The pandemic put a spotlight on glaring equity gaps in higher education--but the HyFlex model could help eliminate some disparities.

3 ways HyFlex and virtual models help ensure equity

The pandemic put a spotlight on glaring equity gaps in higher education--but the HyFlex model could help eliminate some disparities

Before the pandemic upended normal routines, different learning modalities, such as online and hybrid or HyFlex, weren’t readily available on a large scale at most institutions.

But with the rapid shift to online learning came a more widespread realization that students need–and deserve–flexibility in the way they learn. Classrooms that were optimized for in-person learning received quick makeovers with additional screens, cameras, and AV tools to make pandemic learning a reality.

And while educators and students were lauded for their ability to adapt and continue teaching and learning, the pandemic also put a brighter spotlight on existing inequities across higher education.

During an EDUCAUSE 2021 session, educators at four institutions discussed how the pandemic changed some of their practices, confirmed the need for others that already existed, and explored equitable practices for the future.

  1. Faculty training plays a critical role in HyFlex learning and equity

“Utah State University had a lot of experience doing classroom-to-classroom high-end broadcasting prior to Covid. Going into the pandemic, we felt pretty good about our experience, but going to Zoom, and then last fall when teachers were in the classroom with some students in person and some students on Zoom, we started to notice some inequity in teaching and learning,” said Kevin Reeve, director for Academic and Instructional Services at Utah State University. “Training faculty plays a critical role.”

“We realized early on we couldn’t just tell faculty to go teach the way they teach, because that remote student experience wouldn’t be a great one,” said Melissa Koenig, director of Instructional Technology for the Center for Teaching & Learning at DePaul University. “We realized we needed to provide faculty with opportunities to get training and to learn from each other. We also realized we needed to provide support.” The university hired students to be faculty assistants in the virtual space, because it soon became clear that trying to teach face-to-face, teach virtually, and manage an in-person and an online classroom was too much for one educator alone.

“It’s a new challenge as we look toward coming back on campus,” said Jason Smith, Education Technology Service manager at the University of Washington. “At the drop of a dime, everyone is going online during the pandemic. And now it’s a new challenge for instructors–how do I redesign my course for a blended learning environment? Not only do I have to teach the students in my classroom, I may have students who need to participate remotely. How do I engage those students?” Smith’s team brought the university’s three campuses together with educational technologists and other experts to facilitate discussions around key training needs. Those discussions turned into a set of recommendations presented during the university’s Teaching with Technology faculty institute, which is taught each summer.

“we were very intentional about how we designed a whole host of new technologies, hardware, software, and integrations in classrooms. We were intentional about providing as equitable a teaching and learning experience as possible for faculty and students,” said Tom Marentette, IT Solutions Architecht for ND Studios & Teaching and Learning Technologies at the University of Notre Dame. “How do you leverage the infrastructure to provide as equitable as experience as you possibly can? Those investments in technology would completely fail if we didn’t put support scaffolding in place. The infrastructure isn’t just technical. It’s human as well. [Instructors need] training and support for this new environment that’s drastically different.

  1. Online and HyFlex options that started with the pandemic are helping ensure equity

“This fall, we decided to go back to face-to-face, so we’re almost exclusively face-to-face, but [our remote learning] infrastructure remains in place,” said Marentette. “Students might need to quarantine, might have an illness, might be traveling–it’s there. We’re ensuring that we have the technology in place to try and deliver an equitable experience.”

“We’ve never been a lecture capture campus. One of the things we realized was that students got used to lecture capture,” said Koenig. “Students used them for review sessions, if English wasn’t their first language, if they learned differently–[these are] all different reasons why that creates an equitable environment. The ability to have recordings that can be captioned has been huge, too. Those tools have been really invaluable and we want to keep moving forward. The ability of flex is allowing students who might otherwise drop out the ability to quickly pivot to a remote course section. They still participate via recordings or via the ability to come in via a live link. We’re opening those pathways to education and success that may not have been there previously.”

  1. Engagement remains critical, whether in person or in a HyFlex model

“Technology can help faculty remember that there are remote students,” Reeve said. “It’s very easy to teach to the audience in front of you and a little more difficult, and takes conscious effort, to remember there are students joining in with technology. As a faculty member, there are things you can do to make sure students who are joining remotely feel part of the class.”

“A big challenge for us, moving forward, is how do we encourage faculty to think about how they’re going to teach remote students, but also students in the class, at the same time,” Smith said. The HyFlex Learning Community has been a valuable resource in looking at teaching with different modalities at the same time while engaging all students.

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Laura Ascione

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