HyFlex: It’s About Equity, Opportunity, and Inclusion

The following is a transcript of BCcampus executive director Mary Burgess’s welcome address at our recent virtual event HyFlex ReAction: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

My name is Mary Burgess, and I’m lucky enough to be the executive director at BCcampus. My pronouns are they and them. 

Personal Introduction and Land Acknowledgement

I’m going to start with a personal introduction. My dad is Harold Robinson, a retired high school teacher, and my late mom was Lonnie Robinson nee McLeod, who spent her career as a school secretary in the K–12 system. Both of my siblings also work in the public education sector. My grandparents on my mom’s side came to what is now known as Canada as uninvited settlers in the mid 1800s from Scotland. My grandparents on my dad’s side came from Scotland and England as uninvited settlers in the early part of the twentieth century. My family, as educators, farmers, loggers, and businesspeople, contributed to the oppression of Indigenous people, as have I. My siblings and I are committed to reconciliation and are all unlearning and learning how to be different in the world than we were taught to be. 

I am extremely lucky to have been raised on the ancestral and current territory of the Cowichan Tribes, who have never given up title to their land or been compensated for it.

For the past 30 years, I’ve been an uninvited settler on the gorgeous territory of the Lekwungen-speaking people, now known as the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, and the WSÁNEĆ peoples, whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day. I’m grateful to the families, communities, and ancestors for all they share with us, including how to live sustainably and ethically on this land. 

Introduction to the Event

It is so wonderful to digitally connect with all of you today. Thank you for being here. We are truly honoured you have chosen to spend some of your scarce and valuable time with us. 

I want to start by physically locating myself in a space. I am in the basement of a 111-year-old house, with what I care about around me, facing south toward the Salish Sea. Look around the space you’re in now. What do you see? Is there a window you can see out of? Where are you in relation to other places on the land and sea near you? Then maybe put one thing in the chat you see in your physical space or something about the land you are on so we can all imagine you instead of just seeing your face or a name on a screen, and you can be grounded in your location. Let’s humanize ourselves just a bit to make our community feel less like bits and bytes and more like people with common interests. 

Thanks for joining me in that exercise. I think now more than ever grounding ourselves in physical locations and in our bodies is important. It can really help us stay present and in the best state for learning and collaboration. 

We are gathered in this virtual space around our common interest in hybrid flexible learning environments today. 

One of the aspects of HyFlex that really resonates for me is it comes from a desire to include everyone. The idea is to meet every student where they are by design, not as an after-the-fact retrofit. HyFlex has the power to make students we marginalize in our system more likely to learn what we want them to. So for me HyFlex is about equity; it’s about opportunity; it’s about inclusion. 

I’m going to use that segue to talk a bit about inclusion at this event. At BCcampus we have done a lot of learning about inclusion in the past couple of years, and this event applies some of that learning for example in terms of the way the program runs, the technologies we’re choosing to use, and elements like captioning. To link us back to HyFlex, we can take these small learnings and make a more inclusive environment in which more people are welcomed to not only attend but also participate and thrive.

Today we are considering three themes:

  • The human element of HyFlex design, in which we will look at lived experience in this mode
  • The logistical factors that should be weighed in the design stage of HyFlex learning
  • Your thoughts on the future of this mode. Now that we know more, what should consider for future HyFlex learning environments?

We are really excited to showcase the outstanding work of our colleagues who are meeting the current challenges of learning and teaching with compassion, creativity, and care. Speaking of those colleagues, I want to take a moment to acknowledge and thank our partners at today’s event: Royal Roads University, the College of New Caledonia, and the University of the Fraser Valley. They are quite different institution types, and all three have dedicated, skilled learning designers and educators working in this space. I’m so grateful they are willing to share what they’re doing so we can all learn from them. 

You may already know we had intended this to be an event that took place in person on the campuses of our partners as well as online. Omicron dashed those plans, but here we are, still getting together. Isn’t that just the perfect demonstration of why we need HyFlex? It’s like the universe was watching and knew we needed to learn something the authentic way. 

Having said that, I want to situate us a little bit, contextualize our situation. Where do we find ourselves at this moment in time? 


At this point we are coming up on two years of ambiguity and trying to do our best while being collectively traumatized not just by the pandemic but also by the various ways in which our society is divided. I don’t use the term traumatizedlightly. The effects of this time will be far-reaching and will go on for many years to come, perhaps even generationally. So we’re not in a great place maybe mentally, emotionally, and we’ve been hanging on by our fingernails for a couple of years, hoping and then having that hope dashed repeatedly. Ignoring the facts won’t make our nervous systems regulate. 

At the same time, you know, I feel this glimmer. We have learned so much in the past two years. There are very few people who want to go back to the way things were — many of us recognize the before times were problematic and that we need to do better. I feel hope rising. I feel the wisdom of experience and collective problem solving starting to come together. 

One of the ways in which we want to try to do better is to demonstrate, through our choices about program and instructional design, a commitment to student success regardless of the disruption in the world, in the life of the student, in the life of a faculty member. 

We want to provide continuity in cases of illness of all kinds, abilities of all kinds, and circumstances of all kinds. That is really at the heart of HyFlex — that commitment to student success for all students, not just the students who fit into the narrow perception many have of the lives of students. 

I would say what we have been doing during the pandemic is not HyFlex. What we have been doing is covering holes in a bursting dam. People who were already marginalized by our systems’ processes, policies, and culture were further marginalized. We know from data already collected the pandemic made things worse for Indigenous students, for Asian students, for Black students and other students of colour, for women, for queer people, for students with mental illness or physical disabilities, for those whose socio-economic status does not allow them the privilege of flexibility, and for so many others. 

We want to do better than that. Let me repeat: we want to do very much better than that. I know we can. 

What Is HyFlex?

Let’s flip to get into the idea of HyFlex a bit more deeply. I want to make sure we’re on the same page in terms of a definition because I’m not talking about blended learning or online learning with recorded lectures uploaded to a learning management system. The idea here is to not only serve but serve well those students who need flexibility. Let’s talk about where this term comes from. 

Dr. Brian Beatty of San Francisco State University began the development of the hybrid flexible course design model. In his view, HyFlex has four key elements:

  • Learner choice: There are alternative participation modes that are meaningful and allow students to choose the mode of engagement that works for them. It is really important to notice here we are talking about meaningful engagement because that gets to actual learning design, not just the use of technology or not. Meaningful engagement in learning is not the same for every student; it’s not even the same for a single student across their learning journey. We need choice that supports that. 
  • Equivalence: The modes provide equivalent learning outcomes — i.e., whichever mode is chosen, the learning has been intentionally designed to enable students to succeed at learning outcomes. Learning outcomes are a key element here because it’s a method we can use to test our theories about equivalence. Remember in these settings, the activity students do to get to an outcome may not be the same across modes because the modes are not the same. We have to stop thinking of online learning environments as replications of brick-and-mortar classrooms and see their potential as discrete learning environments. 
  • Reusability: Artefacts from the learning activities are captured and reused in other modes, and this includes both learning resources from the instructor and what students create. This is a cool one for me because it touches on the notion of open pedagogy and students learning from each other. Despite what I said above about modes being different, there are some things that work in both modes, and we want to take advantage of that and not be doing things from scratch every time. Look for efficiencies. Also, the learning students do can be used as learning resources. An example of this would be a bibliography created by a previous section being used across modes in new sections. 
  • Accessibility: Students are equipped with the technical resources and skills to equitably access all modes. Universal Design for Learning principles are considered and implemented. Notice here we are not just talking about making the technology accessible. Do the students know how to use it? Do the educators? That’s a consideration as well. 

Whew! Those are some aspirational goals, right? That’s something I think is really important for us to be thinking about — this is not how it is right now, but it is possible. We absolutely need to acknowledge we have neither the supports nor the knowledge right now to fully realize these goals. But this is where it starts. With people dipping their toes in the water of something new and seeing its potential.

We are looking to evolve our system to uphold these principles. Systems don’t evolve overnight. Changes like this happen incrementally, one compassionate disruptor at a time. They replicate in classrooms and faculty meetings and at events like this one we’re in together today. So buckle up, and get ready for an engaging day. I hope you all get something you can take away and ponder so we can move this work forward together. 

Thank you. 

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The featured image for this post (viewable in the BCcampus News section at the bottom of our homepage) is by Armin Rimoldi from Pexels