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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The HyFlex farce

Spring HyFlex isn't what you think it is

Opinions generic
Opinions generic

UF, like most universities, has time-and-again expressed concerns for the well-being of its community during this unprecedented pandemic. UF, unlike most universities, has also asked the same community to choose between dying and having a job come Spring 2021.

This next semester, UF is going to implement its much-touted Hybrid-Flexible, or HyFlex, technology for undergraduate classes. As you register for classes, it is important that you know what HyFlex is and how it works.

I recently attended one of UF’s HyFlex training workshops for faculty. By the trainer’s own admission, UF’s idea of HyFlex is considerably different from how this instructional technology was originally conceived. Originally, HyFlex was for instructors to record classes for students unable to attend in-person. UF, on the other hand, is making us use HyFlex to teach online and in-person simultaneously.

This means that instructors will now do double the work to handle two separate modes of instruction at once, and to prepare two separate sets of class materials for in-person and remote delivery. It also means that your instructor will be so burdened preparing for two classes while being paid for one, that the quality of instruction and attention to individual student work will inevitably suffer.

Because UF’s mandate is to offer as many in-person sections as Spring 2020, the Spring 2021 reopening is merely adding classrooms to the roster without actually allowing all students to be in these classrooms.

A substantial number of HyFlex classes within my department will have just one student in the classroom while all other students will log in to class via Zoom. Based on chat questions in my HyFlex training session, which were ignored by the facilitators, this malpractice appears to extend across other departments as well. Hence, a lot of frustration from faculty for having to do so much to have one person, or a handful of students, in class.

All registrar-controlled classes will be HyFlex capable for the Spring, meaning they will have two monitors to control the class meeting, one touch panel for projector control, two kinds of microphones so we can be heard through our masks, a document camera, a Kaptivo camera for the white board, two large-screen monitors to check on what students Zooming in can see and a camera to film us. 

If you think it might be difficult handling so much tech while also delivering in-person instruction, UF has two extremely practical solutions: a) arrive early to your classroom, if possible, or, b) sneak in to your allotted classroom when unlocked and empty to practice like your job depends on it, because it kind of does. 

Now, you might ask, how would discussions take place in such an environment, particularly if you are the one student in the classroom? The answer: Log in to the Zoom meeting with your microphone on, so you can discuss with your classmates on Zoom. 

Just to be clear, the university is asking its faculty and in-person students to go to campus to do exactly what they have been doing from the safety of their homes for almost a year now — to hold classes on Zoom. 

Students on Zoom can also respond or ask questions by using the chat feature. But how will the instructor manage all the technology, lecture and facilitate discussion, both for the in-person student and for those on Zoom, while also monitoring the chat? According to UF, this is easy — just find a student assistant in class, if one is available! 

By implementing HyFlex, UF is undervaluing our labor by asking us to selflessly keep teaching without compensating us for the additional labor required to do so. This is not a surprise, but the fact UF expects us to ask the same from our students — to ask them to do work for free as a goodwill gesture — is astounding.

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Even as UF promises mandatory testing for all students in residence halls, Greek life and face-to-face classes, its purported measures are insufficient for a campus its size. These measures do not account for undetected infections between the mandatory two-week testing intervals. The weekly questionnaires also depend completely on individuals to report exposure or infection. Though officially barred, infected students might still use facilities, like the libraries, because as it currently stands, there don’t appear to be any checks in place to screen them from being in common spaces. 

A community does not show care by jeopardizing the safety of its members. UF is not reopening its campus to offer you the full college experience. It is bringing you back precisely because it does not care about your experience, or for that matter, your life.

The author is a graduate student who currently teaches at UF.

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