Saturday, September 18, 2021

HyFlex: Pre-Class Experience, pt 1

One issue I've encountered, while considering how to provide equivalent experiences for in-person students (Roomers) and online students (Zoomers), is what experiences to offer before class begins.

For example, as Roomers gather and take their seats, they can chat with each other, and they can see that I'm present in the room and setting up for class. What do the Zoomers see? If I've just arrived, the students in the room know I'm present, but until I login to my computer and launch Zoom, the students attending virtually have no information about what is happening in the room. If I happen to be running late, the students in the room would be able to see that. So if class had to start late, they'd understand why - but the students on Zoom would just see the "Waiting for the Host to start the Meeting…" screen. They can't tell if I'm present but have forgotten to turn on Zoom, or if I'm in the room getting set up, or…

Then there's the similar issue of how to allow the Zoomers to chat with each other casually before class starts.

Here's how I'm addressing both of these. First, I've set up my Zoom meeting to "Allow join before host," so that the Zoomers can login at any point before I launch the meeting from inside the classroom. An unfortunate side effect of this is that, because I've also set up my meetings to automatically record to the cloud, I routinely have a student or two who join but forget to unmute, so the initial part of the recording is audio of them listening to salsa music, or watching a baseball game…and I have to trim that out of the video before posting it for the class.

To give my Zoomers a signal that everything is going according to plan before class starts, I've created a visual slide that I project (both through Zoom and also to the Room) as soon as Zoom launches:

Screen shot of a slide that has the class name, date, a message that "class will begin shortly," and a list of resources to prepare to use during class
Example before-class slide

This slide provides the current date, as well as a list of resources that all students (Roomers and Zoomers) should prepare to use during class. This is useful for students to do using pre-class time. Routine use of this approach will help online students understand when everything is proceeding according to plan before class is supposed to start.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Build Your Own HyFlex: Tech Setup

This week, I had a student tell me they could not come to our face-to-face class because they needed to be home for an appointment with a contractor who was going to do some emergency work. They asked if I could let them attend using Zoom. I was quick to agree, but then I realized I had a few hours to figure out how to make my in-person class a HyFlex class. I was willing to take on this challenge because I’m currently teaching another HyFlex class: I think I understand the principles of how to accommodate and engage students online and in person, and I’m comfortable using Zoom.

By the time class began, I found that accommodating students who would like to attend virtually can be quite straightforward. Here, I’ll explain what I did, and what I would change when I do this again. First, though, it might be useful to issue some caveats and provide more context. 

About technology

This classroom is not equipped in any special way: it has a portable video projector. I already had what I thought would be useful: my laptop, my tablet, an HDMI cable, and the HDMI adaptor for my devices. I project from my laptop when I want to show videos and websites. I use my tablet to project a digital whiteboard (ExplainEverything). I prefer tablet projection to manually using the classroom whiteboard for at least a few reasons:
  1. I never have dry erasers and I have a greater choice of colors to choose from
  2. erasing the board is a lot faster when it is digital, and most importantly to me
  3. I can load images, lecture slides, etc. into the digital whiteboard and manipulate and annotate them

Course Design and Needs

In this course, I begin with a brief lecture and then turn to a discussion format. Thus, I knew that my tech setup should allow students in the room and students on Zoom to see my laptop and my tablet content, and to see and hear each other during the discussions. I also like to record my classes for the benefit of anybody who could not attend and for student use when reviewing the material.

HyFlex Setup

To achieve these goals, I launched Zoom on my laptop, which I connected to the room projector. The built-in laptop camera was pointed at the projection screen. Thus, during the parts of class when I had laptop content to share (like movies), I could use the Share Screen feature in Zoom to let the Zoomers see the video and hear the audio, while the Roomers saw all of this projected to them in the context of my laptop screen.

When I had tablet-based content to share, I unplugged the HDMI cable from the laptop and used it to plug my tablet into the projector. At this point, the Roomers see projection of the tablet screen, and Zoomers see the in-room projection from the perspective of my laptop camera. This is sub-optimal in many ways, and there is an easy improvement to this process (see below).

During discussion, I rotate the laptop 180 degrees so that the Zoom camera is pointing into the audience, and I leave the laptop connected to the projector. This way, when anybody in the room is speaking, Zoom projects the room to the Zoomers. More importantly, when somebody on Zoom is speaking, they are projected to the room.

The main issue with discussion, at this point, is the limit to how loud I can make my laptop speakers so that everybody in the room can hear a Zoomer speaking. If your room or projector doesn’t have built-in speakers, it might be useful to bring an inexpensive and portable bluetooth speaker. Also, the microphone on a laptop might not pick up quiet voices in the room, so it is a good habit for the instructor to repeat or summarize room comments for those on Zoom.


Now I’ve had time to bring extra tech gear from home, which I didn’t have on hand at school the day I had to throw this together. Here’s how I've revised my approach to improve tablet-based presentations.

Recall my issue: the laptop is the Zoom meeting host, and I want to use its Share Screen function to share all of the video content, so that the original video is piped directly to the Zoomers as well as to the Zoom meeting recording. However, when I used my tablet, I was connecting it directly to the projector, which means the Zoomers see a video of the projection of the tablet screen.

The better approach is to connect the tablet to the laptop, and then share the tablet screen using Zoom.

With an Apple laptop and an iPad, I began as before, by connecting the laptop to the projector using an HDMI cable.

Now, I use a second HDMI cable (or Thunderbolt cable) to connect the tablet to the laptop. Then, in Zoom, select “Share Screen” and then “iPhone/iPad via Cable.” Now the tablet screen is mirrored to Zoom, and is also projected to the room as shown:

Writing on the tablet computer appears to Zoom participants
A tablet (foreground) used as a "Share Screen" source in Zoom is clearly displayed to Zoom participants (background)

This is an expensive setup, and few teachers might have a laptop plus a tablet to use for instruction. However, if you do any “board work” (writing on a whiteboard) and you want to project that to virtual attendees, then using a tablet is better than using a camera to transmit your white board to Zoomers. Even the nicest camera, positioned perfectly in the room, will obscure whatever is behind you on the board, and it will distort parts of the board, and the image will never be as clear as a digital whiteboard shared through Zoom. Plus, you get the option of pre-loading graphs, photographs, figures, or other digital content you’d like to annotate without having first to replicate it in real time, while students watch, as you draw on the whiteboard. 

Nothing is perfect, and my solution is certainly imperfect. The one thing I don’t like sharing a digital whiteboard tablet through Zoom is that the tablet screen is the only thing Zoomers see. They don't see the instructor – not even a thumbnail of a real person on the screen. If I were on the other end, watching a handless pen draw on my computer monitor, I think I would disengage. I suggest that a best practice will be: regularly turn off the screen share to return the Zoom students to the laptop camera’s view of the classroom, and you.

HyFlex: Take One

Resulting from COVID-19, many classes at California State University, Fresno ("Fresno State") were moved to a virtual format in March, 2020. Over the 2020-1 academic year, a handful of classes returned to in-person instruction. In anticipation of the need for continued flexibility in course modality, Fresno State renovated several classrooms to accommodate HyFlex. During summer 2021, some of my colleagues and I engaged in a professional development activity to prepare for teaching HyFlex classes, where some students are present in the classroom ("Roomers") while others attend synchronously and remotely, in our case using Zoom ("Zoomers").

This series of posts will explore both the technological and pedagogical aspects of implementing and managing a HyFlex course


8/21/21 Fall '21 Pre-Instruction Fresno State HyFlex Notes

9/6/21 Build Your Own HyFlex: Tech Setup

9/18/21 HyFlex: Pre-Class Experience, pt. 1