Students return to physical classrooms as WC begins their hyflex learning model

By Olivia Montes

Lifestyle Editor 

Interim Provost and Dean of Washington College Dr. Michael Harvey announced via a March 23 email that 40 courses will shift from online learning to a hybrid “hyflex” model on March 29.

According to the email, a hyflex model is “a mixture of in-person and remote teaching and learning.” 

40 listed courses and sections — which includes labs, ensembles, and other forms of instruction — that adopted the hyflex model will be taught in both classrooms and online for the remainder of the spring semester.

Prior to spring break, the Office of the Provost and Dean, in collaboration with the faculty members on the Contingency Planning Group, discussed methods to safely return to an in-person learning experience. 

Their outline began with remote instruction during the fall semester and a possible hybrid structure after spring break.  

However, this shift depended on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic, the approval of COVID-19 vaccines, and the general safety and well-being of WC students, staff, and faculty.

While hyflex courses were approved, “the final decision to transition to [the hyflex model] or remain online” was left with the students and faculty, according to the March 12 CPG Update.

The CPG wrote that faculty members are not obligated to return to on-campus learning for the rest of the semester.

This initiative also considered the choice of students who wished to remain online despite the approval of hybrid courses. Each student was allowed to decide whether to return to campus or not, and they will continue having access to remote learning. 

“Interestingly, the biggest concern I heard from students…was [to] make sure that the students who are remote are not left behind,” Dr. Harvey said. “As we’ve gone [through], we all must try to remember that it is not just a decision about in-person teaching; it’s a decision about all our teaching for all our students, wherever they are.” 

For in-person courses, the College will continue enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols for all students, staff, and faculty members throughout the remnant of the spring semester, including masking, social distancing, and Emocha reporting requirements.

Students who attend in-person classes should be prepared to report three days of green Emocha badges prior to returning to the classroom.

Academic buildings will be available for students attending classes between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The buildings will undergo daily cleanings before and after the end of each course. 

For faculty members like Dr. Kenneth Schweitzer, associate professor of music, incorporating a hyflex model can help provide students with a chance to prepare for returning to in-person learning and pre-pandemic normalcy.  

“While teaching in an online environment has had many rewarding moments, I ultimately believe that music-making is most meaningful when experienced as a collective, real-time endeavor,” Dr. Schweitzer said. “While some are continuing to thrive in an online environment, others really desire the opportunity to be face-to-face with the professor and their fellow students, and to engage them directly in discussions and debates.” 

Some students on campus also share this hope for engagement through the hyflex model. 

“Virtual classes are not the best experience and I have missed being able to see other students and my professors in a regular classroom,” senior Annie Javitt said. “I think the hybrid model is a smart idea for the transition period of going back to in-person.” 

Other students noted that virtual learning made their discipline’s studies difficult to fulfill.

“As a music major, a lot of my work focuses on live, collaborative performance which is nearly impossible to do when you’re over Zoom,” junior Christian Summers said. “I think the hybrid model is fine, so long as they continue to focus on the safety and health of all those involved.” 

For classes which shifted to in-person, asynchronous work, such as those taught by Associate Professor of Studio Art Dr. Julie Wills, this model offers students the ability to collaborate within a “shared environment,” and to prepare for the new normal that awaits them upon returning.

“I do think it is useful to slowly step back into ‘normalcy,’ especially because ‘normal’ is likely to look quite different for some time to come,” Dr. Wills said. “I hope that this gentle ease-in will help us to identify some questions we might have overlooked, so we’re more prepared for the full return in the fall.” 

For other courses, such as those taught by Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Jennie Carr, adopting the hyflex model immediately is not possible. However, they are taking steps to ensure both students’ safety and comfort as they work towards in-person learning. 

“When I polled my particular group of students, an overwhelming majority of them were hesitant or uninterested in making the switch to hybrid/in-person,” Dr. Carr said. “Drastic changes in routine are hard to manage and [can] cause a lot of stress…and my students were hesitant to change plans at this point in time.” 

According to Dr. Harvey, although it is uncertain what may lie ahead regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, the College plans to continue updating students on the College’s condition, while keeping students safe in all classrooms as WC prepares for a return to an on-campus learning experience.

“We will need to play this by ear and will work with the CPG to ensure both maximum safety and a great amount of learning for our students, [and] we are committed to both,” Dr. Schweitzer said. “Hopefully, the lessons we all learn in the next few weeks will give us the skills and confidence to conduct in-person learning safely, even if the pandemic has not fully abated.”

Featured Photo caption: 40 courses returned to an in-person setting after a full year of remote operations, adopting a hybrid model entitled “hyflex” which features on-campus and online learning. Elm File Photo.

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