Since many Concord Academy students’ return to campus in late October, hallways, group chats, and Zoom town halls have been rife with debate about the merits of the pilot HyFlex learning model. Has it provided some members of the CA community with a welcome respite from the Zoom-centric format of STAC 1? How does it compare to the traditional classroom experience? Will it inevitably create a rift between in-person and virtual students? These questions are extremely pertinent, as they will guide CA’s major reopening effort in January. While hybrid learning has been a positive experience for me personally, I believe it has created educational inequities for students that are fully virtual.
A benefit of the HyFlex system is that it reduces the monotony of participants’ weekly schedules. As a part of the new STAC system, classes now meet in the same order every day, and the duration of each block is one hour and ten minutes. Combined with the intensely sedentary reality of working from home, this can create a routine that is both repetitive and draining for remote students. Having the ability to attend in-person classes has given me the ability to not only distinguish between the days of the week, but also to escape the monotony of my previous remote schedule. I dearly missed the ritual of driving to campus as the sun was rising, grabbing breakfast on my way to my first block class, and conversing with friends in the hallway. Unfortunately, many virtual students still have to endure a tiresome, Zoom-filled week, and the privilege of escaping it remains a distant reality.
While the experience of attending my classes in-person has been valuable, the frequent hitches of classroom technology have furthered the divide between hybrid and virtual participants. In order to allow the teacher to engage with all students, every HyFlex classroom has been equipped with a large TV, which broadcasts the faces of remote students, as well as a soundbar with a built-in microphone. Many students attending virtually have found, however, that the audio of their in-person peers is of poor quality. While it may be the product of classroom acoustics or the muffling effect of masks rather than the technology itself, this problem has nonetheless disrupted engagement. Because in-person participants’ voices are nearly inaudible to their virtual counterparts, many teachers now avoid class-wide discussions altogether. Consequently, remote students are often relegated to awkward breakout rooms to complete activities, while in-person students enjoy the luxury of physically interacting with their classmates.
In addition to technical difficulties, many virtual students also face significant challenges in arranging meetings with teachers and peers. Due to my in-person status and close proximity to campus, I can easily schedule a time to meet with my teachers. For many remote participants, especially those who are international, this process can be anything but easy. Chaewon Bae ’22, a virtual student from Daegu, South Korea, experiences this frustration on a regular basis, sharing, “[I have] emailed teachers for help, but because [my] morning times and evening times are dedicated to school, [I] cannot meet with them over Zoom or ask the question until the exam.” It is clear from Bae’s account that these scheduling discrepancies, particularly among international students, can cause irreconcilable academic inequity.
While some seniors have given their chapels physically in the CA Chapel, many of their virtual counterparts will not have the same opportunity. Despite the fact that most attendees must still watch them through a Zoom webinar, in-person chapel-givers still get to have an experience akin to that of previous years, surrounded by socially-distanced friends and peers. My chapel is in December, after the conclusion of the hybrid pilot program, so I expect to be giving it virtually. As someone who is reticent to engage in public speaking, I personally do not mind broadcasting it over Zoom. However, for many remote seniors who have anticipated this milestone for years, the prospect of completing it virtually in the absence of their friends is highly disappointing. They will not have the opportunity to stand behind the podium or hear the laughter of the students on their friend bench, once hallmarks of the chapel tradition.
While the HyFlex model has proven to be beneficial to in-person attendees, its advantages still remain elusive for many virtual students. Nevertheless, the teachers, staff, and CA administration are hard at work to provide students with a positive learning experience. While it is unclear if a truly equitable hybrid learning model is attainable, CA will undoubtedly put community feedback to good use in anticipation of its planned reopening in January.