Adjusting to the BlendFlex model

On Sept. 25, an early semester student feedback survey was sent to students to gauge how the BlendFlex model was serving the NSU community. With this survey, NSU has been able to discuss student feedback and work on future improvements for the upcoming winter term. 


Faculty was trained and introduced to the BlendFlex teaching model in June. For NSU’s purposes, BlendFlex allows for courses to have flexible delivery to students and ensure that the quality of education is still upheld.


“The BlendFlex [model] was implemented for two reasons: safety and pedagogically — that we were doing something that was of quality. For the safety side, it is flexible and gives the student [the option] to attend the class in-person or picking and choosing when they would come to class… We want to make sure that we are providing a delivery system that works for students, and the faculty are heavily involved in that process,” said Ronald Chenail, university provost and executive vice president of academic affairs and professor of family therapy.


According to Diane Lippe, executive director of instructional technologies of the Learning and Educational Center (LEC), this model requires faculty to be experienced in all three modes of delivery and teach within all three modes simultaneously. The goal of the center is to provide resources to maintain excellence in teaching. This included 90-minute training sessions over the summer to keep faculty up-to-date with technology and the resources they had available to them. 


“The format of the training was to introduce the model and become familiar with the terminology as well as the technology portion. So, while we were training the faculty, all the classrooms were being retrofitted with new technology by the Office of Innovation and Information Technology (OIIT), including touch screen panels and audio arrays so the sound in the classroom could be more sensitive to microphones… All of this was new to most faculty, so all faculty needed to be trained. We trained over 17,000 faculty members over the summer months prior to returning to campus for the fall,” said Lippe. 


Since NSU transitioned to the BlendFlex model in response to COVID-19, the university has been working to improve engagement in classrooms and correct issues based on feedback to the new teaching model.


“The main response we’ve heard from the survey is that the undergrad students are happy with the model. They like the flexibility to attend class face-to-face or the option to attend over Zoom. Some are disappointed because some faculty are not teaching in the BlendFlex model and are remaining online, which is a disappointment for students that wanted to have flexibility to attend in-person,” said Lippe.


Chenail explained that, for graduate and professional programs, their plans with BlendFlex are very idiosyncratic depending on each program and course. However, for undergraduate students, the model was built so that a faculty member, unless there is an underlying health reason or child-care reason, teaches in the classroom to allow the students the flexibility to choose their delivery method at any time. 


Additionally, Chenail mentioned that one of the potential shortfalls of this rollout was clarity, in terms of communication and preparation of the students as well as the faculty members.


“We probably could have done a better job in preparing students. I’m surprised that students in the classroom are not using the technology, too. I’m not sure if we are communicating that clearly, but students should be able to take advantage of being in the classroom as well as being on Zoom to see classmates… We heard from students that they have trouble focusing and that works both ways. When you see a student attending class while driving or while still in their bed, it’s got to be a concerted effort that you have moved into the classroom model. It’s new for a lot of folks, but it’s blended and flexible and we need to adjust with it,” said Chenail. 


Currently, faculty members who are still having difficulty adjusting have LEC resources, such as training and workshop sessions, to expand upon the knowledge acquired previously. They also have access to Room Sharks, which are students who can help with set up in classrooms, technical difficulties and other related issues.


“The [summer] training was a great jumpstart for faculty… What we found is that faculty just need more. There is a lot of practice that is still going on, and for those faculty members who may not be as adept with the technology as they would like to be, we have the Room Sharks assisting. We got feedback from the Room Sharks that they needed more training, so then next time that we train, they will receive more hands-on training and we are working on that. I’m hoping that all of us would have gained more experience with the technology as well as the needs of the students and the faculty as well,” said Lippe. 


As NSU prepares for next semester, Chenail and Lippe both anticipate more students to return to campus and elect for in-person attendance. Chenail and Lippe also encourage students to continue providing feedback over any concerns they may have with the teaching model or complications related to it. 


“Let us know what we can do better, what we are doing well and what some of your personal challenges that we need to accommodate or make better for everyone. These are very difficult times and I think we are all in the mindset of just doing the best we can. That’s our goal: to just be the best we can and have the right resources for faculty as well as the students,” said Lippe. 

Students are encouraged to email or for any feedback, suggestions or concerns with the BlendFlex model and the student and faculty experience.

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