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Worldwide, major universities are planning multiple strategies regarding the upcoming Fall semester of 2020 due to the current pandemic. Talking specifically about how courses can be delivered, they are preparing for various scenarios, as government decisions and announcements are not clear yet on whether courses can be taught entirely face-to-face or not. The fall semester is surrounded by uncertainties, as the pandemic continues, and there are no possibilities to clearly predict how the situation will be in September. Nevertheless, no matter the scenario that each university might adopt, there are four important perspectives to be taken into account that can help them have a good start.
But before we delve into those aspects, let’s talk bit more about the HyFlex teaching model in general.
There are various teaching models which are considered viable by universities to implement in the upcoming Fall semester: normal face-to-face courses, HyFlex, or fully remote, to name just a few. From all these options, the HyFlex method is the one which most probably will be adopted by the majority of universities in case face-to-face classes can not be resumed. This model stands for hybrid and flexibility. It consists of courses which are designed and taught online together with a face-to-face component and has the capability to allow students to make a choice between these two models: choosing just one of them, or a combination, either synchronously or asynchronously.
Closely analyzing this model, an impressive aspect has caught our eye that would be worthwhile to further investigate after the Fall semester starts. And that is the fact that never before have students had so much power in customizing their learning experience, with the freedom to constantly change their attendance, on a daily or weekly manner or even by topic. Perhaps, after the Fall semester of 2020 is finished, the changes in the teaching and learning curve could be both analyzed and try to understand if there is a correlation between those differences and the new freedom that students have experienced. This type of analysis, in combination with other ones, can inform us on how the educational system is adapting to all the changes occurring so far in 2020.
However, as with any successful and innovative changes, close planning and adequate analysis are also part of the process. Organizations that decide to implement a HyFlex teaching method, or any other model which includes online courses, need to take into consideration all the advantages, as well as all the limitations and risks in order to correctly build a successful strategy.
It is important to state that an adequate and fast adoption of a teaching model by universities concerning the current changes in education is perceived as a must, as those who fail to quickly adjust to the new needs might not be able to recover at a later moment.
Let’s now delve into our main concerns: here are the four main perspectives that universities are advised to consider while planning their Fall semester strategy regarding teaching. The discussion is based on prior experimentations by various universities with the HyFlex model, as well as numerous analysis and debates regarding the future of education.
Technology and engagement are crucial elements to be taken into account regarding online courses, but these aspects are quite broad and need a more extensive understanding when connecting them to a complete fall education strategy. Indeed, technology is crucial, as it is the medium that allows education to continue outside the classroom, but this major change also requires new and personalized pedagogical skills. What new pedagogical skills? Let’s talk more about this and focus on one example. For instance, within remote teaching, the instructors need to make their online presence obvious to their students in a proactive way to constantly motivate them. The teacher-student online engagement can be seen as a continual dialog that can take the form of instructing, guiding, questioning, presentation, assessing and listening, to name just a few. All these small tasks that are completed through technological learning tools, reassure a high communication between teachers and students.
In order to understand and be able to develop these new pedagogical skills that we are talking about, educational institutions are advised to closely monitor their first remote teaching semester, in order to create a feedback loop. Once this is done, they can analyze the information and build on it. It’s a repetitive and necessary process that has the potential to deliver effective and satisfying teaching in a remote environment.
Universities are advised to assess their current technological capabilities if they are planning to adopt any education strategy for Fall 2020 that includes online teaching. Some institutions might need to purchase extra devices, like cameras and microphones, in order to create high-quality content for their online courses.
Indeed, engagement is a crucial factor that has the potential to boost the learning experience. But new and better devices are not enough to create valuable engagement between students and their teachers, as well as between students. So far, face-to-face courses have been engaging, but now comes the challenge of how this aspect can be replicated in an online setting. With the idea of making every course engaging, FeedbackFruits has built an innovative suite of tools that supports highly qualitative course design. All tools are designed to fit today’s educational needs, and are co-created together with leading universities around the world, such as MITx, Deakin University, Erasmus University of Rotterdam, and IE Business School, to name a few.
A rapid implementation of online courses, or a switch from offline to online lectures is a new process for the majority of university departments. Some university employees might already be digital natives and be able to adjust more quickly to new software, while others might take things at their own pace. A wise attitude from universities might be to acknowledge that their teachers or instructors might require extra preparations. They might need to be guided on how they can navigate through new technological tools that universities plan to implement in the teaching process.This extra preparation should help the professors to feel more confident in using new tools.
Also, teachers often need to be motivated and reassured that their educational organizations are going to support and help them throughout the whole transition process. This last idea can be achieved by building support groups for multiple topics, such as technology, mental health, guidance, and many more. It adds extreme value to the overall process, and makes teachers feel that they are still part of their community, even in an online environment. Because we are all part of a society, we feel the need to be connected with others, as well as to know that we are part of a community. Outside remote teaching is easier to achieve this, but when it comes to online teaching, the situation becomes challenging. Teachers need the best support they can get, so they can stay highly motivated to achieve their best results.
Students appreciate and feel highly motivated by the freedom of educational customization that a HyFlex model offers. They enjoy being involved in deciding how they want to attend courses according to their schedule. Also, having the ability to be more responsible regarding their learning experience can boost their motivation, as well as their metacognitive skills. Nevertheless, pitfalls concerning students have to be addressed. Even though students show enthusiasm, universities might need to increase their support for them. Including educational technologies such as FeedbackFruits tools can reduce the disconnectivity that may arise from this new form of education while making courses more engaging. They can create support teams that will guide their students, and answer their questions regarding the use of the new technology, how the new process is going to be implemented and how it can affect them. All the information that is student related, such as coursemanuals, can be placed in interactive documents and interactive presentations, for example. Why do that? Because it provides more interactive instructions for this new educational form, and keeps students enthusiastic about it.
To sum up all that we discussed so far, the implementation of a HyFlex model by universities is highly advisable and can actually become one of the best approaches considering the uncertainty of the pandemic. Nevertheless, a successful adoption of this model, as well as any model that includes remote courses, demands serious preparation where the academic institutions take into account the most important elements of the chosen model, in order to reach the full potential of it. Also, they have to learn from their personal and outside experiences concerning remote learning, and constantly adjust what they are doing to better fit their courses, teachers and students. By doing that, universities can discover what works and what doesn’t work for them, and focus on what does. Practice makes perfect.