Brian Beatty, a professor of instructional design and technology at San Francisco State University, has been a leading practicioner of HyFlex learning since 2006.

May 16 2023

Explore the Technology Behind Today’s HyFlex Classroom

Discover how and why San Francisco State University is outfitting its HyFlex room for the benefit of students and faculty instructors.

Room 170 at Burk Hall was ahead of its time.

In 2005, more than a decade before the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in the modern era of online and hybrid learning in higher education, this classroom on the campus of San Francisco State University was outfitted for the budding field of online learning.

Brian Beatty, a professor of instructional design and technology at SFSU, says that in those first days, Burk 170 looked like a computer lab, with machines lining the sides of the room and more traditional teaching spaces at the center.

Just one year later, Beatty began experimenting with what is now known as HyFlex learning, pioneering the philosophy that courses could be taught with student flexibility in mind. Students would be able to attend class in-person or online (the hybrid model) or participate in the course both synchronously and asynchronously. Students would have the option to join class at its scheduled time or, when faced with all the myriad interruptions and inconveniences life can bring, catch up with that day’s session on their own time.

Classroom modernization ToC image


In the beginning, Burk 170 didn’t change much. Beatty’s early HyFlex courses used portable audio equipment that would get moved in and out of the room, including a “$30 digital voice recorder from the bookstore,” he says. At first, he used a cumbersome boom microphone plugged directly into his computer to try to capture conversation. At another point, he used drop-down, choir-style mics that had to be dialed up and down by sometimes overwhelmed professors who had not, of course, prepared for a career in audio engineering.

Eventually, Beatty and SFSU added a video component to the recordings and made the alterations to Burk 170 more permanent. The room underwent a lengthy process of trial and error before staff finally landed on the right cameras, microphones and displays to fully capture the in-classroom experience for students attending class off campus.

Today, Burk 170 is an intentionally designed, fully functional HyFlex and active learning space, the kind of space that has become more common at universities across the country as they turn more frequently to HyFlex.

To find out how and why Burk 170 is designed the way that it is, EdTech asked Beatty to walk through the space and explain the path he and his colleagues took to make the room come to life.

Follow this link to take a virtual tour of the room and read below to learn more about the reasoning behind each piece of technology that it holds.

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

Inside a HyFlex Learning Space at San Francisco State University

Lecture Camera

A single PTZ Optics camera mounted at the back of the room was originally installed to record lectures, and it has remained over the years, serving much the same purpose.

The simplicity of the camera setup is something Beatty has thought about changing over time, but he says that the wide angle of the camera sufficiently captures the classroom. He’s considered placing cameras at every table for a closer view of the in-class speakers, but Beatty has noticed that some in-person students will simultaneously join the class remotely. They turn on the webcams on their personal laptops and appear on the course’s Zoom stream from their seat in the room.

While the main camera doesn’t pick up much more than movement in the class, it is enough to bring the room to life for remote learners who are more closely tuned in to the audio than the video anyway.

“I find that if we can get the audio right, the video seems to be a little more secondary, because the audio is really what’s carrying most of the information, especially the content that we’re talking about in the class,” Beatty says.

Instructor’s Camera

There is another camera that’s frequently on in the room, one that focuses on the front area, where instructors spend most of their time. Beatty calls this the “presenter view.” This view is captured by a built-in Apple iMac camera on the instructor’s desk. Since adding a video component to his HyFlex instruction, Beatty says he has always tried to incorporate a two-camera setup like this one.

In some other rooms on campus, mostly larger lecture halls, SFSU has also set up a third camera pointed directly at the whiteboard to capture the activity there. In Burk 170’s smaller space, the two-camera setup is enough, Beatty says.

Desk Microphones

Beatty and his team at SFSU went through several different audio solutions before landing on the Shure MXW6 boundary transmitter microphones that sit atop each of the room’s student tables. When he first began recording his courses, Beatty says, he would occasionally need to ask students to speak up or repeat themselves to ensure everything could be heard at home. That situation made students very aware that they were being recorded. The current microphones are less intrusive, allowing all students to experience a more candid, comfortable classroom.

Beatty says the microphones can also be turned on and off with a single button, making it easy for students to mute themselves when they’re not speaking, cutting down on the sound of shuffling papers, clicking pens and other background noise.

Lavalier Microphones

Two portable Shure MXW1 wireless lavalier microphones are primarily for faculty instructors. They clip on to ensure instructors can be heard clearly, both in the room and remotely. One small challenge, Beatty says, is making sure users of the room remember to charge the mics after class to keep them powered up for next time, but otherwise, the lavaliers are a simple and effective solution.

Table Display Monitors

Each table in the classroom has a mounted Samsung display screen, and those screens mirror the main display. That’s especially important when the screen at the front of the room is showing a Zoom classroom, where some of the presentation real estate is taken up by the boxes of remote students’ faces.

Beatty notes that as more students bring their own devices to the room and log in synchronously to Zoom while attending class, the importance of these displays at the individual tables is slightly minimized. That said, it does open up opportunities for different and more innovative ways to use those displays.

Projector and Main Display

The room also is equipped with a large, single board at the front of the room that displays an instructor’s material via a Hitachi projector. While it serves its purpose of showing material to the students in attendance, Beatty says that if there was one thing he could change about the room, it would be to add a second display at the head of the classroom. That second display, he says, could project the familiar grid of students attending remotely. “It’s important for people to be able to see them, and to see them not taking up the same screen real estate as the presentation material.”

Displaying the remote students live in the classroom would be a way to better engage those learners, Beatty says. That’s something universities have been working to do more effectively in recent years as they try to close the experience gap between in-person and remote learning.

Control Panel

The single panel that faculty members are responsible for operating during their courses was designed with simplicity in mind, says Beatty. It has clearly labeled controls and, just as important, it has a uniform design that exists in a number of rooms across campus. Once an instructor has been trained to work a control panel in this HyFlex classroom, any similar panels they encounter can be operated in the same way.

The panel allows instructors to control and adjust the volume of different inputs, turn on the projector and more.

Tables and Chairs

The name of the game for furniture design in higher education these days is flexibility, and the tables and chairs on wheels in this classroom offer that. The sectioned tables can be broken into different shapes and sizes and can be easily rearranged to fit certain types of instruction. The smaller table setups are ideal for things like active learning, while a more traditional row of desks and seats can be arranged for more formal presentations.

Photography by Cody Pickens; Illustration by Novaya/fiverr

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