Nothing really beats the real, authentic discussions that happen in face-to-face classroom instruction. So, if we consider those who take online courses, is it possible to develop this experience in a digital format? This is the task I have chosen to tackle at my university in order to introduce open and live discussion into our online courses. I did this through the implementation of the activeflex teaching model, which combines active learning with a flexible hybrid model (hyflex).
What is the Activeflex teaching model?
Activeflex instruction is designed for students who want to experience the live, real-time campus atmosphere in an online environment. This model gives students greater control over how they receive instruction on a weekly basis. Currently, most courses are delivered in face-to-face, online, or blended (hybrid) course formats. Although all these modes have advantages and disadvantages, they do not allow students to choose a different format according to their teaching needs. The activeflex model allows for this flexibility between a live or asynchronous learning format. Keep in mind that there are assignments required each week that are not included in the activeflex format. Activeflex assignments form a small part of the weekly schedule requirements.
What does Activeflex look like from a student’s perspective?
An activeflex schedule with live sessions is created and shared at the start of the semester. Students can choose to attend live online sessions and complete assignments with their peers, or they can choose to complete the same work at their own pace on an individual basis. Each week, students determine if they need additional discussion and help based on required readings and assignments. During live online sessions, students participate in presentations, discussions with the professor and among themselves. They complete reinforcement activities and review requirements for future missions. Students who choose not to attend live can watch a short pre-recorded video covering the presentation shared in class and then complete the reinforcement activity on their own.
Is it difficult to create an activeflex format in a pre-existing course?
Anyone who wants to introduce this flexible approach to teaching should start by building a strong partnership with their university’s technology staff. Our fabulous IT staff works closely with us to create new and innovative strategies to improve our courses.
I use the 30/30/30 model.
1) I cover new course content within the first 30 minutes. To meet the needs of students who cannot attend live, instructors should create a short 15-20 minute video per weekly module. During the live classes, the instructor covers what is presented in the videos.
2) Students work in small groups to complete a reinforcement activity and discuss what they have learned over the next 30 minutes. In live classes, students work in small groups, but they can also be completed solo by asynchronous students.
3) We complete a Q&A session and review upcoming assignments in the last 30 minutes. In live sessions, students can share their ideas and discuss them with the whole class. Rubrics should be created to assess student engagement and understanding of the required tasks.
What does Activeflex look like from an instructor’s perspective?
Planning and setting up takes a lot of work, but it’s worth it. Reinforcement activities and talking points take time to design to ensure that intensity levels increase as students progress through the course.
For example, in an educational assessment course, students work in small groups to first review teacher feedback on an elementary student’s work and determine whether the feedback is constructive or not, then they offer suggestions for improvement. The next reinforcement activity asks students to read an elementary student’s work and offer their own feedback, which is then shared in a whole-class discussion. Designing activities that build intensity and create opportunities for quality discussion takes time. But it pays dividends as students enjoy the discussion and accept being challenged to describe their thinking and decisions as they complete the assignment.
How has the Activeflex design changed my journey?
As students become familiar with the format, they are more engaged and open in their questions and discussions. It’s nice to see the students smiling and laughing as they deliberate with each other throughout the live sessions. Students enjoy the flexibility to choose whether or not to attend live sessions to complete weekly assignments. By the time they attend meetings, most have already viewed assignments and readings and prepared questions. I have found that students come to these meetings better prepared than if I was teaching face to face.
Marla Williams is an assistant teacher of elementary education at Athens State University.
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