Let the HyFlex model outlast the pandemic

The benefit of a flexible model for a diverse array of students

John Swanson | Photo courtesy | NDSU already has the technology for HyFlex, there’s no reason to stop using it.

Most members of the NDSU community are familiar with the HyFlex model; a combination of in-person and online technologies to connect students to their professors in the midst of this pandemic. For that reason, most people also recognize HyFlex’s potential only through the lens of what it can provide during an emergency.

However, President Dean Bresciani’s update this past Sunday opened up new possibilities for the hybrid model of teaching in a post-pandemic world. His recommendations for keeping HyFlex in place had to do with reaching more students to help combat falling enrollment numbers, which I commend, yet this seems like only the beginning.

Reaching new students is an important benefit of HyFlex, but the ways in which the technology can continue to support students already enrolled is equally, if not more, important. Students with disabilities, students suffering from illness or personal tragedy and even students with outside responsibilities, like working at a job or caring for children and dependents, can continue to gain from this model of learning. 

HyFlex was initially implemented to allow students who didn’t feel safe in the classroom to attend class remotely, without losing out on the in-class experience. Classrooms now come equipped with plastic screens for the professor to stand behind, cameras that often track their movement and switch the view depending on their placement in the classroom, as well as microphones to pick up the speech of even the most muffled-mask talker.

Many of these changes don’t seem necessary in the long haul. When the screens come down and the masks come off as the virus (hopefully) quells, it might be tempting to scrap the remote learning technology as well. But instead of changing the classrooms back to their original layout, it might be time to simply change our perspective of what keeping this technology could allow for. 

In Bresciani’s email, he discussed using the technology to keep NDSU from further suffering from lack of funding. As he said, “I believe that HyFlex can help with these enrollment issues if we are thoughtful and creative about using it.”

He continued, “For example, I could foresee HyFlex expanding the summer course offerings and providing rural and under-resourced secondary schools with access to specialized dual credit taught by college faculty, not high school teachers.”

The changes Bresciani is arguing for are positive. During my first few weeks at NDSU, I remember many students from smaller towns being frustrated that they were coming to college a step behind those students who had received AP or college credit in their larger highschools. Expanding NDSU’s reach beyond campus could allow those otherwise without access a chance.

Yet, we should consider how helpful keeping HyFlex for students already enrolled, not just those still to come, can be. 

Take, for example, students with disabilities. Oftentimes, they are put on a plan that allows them to miss a certain number of classes each semester due to complications from their disability. While this might sound nice to some, missing class means losing out on class discussion and lecture material. 

I know how hard this can be because I’ve had to miss class due to an illness or my disability on several occasions. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a good notetaker, but more often than not you just take a loss on the days you’ve missed. There’s nothing quite like sitting at home unable to attend a class you’re paying for either way. Trust me, there’s nothing nice about it.

However, for the first time since attending NDSU when I had a medical emergency a few weeks back, I didn’t have to accept that I was going to fall behind. I could attend class remotely. In some cases, if I was at a doctor’s appointment or feeling too sick to attend class even through Zoom, I could go back and watch class asynchronously when I was feeling better. 

HyFlex has been such a game-changer for me and other students like me. We were told that our only options were to attend class even when illness or pain made us more than inclined not to go or just lose out on the knowledge altogether, now these don’t have to be our only two options. The technology that would have allowed for this third option long ago was always too expensive to implement, now it’s already here and I see no reason to get rid of it. 

I’ve also seen how much this model of learning can benefit students with large responsibilities outside of being a student, especially during the pandemic. During classes, it’s not uncommon to see a child running in the background of someone’s screen or someone in their car taking a class during their lunch break at work. These are individuals, who otherwise would likely have skipped class, have too been given the opportunity to make their personal schedule and school schedule work. 

Additionally, this might help students complete their degree more quickly, or add on another major or minor. Often, students have to stay an additional semester because one or more of their required classes conflict with one another. If students were able to attend one or two classes alternating between synchronous and asynchronous learning, they could work out a schedule that fits them.

With this, students might also be able to attend a course where the physical capacity for students in a classroom is maxed out, but they can now attend through Zoom. 

While it’s true, online schooling doesn’t measure up to its in-person alternative, there are certainly benefits to extending its use. It’s in the name, HyFlex is simply more flexible for students, especially students who wouldn’t be able to attend class without it. 

I’m excited for a return to the classroom, for a time when doing so isn’t quite so precarious. However, that doesn’t mean I think we should scrap the ways we’ve been doing things this past year. If we want to continue to prioritize students and their needs and create a more inclusive learning environment, we should ensure HyFlex is here to stay.

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