As the fall semester approaches with new guidelines for social distancing in place, Nicholls State University is adopting a flexible approach to learning that keeps classroom capacities limited while retaining face-to-face engagement.
The HyFlex method is a learning model that allows students to attend in-person lectures, participate in remote learning and utilize a combination of both.
Dr. Sue Westbrook, Provost and Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs, said that HyFlex courses allow for the university to enroll larger classes and keep students engaged in learning while still limiting classroom capacity to maintain six-foot distancing.
“We’re able to enroll larger classes and keep them engaged by having them face-to-face part of the time,” Westbrook said.
HyFlex works by splitting a class into two groups and having them attend in-person lectures on opposite days. Six-foot distancing and masks are required at in-person lectures.
If a course meets on Tuesday and Thursday, for example, half of the class will attend an in-person lecture on Tuesday while the other half watches it remotely through a livestream. On Thursday, the groups switch places.
If a class meets three days a week, such as on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the course will operate in the same half-and-half manner on Monday and Wednesday. On Friday, Westbrook said many faculty members are choosing to have the entire class participate in remote learning or an independent assignment.
Westbrook said that undergraduate students tend to have more success in their courses when they are able to have face-to-face interaction with faculty, so it is important to keep that interaction a possibility.
“[HyFlex] is a really good way to keep students connected with the faculty…especially the undergraduate students. They need that interaction. They need that engagement with the faculty. It promotes success,” Westbrook said. “We can still maintain the enrollment in that course and maintain the six-foot distancing.”
Westbrook said the university invested in professional development for faculty regarding use of the HyFlex model. The development involved a three-week instructional series, in which 180 faculty members participated.
For those faculty members who were unable to participate in the series, the university is offering a “virtual boot camp” this week for HyFlex instruction.
“I couldn’t ask for better faculty because they have been so willing to go that extra mile to do whatever it takes and to help the students to succeed in these challenging times and unusual learning environment that we’re having to deal with,” Westbrook said.
Last semester’s unexpected switch to remote learning in March paved the way for the development of the fall semester’s plan for instruction. Westbrook said that feedback from faculty helped to identify what adjustments needed to be made.
“It was just so quick. We didn’t know what we were facing. Now, we’re much better prepared, with the faculty having received this professional development,” Westbrook said, “They’ve gone through it. They know what they didn’t know, so we’re in a much better place this fall.”
Westbrook said that more than 50 percent of courses this semester will operate using the HyFlex model.
Other courses will operate as either face-to-face courses with six-foot distancing and masks required or as online courses. Online classes will either be asynchronous, which have no specific class meeting days, or synchronous, which have scheduled meeting days and times through video conferencing.
If a student is at-risk or caring for an at-risk family member, Westbrook said he or she should go through the Office of Student Access to receive accommodations for their courses. Faculty in the same circumstances will be accommodated as well.
“With the student giving them documentation of such, that office will notify the faculty that they have to make accommodations for the student, and we’re doing the same thing with faculty, except the faculty go through [human resources],” Westbrook said.
For students who are feeling anxiety about the upcoming semester, Westbrook encourages them to adhere to the standard health protocols for staying safe during COVID-19: wearing masks, washing hands and staying six feet apart from others.
Additionally, there are resources on campus for aiding with fears and anxiety.
“If they start [becoming] inundated with anxiety and have difficulty coping, we have a counseling center with counselors ready to assist them in coping, and I would encourage them to reach out, not to keep their fears and concerns to themselves…and that’s not just for students. That’s for faculty [and] everybody because this is so new to everyone,” Westbrook said.