Considerations for Teaching Flexibly

What should you consider when beginning to teach flexibly? Explore the planning, design, and delivery considerations below.

Planning

What are the benefits of teaching flexibly? How can this delivery mode support student learning?

Asking these questions is important to establish a moral purpose to guide flexible delivery. At the heart of flexible delivery is student choice. This choice makes space for the reality of learner variability. Part of teaching in a flexible mode is to believe that flexible delivery has the potential to reduce barriers for students

For example, a student may be bound to an electronic wheelchair that malfunctions in damp weather, or a student may be suffering from severe anxiety. Without the flex options both students would be denied access to learning experiences. Thus, flexible teaching has the potential to increase equity among students.

Embedded in flexible delivery must be the belief that all participation modes provide equally valuable learning experiences. Students who may lack self-awareness may choose a delivery mode that does not benefit them; we can support our students in guiding their decision making by building their self-reflection skills.

In addition, we need to step back and question how we define engagement. What does this look like for different people in different environments? What can we do to support diverse types of engagement?

When designing your lesson plans for flexible delivery, plan with the synchronous online students in mind first. Research has shown that it is often the students who are participating synchronously online that are often forgotten and fail to be meaningfully integrated into the classroom community.

One way to ensure that you consider their learning experience is to plan for them first and then to consider how that plan might apply for in-person students (and decided on any alternations that might need to be made for in-person students). The following is a flexible delivery lesson template that you can use (this is the template completed). In addition, this video explains how to go about using this template.

Design

One concept that is central to flexible delivery is ensuring that your learning experiences are digital by design. “In learning that is truly digital by design students […] can move seamlessly between physical and virtual environments” (Ferrell, Knight, & Smith, 2018). Not only does digital by design pertain to the content we deliver or resources we use, it also pertains to our thought process about teaching and learning. We need to think about:
  • the various learning experiences of our students – “the user experience”
  • the technical architecture required to achieve our outcomes
  • how the medium of the technology can be an intricate aspect of the message conveyed in the content

How will you facilitate discussions? What procedure will remote students follow to answer a question, contribute an idea, or participate in a full class discussion? Should they raise their hand physically on camera? Raise their virtual hand? Speak aloud to indicate they have something to contribute?

Designing flex lesson in a digital by design method forces us to think about structure or, as mentioned previously, the architecture of the learning opportunity. When we design an activity, we need to conceptualize it from the perspective of both participation modes – what will be the synchronous online experience? What will be the in-person experience? What steps and structures do I need to put into place to ensure a seamless experience for both participation mode?

Ensuring that each step of the learning experience is planned is one way to build a seamless experience. Visualize the lesson, note the steps that learners will need to engage in, be prepared to support them in each step, build in additional time for activities, and practice.

If we want our students to be engaged in our teaching, we need to engage them through active learning; while this is true of in-person delivery, it is crucial for flex delivery. Active learning requires students to engage in activities that can lead to deeper learning. Activities range from whole class discussion, group work, think/pair/shares, jigsaws, bookends, one-minute papers and so much more.

When teaching flexibly, deeply consider the choice of active learning strategy by asking yourself the following:

  • What am I hoping to gain, in terms of student learning, with this activity?
  • How can this activity be re-envisioned with the possibilities and constraints of the educational technology at my disposal?
  • Would a different activity be more suited to the delivery method?
  • Will the investment in the planning and preparation be outweighed by the benefit to student learning?

If you are looking for some ideas many of the active learning strategies highlighted on the CTL website are re-envisioned for an online and flexible teaching space within the DC Connect Flexible Delivery Workshop Course (connect with tanya.wakelin@durhamcollege.ca to get access to this course).

Delivery

Managing the learning space during flexible delivery can be complex because you must manage both the physical as well as virtual spaces. What does this mean?

Physical space – you will need to consider the experience of in-person students and virtual students – What do they hear or not hear? What do they see or not see? What options do they have for participation? What are the physical constraints on you as faculty because of the technology (i.e. distance to podium for mic access, distance to flex screen to see the chat, facing the puck mics to ensure you are heard, repeating responses from students to ensure they are heard, etc.)?

Virtual space – How can you track the chat for student responses? How will virtual students participate (i.e. virtual hands raised, chat, mice)? Is the content being shared properly through the synchronous platform?

Considering the aspects of the learning space during delivery leads to a realization that the cognitive load required to teach flexibly is greater than in-person teaching alone.

Consider the following question - What changes to my teaching style and methods do I need to make to support student learning in this mode and to manage the extra cognitive load that is part of this delivery mode?

Flexible teaching obviously requires specific technology. However, technology is not the center of flexible delivery. Technology may allow for specific possibilities in teaching and learning or it may, in fact, place constrains on teaching and learning. When we consider flexible technology, we need to consider it in light of course content knowledge and effective pedagogy.

Some questions that you should keep in mind regarding flexible technology are: How does the technology constrain the ways that I have traditionally taught? What type of learning experience can be created with this technology? Who would I contact for support with this technology?

References

Ferrell, G., Knight, S., & Smith, R. (2018, January 26). Digital by design. Jisc. Retrieved June 3, 2022, from https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/designing-learning-and-assessment-in-a-digital-age/digital-by-design