Alex Huerta/ The JTAC
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Tarleton students have faced many challenges such as quarantine and quickly converting to online school during spring 2020. Now they face the challenge of returning to school in a new world.
Tarleton State University has implemented Hyflex course options for the fall 2020 semester. Hyflex courses give students three ways to attend classes; Face-to-Face, Online Synchronous and Online Asynchronous.
The Face-to-Face option is the standard way of learning, but with a few added safety precautions. In Face-to-Face classes students must self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms, wear masks inside buildings and maintain social distancing. For larger classes this means that half of the students will attend Face-to-Face one day and the other half on the next day. The half of the students that do not attend Face-to-Face will have to attend on one of the online options. For Monday, Wednesday and Friday classes the professors have the option to have one day a week be online only for all students.
The Online Synchronous option allows for students to attend classes at the same time as the Face-to-Face classes. Synchronous students attend class over Zoom, or another streaming website determined by the professor.
The Online Asynchronous option allows students to attend classes at any time. In each class the professor will record lectures either before or during Face-to-Face classes. The professor will then upload the recording to Canvas for students to watch.
Each of these create adequate social distancing with the online options giving students the chance to learn from home.
“Hyflex [allows] students who have personal things to do that interfere with class, [and] are not obligated to watch the recorded video. Another good thing is for those who don’t understand part of the lecture or if they missed something in class, [they] can go back and watch the recorded lecture,” Tyler Toomer, a junior in Mechanical Engineering said.
Though Hyflex has some good qualities there are also flaws to the system.
“It seems impossible to offer the same engaging class content to students online and in person. I am generally more engaged with and offer more advice to students I see in person. I teach art and digital media courses that are explicitly hands on and collaborative courses that are hard to replicate with students who are not here. I certainly try to, but I find myself having to work longer hours and setting up meetings with individual students outside of class to make sure they keep up,” Chris Ireland, Associate Professor of Art and Digital Media, said.
The Hyflex class option under the most scrutiny is the Online Asynchronous option.
“The cons of Hyflex and Tarleton’s policy for class attendance is that it enables the worst tendencies of some students. Those that tend to be less involved under normal now have an easier manner to drift away from class involvement. As a faculty member who is trying my best to follow the guidance of upper administration and abide by the rules of Hyflex, it can be difficult to navigate,” Timothy Harding, one of Tarleton’s Associate Professors of Art, said.
Online Asynchronous is controversial to some students as well.
“Given the option to stay at home and watch lectures, for me personally, makes it easier for me to be lazy by not attending class. It’s quite easy to get distracted while in your own home,” Toomer said.
The Hyflex options also have a learning curve that both professors and students have to overcome.
“Students and faculty alike aren’t used to the format, so the learning curve is challenging, particularly in these early days of the semester. The format also requires participants to pay attention to more things at once, which can impair learning. Hyflex may also prove challenging for students who lack access to technology. I strongly encourage those who have been financially affected by the pandemic to apply for emergency funding from Tarleton,” Dr. Karl Aho, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Tarleton, said.
Many of Tarleton’s Agriculture and Wildlife classes have hands-on instruction, like the Studio Art classes, and could be experiencing similar struggles.
“The distance required due to health and safety has made my job more difficult and complicated. Much of my time preparing for courses now involves thinking about how things will translate to those not in the classroom or how to prepare materials to be delivered via online platforms. It leaves me with less time to think more broadly about introducing different concepts into my course content, or how to otherwise modify previously existing projects,” Harding said.
Tarleton’s professors and students have had to overcome and adapt to a new system of learning. Though the Hyflex courses have flaws, they are the best option available at the moment.
“You can’t always offer content that adapts to any learning situation. It is like going to a restaurant, and you look at the menu and they offer a little bit of everything. Meatloaf, pad thai, sushi, BBQ. It sounds great because you like to have choices. But the reality is, most of the time the food isn’t any good because no chef can learn that many styles of cooking.
It would be nice if we could offer some of the software required for our students for free, like Adobe Creative Suite. If they are paying the same fees and full price tuition, we owe it to them to give them the same materials,” Ireland said.