With a full semester of pandemic-influenced academic instruction on the books, Bellarmine is making a significant investment in technology to further enhance online teaching and learning in Spring 2021—and beyond.
The university developed a mix of class types in Fall 2020 to provide optimal learning in a safe environment. Seventeen percent of the courses available were taught completely in person, with masked participants physically distanced from each other;
33 percent were completely online; and 36 percent were HyFlex, short for Hybrid-Flexible, where some students are present in the classroom while others are attending online. (The remaining 14 percent were individualized offerings, such as clinicals.)
Students and faculty were surveyed about their classroom experiences at several points during the semester.
“One of the biggest challenges we learned about from our data collection related to weaknesses in HyFlex classes,” said Dr. Paul Gore, vice president for Academic Affairs and provost.
"I’m excited to build on what I’ve learned about student engagement and to use these technology improvements to capture that community feeling we all enjoy in our small classes at Bellarmine.”
Faculty had difficulty seeing their online students while teaching with a single small monitor. Online students had issues seeing and hearing the instructor and viewing some teaching materials, such as the whiteboards in the physical classrooms. And
students both on-site and online couldn’t always see and hear each other.
“Our HyFlex approach was a success in the vast majority of classes, thanks to the diligence and relentless commitment of our faculty,” said Adam Elias, director of Innovative Learning Systems. “Bellarmine’s foray into HyFlex
wasn’t perfect by any means, but the fall allowed us to identify gaps in the equation, and to make plans for addressing those in the spring.”
The improvements include:
- Upgrading every classroom on campus with an industry-leading Logitech webcam, which will provide better image quality and microphone performance.
- Outfitting 20 high-use classrooms with 65-inch LED monitors on a mobile cart that will allow the instructor and students in the classroom to see all online students on one large screen during class.
- Providing faculty access to a variety of additional technologies to improve both audio and image quality in HyFlex and online classes, including drawing tablets and document cameras for digital whiteboard alternatives; conference microphones;
wearable amplifiers; and soundbar speakers for enhanced sound.
In addition, Microsoft Teams, the platform that Bellarmine uses for online learning, is expected to release a long-anticipated upgrade to breakout rooms, which will improve small-group discussion and projects.
Beyond Spring 2021, the upgrades will increase Bellarmine’s capacity for online course offerings in the future. “We approached this new equipment with a post-COVID world in mind,” Elias said. “It’s all portable
and easily reallocated to other classrooms or purposes, either for continued hybrid/online/HyFlex delivery, or other university purposes.”
In early December, the Faculty Development Center held a three-day Reboot Camp, with two days devoted to HyFlex teaching and the third to faculty show-and-tell sessions about methods and tools they had found to be successful.
“I was excited to hear during the Reboot Camp that Bellarmine is investing in more technology to continue to improve the HyFlex experience,” said Jennifer Miller, assistant professor of Nursing, who taught several HyFlex courses
in Fall 2020.
“Better webcams and additional, big-screen monitors in the classroom will help faculty engage with students who choose to or need to attend virtually. I’m excited to build on what I’ve learned about student engagement and
to use these technology improvements to capture that community feeling we all enjoy in our small classes at Bellarmine.”
Nicole Cooney, a first-year student from Knoxville, Tennessee, said she appreciated her professors’ patience in helping her adjust to new technology. “It gets draining at points, but the professors really try and push you to get
there and meet your goal during this hard time.”
Dr. Roberta Challener, an associate professor in the Department of Biology, said Elias and Janice Poston, an instructional developer in the Faculty Development Center, have provided great support with technology in the classroom or lab. She
also enjoyed the Reboot Camp.
“It has been really great to hear from my colleagues and see how everyone is rising to the challenges we have been presented with,” she said. “Not only does it encourage me to ‘get back in there’ and keep trying,
but it also reminds me of how lucky I am to be surrounded with such intelligent, talented and caring people. I haven’t used the new webcams yet, but if they allow me to control the focus and don’t make clicking noises, then
I’ll be quite excited to offer an improved online experience for our students.”
She also looks forward to using a new camera that will allow her to share microscope slides in real time. “I actually think it might end up being a more inclusive learning experience than if students were looking through their own microscopes,
because all the students will be able to see and learn what they are supposed to see,” she said. “Some students are too shy to ask for help or don’t know that they are looking at the wrong things.”
While students and faculty—along with the rest of the world—are suffering from technology fatigue right now, Elias said he is confident that online and HyFlex instruction will be even better after the holiday break.
“Thanks to their resilience and the new investment in classroom upgrades, you can bet that Bellarmine’s faculty will be ready for Round 2 in the spring!”