• By Shalom Baer

University implements blended, online learning for fall semester

While Minot State is now officially open with social distancing and mask rules in place, the semester looks different than previous years. Most of the university’s courses have an online element, with only 20.37% of its courses operating fully face-to-face.

Hybrid and HyFlex courses make up nearly 50% of courses offered at Minot State. The university defines hybrid as a course that offers two-thirds or more of the content online. HyFlex is a flexible hybrid course where students have the option to attend in-person or online.

“The HyFlex model is being used if the enrollment of a class is greater than the COVID-19 capacity of the room in which it is being taught, or if a student in a class needs to take the course remotely for health or other reasons,” said Laurie Geller, vice president for academic affairs.

In order to support HyFlex learning, Minot State’s information technology department installed cameras and speakers to enable broadcast capability in 70 classrooms. Approval to order the equipment using state COVID-19 funds came on July 7, but all the equipment didn’t arrive until Aug. 17, a week before the start of the semester.

“It took a lot of 10-12-hour days and weekends with our staff and two student workers to pull off one of our biggest projects ever in time for the start of classes,” said Darren Olson, information technology director. “We installed over 25,000 feet of cable, over 900 Cat 5 network ends, and completely rewired all the podium equipment. The value of the equipment is approximately $500,000. The Center for Extended Learning took on the role of training faculty on how to use the equipment, so they helped us stick to running cables and rewiring podiums.”

While many courses are operating in a mixed format, 26% of courses are entirely online through Blackboard, either synchronously — a format that requires student to log in for class time — or asynchronously — an online course that does not meet at a certain time.

“In late June, I asked faculty members to contact me if they believed they were unable to return to campus to teach face-to-face classes this fall,” said Geller. “I followed up with each faculty member individually about the reasons for their request and then made a decision to grant their request or not. The faculty members who were granted permission to not teach face-to-face this fall were asked to teach their courses in an online synchronous mode or their schedules were rearranged to allow them to teach a course that was already being offered online asynchronous.”

Geller said that the university hopes to keep courses in the same formats throughout the semester, but that it’s still too early to determine.

“There is no way to speculate in early September whether or not our plans will change and we’ll need to move to remote delivery,” Geller said. “That will be dictated by the COVID-19 virus and would only be a last-resort measure should health and medical conditions deteriorate, thereby necessitating a move to online education.”

Caitlin Getty, who is a broadcasting and professional communication senior, is taking six classes this semester. One is completely online and the other five utilize HyFlex. Getty said she is uncomfortable with the uncertainty of the semester.

"Honestly, it would make more sense in my opinion to just go online and not have things in-person now and things in place just in case we can go online later. Having that possible transition leaves things up in the air, which is kind of unsettling,” she said. “Having all of your professors tell you, ‘well, we’re doing this for now, but we might change it later,’ is frustrating.”

Getty also said it would be safer if classes were fully online.

“It just seems like the smart choice,” she said. “It seems like a smart thing to do as much as possible as early as possible, and not tease it and hope that it works. It just seems like an unnecessary risk. While numbers in North Dakota are low, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take all the precautions we can to keep them low.”

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