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The UST Hybrid Class Experience

University of St. Thomas theology professor Randall Smith’s hybrid class experience lasted only a day. 

Smith, who had live-lectured each class via Zoom since the fall semester began, thought “hyflex” classes–a hybrid format where the professor and a small group of students attend class in person while the rest of the class participates remotely through a simulcast–sounded almost too good to be true.

Smith says he enjoys interacting with his students and that he requires their cameras to be on during Zoom classes. 

“The No. 1 priority for me is that I see the students,” he said. “I have to have them in front of me as though it was a class, as much as possible.”

Having students physically present, then, and the chance to lecture again in a real classroom, seemed to Smith an improvement over Zoom; when UST professors were given the choice of remaining entirely online, or changing to the hybrid option by Sept. 28, Smith chose the latter.

Leading up to Sept. 28, he and a UST IT employee spent a few days practicing use of the technology for the online students, who would watch simultaneously as he lectured to them and the masked, socially distanced, students attending in person. Smith felt confident the hybrid option would work.

It didn’t. 

“For whatever reasons, and I don’t know what those reasons are yet, we had audio connection problems,” Smith said. “..I also was not entirely pleased with how we set it up.” 

Later that Monday, Smith emailed all his students after what he called a “disastrous experience” with one hybrid class, telling them all of his classes would remain online until he could ensure the experience would benefit everyone. 

Since Smith only had four people request to be in person for the hybrid class, he felt he couldn’t justify continuing if most of the students were online.

. “Sometimes I felt, when you try to do the hybrid, you end up not doing quite as good of a job for the online people,” he explained. 

UST freshman nursing major Ana Salamanca, who attended her hybrid freshman symposium class online, had a similar experience.

In an email to the Celt Independent, Salamanca wrote that the class had a lot of technical difficulties, including audio and video issues, which she found distracting.

“In fact, my FS mentor team cancelled the following class to figure out how to fix the issues,” Salamanca wrote. 

Salamanca also wrote that she felt her professor spent more time talking with the students attending in person rather than focusing on the whole class.

“I think that hybrid classes have the potential to work really well,” Salamanca wrote. “However, I believe that online classes are better, since the entire class is on the same page.”

But hybrid classes have worked so far for UST professor and Director for the Center of International Studies Richard Sindelar.

Sindelar, who currently teaches just one of his classes using the hybrid format, said discussions between online and in-person students during class run smoothly.

“The way I have the room set up, the five students in the room can see the four students on the screen, and the four students on the screen can see the classroom,” Sindelar said. “So it’s really a complete classroom; it’s just that some people are on a screen.”

He said he enjoys the back and forth between him and the students, both online and in person, despite talking through face masks.

Sindelar said he only offered one hybrid class initially out of concern for technology issues and safety procedures, but says he intends to gradually let students come in person for his other classes. 

UST sophomore communication major Magdalena Hill said is glad to be attending her honors seminar class in person–the only one of her classes that gives her the chance to be on campus again.

“The class format is better in person, so it is nice to go back,” Hill said. “You just want to talk more during class.”

Hill said she also likes hybrid classes because she is more engaged with the work and is held to a schedule, as opposed to asynchronous classes, which she has trouble keeping up with.

Hill works as a part-time nanny and was worried about contracting COVID-19 while on campus. In her experience, however, people on campus are following the safety guidelines, and she knows the hybrid option would allow her to continue the class online if campus infections spike.

“People distance and wear masks in the classroom, and we all know each other because it’s a small class,” Hill said. “People are taking time to follow the rules.”

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