On March 11th of 2020, I left a the end of my MBA project management class on the University of Missouri campus, and I have not been in a classroom since. The spring semester was a hail-Mary to continue the semester, with both students and professors rising to the challenge.
I was more prepared than most faculty since I ran a video conferencing business (Kaleidoscope Videoconferencing) before becoming a faculty member. I also researched co-authored Virtual Classrooms, an early book about using videoconferencing for distance learning (published in the mid-90s before Zoom was cool!).
We knew what to expect for the fall of 2020, and most faculty had worked hard over the summer to re-work their classes being all online. Some faculty (unfortunately) decided not to use zoom but just recorded lectures and posted tests online. This exposed some poor teaching practices, which some unfairly blamed on the online format. In my experience being online magnifies a teacher’s quality — good teachers can look better, poor teachers can look worse. The good news is that our university mandated that every faculty who was going to teach online had to take a course and be “certified” to teach online by the fall of 2021 and have their class undergo a quality review. I am currently taking a course from ACUE to meet this requirement.
I also used the time over the summer to upgraded my home studio and I teach all of my classes and make all my videos there: Tour below.
I try to have 70% to 100% of my classes via zoom (depends on the class’s subject matter and size). Many faculty do their “zooming” from the few “zoom capable” classrooms on campus, which allows them to have a small number of socially distanced students face-to-face. I record our zoom classes and post for students who can’t attend live.
Zoom follows us into Fall
Evey Higher Education Institution that I know of expects to be back in the classroom (face-to-face) in the fall without the need for restrictions on distance. However, we all realized that retaining the option to use zoom and recording for those who can’t be in class or on zoom is worthwhile and allows students the flexibility they need in today’s fast-paced and challenging world.
For my classes in the fall of 2021, each week will be a stand-alone module. Students can decide if they want to complete a module in-person, via live zoom with the class, or asynchronously. And they can mix and match. For example, during the first-week, Jane is on-campus in a classroom. The next week, Jane has to go home to take care of a parent, so she joins via zoom for the second week. During weeks 3–4, she has an internship with the Fed Reserve to complete the lessons at night asynchronously. Then she is back on campus for weeks 5–7, etc.
Or some variation of that. I think that colleges will be much more flexible and accessible in the post-pandemic world. In fact, we have a new name for this approach: Hyflex
To prepare for Hyflex, my university started a multi-million dollar series of upgrades to their classrooms to allow for better zooming and recording (ceiling microphones, tracking camera, ways to display the remote students, so they feel part of the class, etc.). About 80 rooms were upgraded over the holiday break, and more rooms have been completed since. There will be another major push over the summer.
At the same time, the university is reducing campus space and destroying several buildings with the expectation that remote work and classes will continue.
Even if a class is all on Zoom, the quality of the experience, availability of support, and the high bandwidth on campus will make it a desirable place to teach. It will also make campus rules regarding conduct clearer (one can’t have a beer during a class on campus, but if people are in their homes on zoom, how do we decide where the campus ends and private property begins…?).
However, I see problems on the horizon with the Hyflex model. Frankly, I don’t know how much longer the non-tenured teaching professors will be able to take the stress. If the larger institutions are unwilling to confront the issues of teaching load equity and how teaching hyflex classes add significant work, I think that burnout will increase, and quality will suffer.
J. Scott Christianson is a technologist and an Associate Teaching Professor of management at the Trulaske College of Business, where his interests are focused on the impact of technology on society. You can connect with him on his website, LinkedIn, Twitter, or by following his newsletter, The Free-Range Technologist.