What we saw re-enforced during the pandemic is that although online classes have many advantages such as accessibility from anywhere, not everything about online classes works for every student. While having the more flexible pace and schedule of an online class can be an advantage for some, many others need the more dependable schedule of real-time interaction with instructors and peers.
For example, a study comparing semesters affected by COVID-19 to previous semesters found that first-year and first-generation students in particular who were taking business classes online didn’t do as well as others who took the same classes with in-person elements and underscores some of the challenges. Other studies point to students who had previous experience taking online courses performing better during the transition than those who hadn’t taken them before.
But, is it possible to maintain the convenience and flexibility of location available in an online course with the accountability and real-time engagement of an in-person course? The increasing availability of Simulcast classrooms on campus may help us find the best balance to answer this question while also providing a solution for what are referred in higher-ed as “bottleneck” courses.
Simulcast classrooms use technologies like cameras and conferencing to allow for flexible class sizes and interactions.
More Flexible Models with More Adaptable Classrooms
Simulcast classrooms help make it possible to offer more flexible and engaging methods for participating in new forms of hybrid instruction. The classrooms are equipped with technologies such as interactive video capture and conferencing, whiteboard capture that can be effective for both in-person and on-screen participants, display of multi-screen layouts to facilitate virtual and in-person student collaboration, ambient microphones that capture participant voices without the need to wear or hold a mic and playback of class recordings with ability to add notes.
“Bottlenecks” are classes that students need to take to continue progressing in their degree but that are limited based on resources like classroom space. Often these types of courses already offer sections that can be taken either in-person or online. But with a new model of classroom, a new model of instruction is emerging where a mix of students attend class live and remotely simultaneously with comparable interactive experiences.
Through current pilots, more than 200 students that would otherwise not have been able to attend the classes they needed to progress are taking virtually scheduled classes. Students enroll in a special section where they virtually attend scheduled classes that take place live from a classroom in addition to engaging in online elements outside of class.
Faculty teaching courses in this pilot currently include:
- Ben Mcgimsey, Physics and Astronomy – Introduction to the Universe (ASTR 1000)
- William Johnson, Computer Science – Principles of Computer Science (CS 1302)
- Faris Hawamdeh, Computer Science – Operating Systems (CS 4320)
- Jacobus Boers, International Business - Business, Value and You – (BUSA 1105)
If needed, a graduate student may also assist with facilitating virtual interactions to make sure students joining virtually can participate equally to those attending in person.
The Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Online Education is assisting in studies of the effectiveness of these mixed mode classes as well as analyzing how students interact with the new classroom technologies.
What’s Next and Hyflex?
Simulcast capabilities are already available in classrooms across Georgia State’s six campuses and are being expanded to over 200 rooms with 50% of generally scheduled classrooms slated to receive these capabilities this semester. So, what possibilities do these new classroom capabilities open that can help us as we learn from the experiences of the pandemic? Simulcast classrooms make varying models of hyflex and hybrid courses easier.
Through our Simulcast classrooms, we’ve been able to close the distance between physically separate campuses, meet students where they are in hybrid teaching, and expand the reach of programs beyond the metro area.
During the pandemic, Simulcast classrooms allowed instructors to teach a varying combination of in-person, socially distanced learners and online course participants. Uses for Simulcast classrooms have included offering courses that were previously campus-specific to students at multiple Perimeter College campuses by providing a space where a single instructor could teach across multiple classrooms and campuses at once. The university’s business college uses Simulcast classrooms to enable students to choose how they wish to experience graduate programs, on campus, at home, at work, or anywhere with a computer. This has also given academic departments an easier solution for scheduling course sections to ensure that students can get the classes they need during peak scheduling times by adding virtual seats to classes.
As Georgia State and higher education look beyond COVID-19, we know students can benefit from the convenience and expanded learning capabilities of flexible class options and are creating learning spaces that can adapt to the spectrum of student needs.
A Faculty Perspective
Jacobus Boers has taught Business, Value and You (BUSA 1105) in both online and in-person formats in past semesters. This semester, he is teaching it in a combined format using a simulcast classroom. This is the third course he has taught in the format. He offers an experienced perspective on how simulcast classes can add to the teaching and learning experience.
What’s the experience of teaching a simulcast class in comparison to in-person alone?
This format offers flexibility to an instructor when students are regularly needing to move online, such as for health reasons during COVID-19 or for professional and personal reasons like travel, work or family needs. In a large class, this can be critical in managing unplanned student attendance disruptions, student engagement during class and allowing a student to progress when “life happens.”
What’s the experience of teaching a simulcast class in comparison to online alone?
Some students are skeptical about online classes, and as students observe the simulcast environment, some in-person students “test” online and may end up migrating to online-only, with the option of returning to in-person. On the other hand, students enrolled in online (and some trying online out) return when they find they do not have the technology (platform or bandwidth) to support online learning in a synchronous environment.
Simulcast classes can help students experiment and find the best modality for them at a given time. Having mixed modalities also offers the option for the instructor to suggest to a student enrolled online that coming back into the room is needed if it becomes clear that in-person interaction is needed for student success.
What does a mixed-mode class add for students?
Students get to pick what works best for them depending on course experience. Some students taking the class in-person migrate to online, and some students taking the class online migrate back into the room.
Additionally, by leveraging simulcast, a larger number of students can gain access to experienced instructors or specialized instruction. Simulcast also allows better room use and the ability to enroll larger classes than seats in the room would otherwise allow.
Would you like to continue teaching in this format and why?
Yes, because I can create a smooth synchronous online experience while having the enriching experience of students in the room. This provides flexibility all around.
What is needed for the experience to succeed?
Having graduate assistants monitor the backchannel (Webex chat) allows online students to fully participate in class synchronously, enhancing the experience all-round. Having a graduate assistant monitoring technology and assisting in resolving issues is also excellent. It is essential to have appropriate support during class in order for the instructor to continue teaching while others resolve technology problems when they occur. Faculty also need to experiment to develop an understanding of how learning and teaching work best in a simulcast environment.