HyFlex Teaching: One Class, Three Modalities

What is HyFlex?

The hybrid flexible, or HyFlex, course format is an instructional approach that combines face-to-face (F2F) and online learning. Each class session and learning activity is offered in-person, synchronously online via Zoom, and asynchronously online (for students who may not be able to connect to Zoom on a given day). The model offers students a lot of flexibility in terms of mode of participation and requires instructors to design for this flexibility. As you prepare to teach in the HyFlex modality, be sure to consider the following, adapted from Beaty (2019):

  1. Learner choice: Provide meaningful alternative participation modes and enable students to choose between participation modes daily or weekly, depending on how your Academic Program at SPS chooses to set this up.
  2. Equivalency: Provide learning activities in all participation modes which lead to equivalent learning outcomes across modalities..
  3. Reusability: Artifacts from learning activities in each mode are captured and can be reused in other modes. Representations of in-class activities (recordings, discussion notes, etc) are available online for all students; activities produced by online students (asynchronous discussions, posted files, etc) are also available to all students..
  4. Accessibility: Equip students with technology skills (e.g. how to post in the discussion forum) and ensure that they have equitable access to all participation modes.
  5. Equity: Students in all modalities have equal opportunities to engage in course activities, to receive feedback, and to ask questions.

This section provides a series of steps to take to make sure your course is ready for the HyFlex modality:

1. Consider how norms will change

Review each of the following for your class and consider incorporating specific instructions in your syllabi as appropriate. Review Columbia’s Enhanced Health and Safety Policy and SPS Communication regarding reopening. Be sure to consult with your Academic Director for additional program-specific guidelines:

  • Course modality
  • Class meeting schedule 
  • Participation expectations as related to modality
  • Attendance expectations as related to modality
  • Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) expectations
  • Maintaining Community Safety Best Practices 
  • Netiquette i.e. norms for respectful online communication and engagement

2. Create opportunities for connection and community building

In a face-to-face class, students have opportunities to spend time with each other and with the instructor informally, which can create a sense of community. There are many ways in which you can foster a sense of community for all students:  

  • Rather than exclusively presenting information through in-class lectures, create short videos or readings for students to complete before the class session. During class you can give a brief summary or review and use the rest of the time to address questions and have discussions about the material. 
  • Use your Associate to monitor the chat so that you can take questions from online students during class time. 
  • Use Discussion forums to support conversation between students in different modalities.
  • Create a water-cooler discussion forum to support informal conversations between students. 

You can find a sample class session in the section below. It demonstrates a few examples of activities to promote student engagement and participation, with instructions on how to adapt them for the three different modalities. Note that the session includes some presentation of content but provides multiple opportunities for students to engage with the material.

3. Make adjustments to student activities or assignments

At SPS, instructors teaching Hyflex courses will need to account for three modalities for student activities: 1) Face-to-face; 2) Live-streamed, synchronous; 3) Asynchronous only. 

When creating student activities or assignments for HyFlex, there are a few important considerations to keep in mind: 

  1. Activities in HyFlex will take longer than they do in-person. To accommodate for this extra time, you may wish to reduce the amount of class time spent giving lectures. Use tools like Panopto or Screencast-o-matic to record mini-lectures that students can watch in preparation for the class session. 
  2. When introducing and explaining an activity to your students, be sure to give clear and explicit instructions for how to complete the activity in all three modalities. Make sure all students have access to any resources or documents they need in order to complete the activity, and clearly explain the deliverables for the activity. 

Many of the activities or assignments you use in a traditional in-person class can be modified for the HyFlex modality. There are many options for modifying activities that you may wish to consider, including:

  • Use Google Docs, Zoom chat, Discussion Boards in Canvas, and other tools to help students collaborate during synchronous sessions.
  • When asking students to work in groups, be intentional about how you form groups. Group face-to-face students with each other and group online students with each other to enable ease of communication (and decrease mic interference in the classroom). Consider grouping students by time zone where feasible. 
  • Rather than having students submit assignments so only you can see them, ask them to post their work on Discussion Boards and ask students comment on each others’ work
  • Use online polling extensively (via Canvas, Zoom Polls or Poll Everywhere) to provide engagement activities for all students.  This is an excellent resource on how to promote deep learning using multiple choice questions.

This document contains more information and ideas about how different activities can be adapted for each modality. 

4. Adjust assessments to fit the new modality

Whenever possible, try to replace high-stakes assessments (e.g., midterms, final exams, final projects) with assessments that are lower stakes (e.g., regular quizzes or projects completed in stages throughout the semester). This helps reduce test anxiety and encourages academic integrity, and also allows you and your students to track progress and to course-correct during the semester as needed. 

When revising assessments, keep in mind that the assessment should be equitable for students regardless of modality. For example, you may wish to have a closed-book exam, but administering a closed-book exam for students taking the class asynchronously may not be possible. Instead, consider making your assessments open-book for everyone. 

5. Consider equity across modalities

As you are developing your course for HyFlex, be sure to consider whether your course is equitable for students in all modalities. Do all students have opportunities to: 

  • Ask questions about the course material
  • Receive feedback from the instructor(s) 
  • Participate in activities and discussions
  • Engage with other students in the class
  • Demonstrate their learning on the course objectives
  • Access course material 
  • Attend office hours

6. Get help or training

The School of Professional Studies has a number of resources and support available to help you prepare for and administer your course. 

Participate in pedagogical workshops or sign-up for Canvas or Zoom training or practice sessions here.

Get help with course logistics and technical support via the CUSPS Helpdesk.

Get help building class session plans, brainstorm class activities, or get advice on how to implement your class. Sign up for a pedagogical consultation with a member of the Faculty Assessment and Development or Online Curriculum and Instruction teams. 

You can find a sample class session here.

For more examples, click here

Whether your class is HyFlex or entirely remote, it is important that your students know how classes will be structured and what they will be expected to do during and outside of class sessions. Before the semester starts, it is recommended that you reach out to your students through Canvas or email and begin to introduce them to the norms and expectations that you will put in place in your classroom. This is especially important in these times of uncertainty and change. 

Provided below are sample norms that you can adapt to your course. These do not include expectations for grading or for academic integrity, both of which should already be in your syllabus as part of the SPS Syllabus Template.

Introduction to course norms

This is a community we create together and therefore it's important that we begin by establishing the norms and expectations we would like to see from our community. Please read the classroom norms and expectations listed below.  After that, on the Discussion Forum please respond to the following prompts:

  1. What is one practice you've seen in a virtual classroom that you think supported your learning experience? 
  2. What is one practice you’ve seen in a face-to-face or virtual classroom that you think is really important for developing a positive classroom climate?
  3. What is one practice you've noticed that inhibited your learning in the course? 

Overall norms and expectations

  1. Our classroom is a shared learning community and one where diverse experiences and opinions are valued. Please remember to be respectful at all times and to share ideas and thoughts in a non-judgmental and respectful manner. Here are some norms for our classroom, adapted from Carnegie Mellon’s Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence:
  • Listen actively and attentively.
  • Ask for clarification if you are confused. Reach out to the instructor via Email or Canvas (add appropriate links). You can also reach out to one of your classmates via the Canvas site
  • Do not interrupt one another.
  • Challenge one another, but do so respectfully.
  • Critique ideas, not people.
  • Provide supporting evidence for opinions
  • Avoid put-downs (even humorous ones).
  • Take responsibility for the quality of the discussion.
  • Build on one another’s comments; work toward shared understanding.
  • Always have your book/readings in front of you.
  • Do not monopolize discussion.
  • Speak from your own experience, without generalizing.
  • If you are offended by anything said during discussion, acknowledge it immediately.
  • Consider anything that is said in class confidential.

Norms for the Zoom classroom

Before the semester starts, have your students watch this from Harvard University on the Dos and Don’ts of a Zoom classroom. Here are some sample norms that you can adapt to your classroom:

  1. Enter the classroom on mute and remain on mute until you want to speak up. This will help us reduce unnecessary sound interference.
  2. If possible, I would love to ‘see you’ during class. It creates a sense of community and shared space if we have our cameras on. However, I understand that these are exceptional times and you have may constraints that don’t allow you to have your camera on at all times. 
  3. Make sure that your Zoom name is your full name (you can include preferred name or pronouns in brackets).
  4. Dress appropriately and sit upright as you would in-person. 
  5. Use the chat function to ask questions or respond to the instructor’s questions (include this if this is your preferred method). 
  6. Raise your hand physically or use the Zoom feature to raise hands and wait until the Instructor or Associate calls on you (appropriate for classes over 25).

Additional Norms for HyFlex Classes

  1. Please wait to be called on before speaking. This will ensure that the audio will pick up your speech so that everyone can hear you. 
  2. Please make sure your mic is muted any time you are not speaking. This is particularly important for in-class students. 
  3. I will do my best to repeat questions to ensure that everyone hears them. If I forget, please feel free to politely bring it to my attention. 
  4. In order to make sure both online and in-person students have the opportunity to participate and ask questions, I will alternate calling on online and in-person students. So it may be the case that I call on someone before you even if your hand was raised first. Please be patient and allow your fellow classmates to participate. 
  5. The HyFlex modality is new to all of us, so I would be grateful for your patience and understanding as we work together to figure it out. If you have any suggestions about how I can manage the class better, please do feel free to reach out by email or in person during my office hours and share your ideas. 

Setting Norms for Group Projects

Setting norms is particularly important when students are working in groups on projects that need to be completed outside of class, and it is doubly important when students are working virtually and don’t have the opportunity to touch base in person. There are many decisions to be made that, if not spoken about explicitly, can cause frustration or difficulty for team members:  How quickly will they respond to emails and requests? How much flexibility in deadlines is acceptable? How often will the team meet? How frequently will they check in? You can help your students develop their group norms by providing a sample of a Group Contract for students working in groups. You could also provide a sample Group and Self-Assessment tool.


Beatty, B. J. (2020). Can HyFlex options support students in the midst of uncertainty? Educause Review. March 26, 2020.

Beatty, B. J. (Ed.) (2019).  Hybrid-Flexible Course Design. EdTech Books.

Bruff, D. (2020). Active learning in hybrid and physically distanced classrooms. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. June 11, 2020.

Bruff, D. (2009). Multiple-choice questions you wouldn’t put on a test: Promoting deep learning using clickers. Essays on teaching excellence. 21(3), 2009-10.

Clemson University (Fall 2020). Academic Model Options for Blended Learning. 

Clark, N. (2020). The physically distanced classroom: A day in the life. Inside Higher Education, May 27, 2020.

Lederman, D. (2020). The HyFlex option for instruction if campuses open this Fall. May 13, 2020.

Louisiana State University (2020). Active learning while physical distancing

Macharaschwili, C.E. (2020). Wondering how to accommodate remote learners into your face-to-face classroom this fall? Try the “Buddy Protocol”. June 23, 2020.

Northwestern University (2020). How to utilize informal learning spaces. Learning from digital water cooler conversations.