How does one adapt a course for 700 students who need to social distance in the classroom while providing the option to attend from home?
For Nathan Mentzer, the “hybrid-flexible” model, also known as HyFlex, is the answer.
Mentzer, associate professor of technology leadership and innovation, and the team of instructors who lead TECH 12000 (Design Thinking in Technology) began adapting the course in March so that students could physically attend class sessions or participate online in real-time from home on any given day.
“Before spring break, I could see that we were headed in the direction of online learning,” Mentzer said. “I wanted to help my students make that transition, knowing that the pandemic was likely going to have a long-lasting impact on how we approach teaching.”
The course, known commonly as “Tech 120,” combines lectures with small group work and project-based learning. It’s required for students in all Polytechnic majors.
Over the summer, Shawn Farrington, a continuing lecturer and Tech 120 course coordinator, Lakshmy Mohandas, a graduate teaching assistant, and Mentzer started adapting the HyFlex model for the course. Mohandas served as an in-person instructor in classrooms; Mentzer and online participants connected via Microsoft Teams, and the videoconference was displayed on a large screen in front of Mohandas’ classrooms. By wearing wireless headsets, Mohandas and students who were physically in class could interact with peers attending remotely.
“It really does feel like everyone is in the room together,” Mohandas said. “Having that webcam was so important to the students who are both physically there and online.”
A benefit of using the HyFlex model for Tech 120 is that students gain experience that might be valuable in their future careers.
“The global marketplace operates on people working together remotely to keep the world connected and moving,” said Farrington. “Education should be no different.”
The adaptations that Mentzer and the Tech 120 team made have caught the attention of other Purdue instructors.
“Faculty across the University are requesting the support materials we created, including student ‘how-to videos’ and procedures for setting up the blended environment, integrating Microsoft Teams for video/audio interaction at the whole- and small-group level (during and after class) and course content,” Mentzer said. “We invested a significant effort this spring and summer in preparation for the fall, and students tell us it works for them. We are happy to share with others across campus and globally.”