to be good enough? Basically, providing a functional way for both online students and F2F students to meet learning objectives was all that I needed to provide. Most students were so grateful for a way to complete course requirements without having to be on campus for every class meeting that they were willing to take on the responsibility for engaging with the content and others as much as they needed to learn. If I could provide good content (text, readings, other expert resources), application activities they could access and complete, and some form of interaction with peers and the instructor, that was “good enough.”

I have one class of 20 graduate students studying the field and practice of Distance Education with a focus on Online Learning. We are using a HyFlex course format (of course) and they are providing plenty of feedback, both in person and indirectly through their own weekly reflection posts. Many of these students have already completed one or more HyFlex courses and now they have the chance to study and explore the issues around online teaching and learning, including a variety of hybrid approaches. Essentially they are telling me that my “good enough” isn’t really good enough anymore. They want better technical quality, more online interaction, better integration of online and F2F experiences, and more meaningful online activities. Good for them! They are getting the message of the course and starting to think like ID professionals. And for me? Perhaps they are providing the challenge I need to push my own implementation of HyFlex to the next level.

I’ll write more about specific improvements I’ve implemented as the semester progresses.

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Spring 2011 Participation Results are in!

Another semester of HyFlex is completed in my core teaching class, ITEC 801. This semester I ran two sections combined into one large course section. One section was listed as “online” and the other as a traditional class. Students in both sections could attend the f2f session once a week (3 hours) or complete online activities.

Basic data summary: 20 students registered for the traditional section and 16 finished the course (did not withdraw). 12 students registered for the online section and 8 finished the course. Overall, 24 of 32 students completed the course successfully, 75%. I’m not happy with that, of course – my hope is that everyone who begins the course finishes it. I do know that several students signed up for the online section not sure if they’d have time to complete the course, and it turns out they didn’t have time even for the online work.

Participation: Of the completing students who registered for the traditional section (N=16), 68% attended f2f, 31% attended online, and 2% were absent, on average, during the semester. Of the completing students who registered for the online section (N=8), 49% attended f2f, 47% attended online, and 3% were absent, on average, during the semester. Overall, 62% of completing students (N=24) attended f2f, 36% attended online, and 2% were absent.

Use of flexibility option: Of the completing students who registered for the traditional class, 13 of 16 students attended at least one class online by their choice (I forced everyone online for one week of the semester), and 2 of 16 students attended every session online. Of the completing students who registered for the online class, only 3 of 8 students attended at least one class in person (I did not force everyone into the classroom for any week of the semester).

These findings are consistent with previous semesters. If you’d like to know more details, please ask!

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Looking for HyFlex Case Reports

Sloan-C just finished another HyFlex Course Design workshop this past week, with over 20 professionals who are using HyFlex courses or interested in beginning to use HyFlex courses in their teaching or instructional design work. We’ve been offering these workshops for several years, and the discussion that takes place is always informative and very useful.

It seems that more and more institutions and individual faculty are discovering the HyFlex courses can help their students learn better in some meaningful way. I think it’s time to begin gathering case reports of these efforts in order to begin building an applied literature base to help others make decisions regarding HyFlex implementation.

If you would like to contribute a case report, please contact me (Dr. Brian Beatty) at bjbeatty@sfsu.edu. I will be creating several case reports of my own and posting them here for initial review and later to the HyFlex Design Case website (which hasn’t been built yet). Case reports should include information about the core values that underly the HyFlex design choice, important goals for learning interactions and activities (not focused on content, but on interactions leading to learning), specific methods being used to bring about learning, and the conditions that impact the effectiveness of the HyFlex instruction.

When I finish a case report using this framework I will post it here so that this approach will be more clear. In the meantime, you can review this framework as I applied it to a series of case reports about online instruction in my 2002 dissertation, Social Interaction in Online Learning: A Situationalities Framework for Choosing Instructional Methods, linked here:  http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~bjbeatty/dissert/dissert_index.htm Look for the “Summary Diagram of Situationalities Framework” for a visual description of the key elements of a case.

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Student Responsibility for Learning

Who is responsible for student learning?

Teacher? University or School? Student? Parent? Sponsors?

We all know it depends greatly on the situation, and that responsibility for learning is shared among all the stakeholders. In graduate education, those stakeholders are primarily three: student, teacher, and school/program (curriculum control).

One way many instructors fulfill their responsibility is by dictating student behavior in ways that should bring about learning. Read this, write that, do this or that, etc. Students fulfill their responsibilities in part by doing what the instructor tells them to do. In basic schooling, this is expected and may be largely necessary due to the innate naivete of most young learners.

In graduate school, this high level of instructor-control (and the assumption of majority responsibility for student learning) may be misplaced. Students at this level should be more self-directed and more aware of specific learning strategies that work well for themselves. Instructors should be more resource-oriented, directing students as much as needed, but no moreso than needed … acting more as coaches than directors.

HyFlex supports this less-centered role for the instructor by providing multiple ways of particpating in course learning activities. The HyFlex course design says nothing about the way multiple perspectives are represented or supported in the specific content and/or activities used in a course, but does encourage a variety in ways that students can access content and complete course activities. When a variety of technologies are used to participate, it is very likely that alternative presentations of course content and interactions that support learning are used. Variety may be increased because of the nature of delivery. For example, a face to face class discussion is a different experience than a synchronous online discussion, which is a different experience than an asynchronous threaded online discussion.

When alternatives are presented to students, and the students are given control over selecting their alternative, student control of learning is increased. And with increased control goes increased responsibility. HyFlex delivery leads to increased student responsibilty for learning.

Are your students ready for that?

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