In room 110 of Engineering West, public health lecturer, Edward Boyle prepares for his 2 p.m. class, PH 110 – Drugs, Society and Human Behavior. Students trickle into the classroom and find their seats, making sure to leave a few rows in between each other. At the front of the classroom, a student assistant from DISCOVERe, quickly gets to work assisting Boyle with logging in to Zoom, and making sure the technical side of the class is ready. A minor setback is quickly fixed by both Boyle and his student assistant, who use alternative methods learned from the Fresno State Center for Faculty Excellence to get the class back on track.
About 15 students sit in the classroom with another 20 attending virtually. As the class gets started, Boyle addresses the students in the room and then turns his attention to the screen to his right.
“Hi, class!,” he says cheerfully, as he waves to the students via Zoom. A few students turn on their mics to greet Boyle back. He swivels the monitor 180 degrees so that it faces the classroom. This way, the students on Zoom can see those in person and vice versa. A microphone and speaker near the monitor allow Boyle and his virtual students to hear and communicate with each other.
This hybrid flexible class, also known as HyFlex, provides students the option of attending class either in-person, virtually or both – with classes in asynchronous or synchronous format. Fifty six classrooms across Fresno State are set up for the HyFlex experience, each equipped with technology needed for a virtual or in-person learning environment, including a camera, computer, microphone, and recording software.
Boyle, who has taught at Fresno State since 2015, is among a select group of faculty across campus who have signed up to teach in this modality for the fall semester. Seven faculty from within CHHS, including Boyle, are participating. We caught up with some of them to get their experience.
Dr. Reuben Addo
Department: Social Work Education
Years on campus: One
Course: SWRK 171 – Qualitative Research in Social Work: Theory and Application
It’s 6 p.m. and assistant professor, Dr. Reuben Addo is about to begin his SWRK 171 class. Of the 30 students enrolled in the course, about six attend in-person each week.
Throughout the class, Addo simultaneously and with relative ease, shifts his attention from the students in class to those online, often checking the chat box to make sure the lines of communication are open. He says this is one example of a challenge that comes with teaching a HyFlex course.
“Blending the two modalities requires dexterity and attentiveness as a discussion facilitator, as well as allotting adequate time for students in both modalities to participate in class discussions,” Addo said.
Now four weeks into the semester, Addo says he enjoys this method of teaching, as it allows more flexibility for his students to complete and manage their assignments, while also taking into account their own well-being and those of their classmates.
Oscar Flores, a social work and business administration senior, agrees.
“The HyFlex course empowers me to be a better version of myself,” Flores said. “I used to feel like I needed to be in-person to learn and stay engaged with the professor and my school work. Yet, I found that HyFlex courses push me out of my comfort zone, while also setting me up for success.”
Flores, who attends online, said he chose to participate in the HyFlex course, rather than the traditional in-person class, because he wanted to engage his passion for technology, while experiencing firsthand a new educational environment.
“I’m thankful to Fresno State for giving me the gift of staying on track to graduate through HyFlex courses,” Flores said. “It also will make me better prepared for the professional setting after I graduate.”
Addo, who is in second year of teaching at Fresno State, says teaching a HyFlex course was an opportunity for growth not just for himself, but for his students.
“Teaching HyFlex requires flexibility,” Addo said. “It requires shedding some of the traditional top-down paternalistic approaches that we have been accustomed to. By teaching this course, I can develop my ability to engage students through non-traditional means of course delivery and expand my pedagogical grounding to design student-centric courses that empower students to be accountable for their education and decide what is best for them.”
Dr. Serena Johnson
Department: Communicative Sciences and Deaf Studies
Years on campus: Six
Course: CSDS 95 – Introduction to Language Development
“When I started teaching, never did I think I would be teaching on five devices,” Johnson, an associate professor, said with a laugh, as she handles a laptop, cell phone, tablet and other devices all at once.
Her classroom, a medium sized lecture hall at one end of the Education building, is nearly full. About 25 students are attending the CSDS 95 course in person, while another 64 are online.
The course is both highly visual and auditory, and focuses on language development, particularly among children. Slides projected at the front of the room give an overview. On one side of the classroom, another screen is projected on the wall, with the names and faces of students attending virtually. At the back of the room, the technology student assistant makes sure the lecture slides are visible and accessible to the students in the virtual realm.
“I wanted to be sure that students had the flexibility they needed for the school year and that students who are remote feel as included as those who are in the classroom,” Johnson said of her decision to teach in the HyFlex modality. “It’s convenient for students who would otherwise have to miss class entirely.”
Johnson said her best tip for other faculty who plan to teach a HyFlex course is to be patient.
“It takes time to learn something new, but it will eventually work out.”
Dr. Eileen Jimenez
Department: School of Nursing
Years on campus: One
Course: Nurs 10 – Fundamental Concepts of Nursing
On the second floor of McLane Hall 280, the large lecture hall is mostly full. Of the 60 students enrolled in Nurs 10, only about two to three opt for distance learning each week. Jimenez, an assistant professor, allows students the option each week to decide how they would like to attend. She says providing alternatives for her students, especially during today’s climate is significant .
“Due to the global pandemic, society recognized that students have many facets to their lives beyond school – family, work, and other commitments,” Jimenez said. “Also, situations occur which make attending on campus difficult or impossible – childcare issues and illness are great examples of challenges that many students face. Why should we recognize this and provide alternatives whenever possible?
I obtained my doctorate through a distance learning program that included joining the other students on campus in a HyFlex manner and I sincerely believe that this is the future of education.”
After the three-hour course is completed for the day, Jimenez uploads the recorded lecture to Canvas, so that each student is able to review the material at a later time or date. She does this specifically so that her students do not fall behind.
All faculty who teach hybrid courses at Fresno State were provided with professional development training during the summer, as well as pedagogical consultation, course redesign, and technology support. Jimenez said this was beneficial to her teaching experience.
“The training provided prior to the start of the semester, allowed me to create in-class assignments that could be done in the classroom or in a Zoom breakout room,” Jimenez said. “This preparation has reduced the stress that could have occurred with trying to manage students in the two modalities.”
For Boyle, it was important for him to allow his students the flexibility of learning online, and adapt to this new normal in the education setting. He says his experience thus far has been positive and he can see that resonate with his students.
“I’ve observed the happiness that students have knowing that they can attend either in-person or on Zoom,” Boyle said. “You can truly see it within the classroom.”
For more information on HyFlex teaching, visit the Center for Faculty Excellence website.