Nov 02 2021

EDUCAUSE 2021: North Carolina Central University CIO Explores HyFlex’s Place in Digital Transformation

When it comes to digital transformation and HyFlex learning as IT decision-makers look beyond the pandemic, Leah Kraus, CIO for North Carolina Central University, prefers to use the term “HyFlex teaching.” According to Krause, it’s incumbent upon instructors to provide flexibility in classrooms — both virtual and physical — for students to be successful.

HyFlex teaching also gives educators a chance to create environments for different kinds of students to engage in ways that are most comfortable for them, whether they want to have their cameras on or off or participate via chat, said Kraus at the 2021 EDUCAUSE Annual Conference.

“Students who may not think quickly on their feet and prefer to write something in a chat where they can read it and edit it before they push it out to the rest of the class have that option, versus trying to speak on the spot,” she said. “HyFlex also gives students an opportunity to self-identify with their pronouns in a way that we weren’t able to in a physical classroom.”

Kraus and her colleagues were challenged when they and many other university IT leaders were forced to pivot to online-only learning in the wake of the pandemic.

When she joined the historically black university in 2014, Kraus immediately began to assess the school’s IT infrastructure and realized that it needed to be upgraded to meet the needs of the 21st-century scholar.

This assessment and the following end-to-end network refresh — complete with wireless considerations, pulling fiber and creating an expanded distribution layer and core layer — ensured that the university was well positioned for the pandemic to come. The university also invested in full licensing for videoconferencing collaboration capabilities across the campus.

The university had already embraced cloud platforms, so that the school’s learning management system, its enterprise resource planning system and several other technology services were hosted there. This was a lesson learned from neighboring University of North Carolina Wilmington, which had some devastating IT experiences during Hurricane Florence in 2018. Once the pandemic hit, NCCU’s main focus was coordinating curbside pickup for students and pivoting to HyFlex teaching.

“For higher education IT professionals, the pandemic has been a tipping point in many ways. As CIOs, most of us have always been at the table and seen as strategic partners,” said Kraus. “This was a reminder that there was no way that colleges and universities could have succeeded in this climate without a value-added partner from an IT perspective, a CIO at the table.”

Find more coverage of EDUCAUSE 2021, including more interviews and advice from higher ed experts, here.


    • Leah Kraus, CIO, North Carolina Central University
    • Betsy Reinitz, Enterprise IT Program Director, EDUCAUSE
    • Kathe Pelletier, Teaching and Learning Program Director, EDUCAUSE

Video Highlights

  • North Carolina Central University CIO Leah Kraus said she thinks of HyFlex learning as HyFlex teaching.
  • The HBCU was well positioned to respond to the pandemic because of proactive infrastructure upgrades that the university made prior to COVID-19.
  • HyFlex teaching allows students to participate in more inclusive ways by allowing them to use different communication tools and by empowering students to self-identify.