May 18 2023

Building the HyFlex Classroom Higher Ed Students Want

Upgrading furniture can entice students back to campus and make them feel more connected when they choose to attend remotely.

In 2020, colleges and universities adopted remote learning tools not because they wanted to, but because they needed to.

Before COVID-19, plenty of institutions were dipping a toe into online instruction, offering students occasional opportunities for an online class or experimenting with things like recorded lectures. Then the pandemic forced everyone to make remote instruction a reality.

Three years later, teaching and learning online is no longer a must — the COVID-19 emergency declaration officially ended this month — but it’s not going anywhere. That’s because students appreciate the flexibility they now have and instructors have become much more comfortable with the technology behind out-of-classroom teaching modalities.

In turn, higher education institutions are taking a fresh look at some of the classrooms they hastily converted into remote, hybrid or HyFlex learning spaces. They’re using the lessons of the past three years to reimagine the rooms in a better informed and more thoughtful way.

My team and I at CDW have learned plenty in the past three years too. Here’s just some of what we’ve seen work for higher education institutions that are more eager than ever to offer the flexibility their students have come to expect.

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The Right Furniture Can Make the Classroom More Enticing

HyFlex learning is about giving students options — the option to attend class in person or remotely, synchronously or asynchronously. Yet, for many higher education institutions, bringing students back to campus is a priority. It can improve learning outcomes, enhance networking opportunities for students, demonstrate the value of students’ tuition and, in some cases, determine state funding, which can be based on in-person enrollment.

One way colleges and universities can make on-campus learning more enticing is by simply improving the look and functionality of the places where students learn. In the most extreme and expensive cases, this can involve designing new buildings with floor-to-ceiling windows, high-tech makerspaces, lounge areas for congregating and technology available throughout.

But that kind of major investment is often impractical, at least in the short term. If that’s the case, colleges and universities can make a smaller investment in furniture that makes the in-person experience more enjoyable and allows remote students to feel like they’re still getting their money’s worth.

The most important feature of modern classroom furniture is adaptability. This means desks that can raise and lower for seated or standing learning, tables and chairs on wheels that can be rearranged in different configurations, and surfaces that serve as more than a writing pad.

The move to interactive flat-panel displays and writeable surfaces has been more common in K–12 classrooms, but as those students matriculate to higher ed, they are becoming more of an expectation. Writeable desktops can also be integrated with collaboration software, such as Zoom’s whiteboard feature, so remote students can drop their own sticky notes on the whiteboard for students and instructors in the room to see.

When designing these classrooms and selecting furniture, make sure to consider accessibility from the earliest stages. A student in a wheelchair, for example, won’t be able to interact with classmates at a standing table or desk.

It’s also worth thinking about design outside the classroom. Hallway collaboration spaces with comfortable seating and flat-screen displays that students can connect to can promote networking and collaboration by keeping students in the building before and after class.

Click the banner below to learn more about the technology behind today's HyFlex learning spaces.

What Type of Technology Powers Today’s HyFlex Classrooms?

The good news is that the technology behind these rooms is nothing out of the ordinary. It just might mean more of it.

As more students connect to the room and use more software to create and collaborate, make sure your network and cloud storage can handle the demand. And don’t forget that more people connecting to your network in different ways means that more security vulnerabilities will arise.

There is a multitude of software that can help students collaborate regardless of their physical location. This includes Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Blackboard and even Adobe Photoshop, which now allows multiple collaborators to work on the same project.

As for hardware, almost every college and university has already invested in cameras, microphones and displays in select classrooms that are being used for remote or hybrid instruction. What’s important now is to take another look at your tools to make sure they’re the right ones for the space.

EXPLORE: How instructional technology is impacting higher education.

In the past three years, vendors have started scaling these tools for rooms of all sizes and shapes. So, as you build out your remote teaching experience, make sure to choose a sharp enough camera to clearly capture an entire auditorium space and scale down for smaller rooms.

We also recommend that institutions stick with a single vendor throughout the university. While modern hardware manufacturers have gotten much better at playing nice with competitors’ devices, it’s no fun for an IT department to have to service or remotely manage 10 different brands at once. Likewise, it’s a headache to train instructors on a handful of device types versus just one that works in nearly every classroom.

There’s a lot to consider as institutions keep building out classrooms for the HyFlex era that, as we all know, isn’t about to end. To help you navigate the possibilities, our CDW Higher Education team is here to assist however we can.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.

Illustration by Novaya/fiverr

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