Professors, Students Will Learn Together During the Pandemic
Before they ever heard of COVID-19, the Division of Academic Affairs was unknowingly preparing for it.
Since August 2019, academic affairs—which includes faculty and technology teams—has been working to create HyFlex, an educational experience that provides students with both in-class and remote instruction during the fall semester.
“The original idea was to find ways to expand our reach and increase educational opportunities for our students,” said Daria LaTorre, associate provost for academic initiatives. “Obviously, the pandemic moved our timeline quickly.”
Since the spring, the University has invested funds to outfit every classroom on campus with cameras, microphones and monitors so students can have both an in-class and online experience. Because COVID-19 restrictions limit the number of students allowed in class, students will receive in-class instruction on alternate days to reduce crowding.
“Unlike many universities, we have made it possible for students to choose their modality. Since the pandemic began, we’ve heard from a wide range of students, some who want to be in class a majority of the time and others who would prefer to learn remotely a majority of the time,” LaTorre said. “HyFlex allows us to provide both options and offer the best educational experience we can, given the conditions.”
All classrooms have an array of microphones on the walls, eliminating the need for faculty or students to touch a microphone. A webcam in the classroom allows professors to communicate with students both in the room and watching online.
“We’ve been testing the technology for months, and the audio quality is very high,” LaTorre said. “Even when wearing masks, you can hear professors and students clearly.”
Duquesne faculty have embraced both the technology and a new way of teaching. Throughout the summer, professors practiced in a HyFlex test clinic to help them adjust to the technology and classroom arrangement.
Sean Tierney, senior instructor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, said that HyFlex provided him with the opportunity to reevaluate the ways he delivers content to his students. Noting that personal interaction with students will be a challenge during the pandemic, he’s using the technology to adjust his teaching style.
“In a more traditional setting, I might spend more time writing content on the board,” he said. “But using an iPad, I can load that content before class and spend more time reviewing practice problems and answering questions, which will provide me with more time to interact with students.”
Faculty also have participated in large question-and-answer sessions, sharing ideas and strategies to maximize learning in the new environment. Some of those sessions touched on more than academics, LaTorre said.
“Many of our professors are focusing not only on academic progress for students, but also on their safety and well-being,” she said. “They are dedicated to Duquesne’s mission to serve God by serving students, and they want to help during these stressful times.”
The team’s work goes beyond the classroom, LaTorre said. Wi-Fi access has been increased in many open campus spaces, including Gumberg Library and the Union, so students can study safely.
The HyFlex development has included members of Duquesne’s Office of Classroom Technology, Office of Online Learning and Strategy, the Center for Teaching Excellence and the Office of Educational Technology, but LaTorre notes that adjusting educational approaches during a pandemic is a university-wide effort.
“Accessibility to education and providing students with the support they need is critical,” LaTorre said. “It’s great to see the entire University come together to help provide the best possible education to our students at such a difficult time.”