Spotlight on Brandeis University — 8 AV/IT Tech Directors Share: Fall 2021 – The Hybrid/HyFlex Higher Ed Campus

Brandeis University
Approximately half of Brandeis University classroom and learning space locations are prepared for HyFlex learning. (Image credit: Brandeis University)

AV Technology content director Cindy Davis sat down with the AV/IT directors from eight universities to learn how they are approaching the 2021–22 school year. Some are returning to pre-pandemic status with few reconfigured classrooms for hybrid learning, others are all-in with hybrid, or HyFlex modalities, while others are in transition and planning for the future.

We’ve created a series of spotlights that provide an in-depth conversation with university AV/IT directors, which will be posted here on AVNetwork throughout September. 

For a snapshot of all eight universities, plus industry thought leadership, and an extensive list of products for the hybrid and HyFlex classroom, download The Technology Manager's Guide to Fall 2021: The Hybrid/HyFlex Higher Ed Campus.

Spotlight on Brandeis University

Tim O'Neil, Director for Information Technology, Client Services, Brandeis University

(Image credit: Brandeis University)

Tim O'Neil 

Director for Information Technology, Client Services,

Brandeis University

Q: Pre-pandemic, what percentage of classes (if any) were set up as hybrid or HyFlex? What are plans for fall classes?

A: Approximately 10 percent of our classrooms had hybrid/HyFlex technology included in their design/engineering. The feature was seldom utilized however, so really only two to three percent of classes were conducted in these modes, and most often with hands-on tech support intervention. Our automated lecture capture deployment was more prevalent at 15 percent of classroom installations, but that solution more readily offers either the recordings, or live streaming of classes with chat/polling as primary interactivity factors.

One hundred percent of all classes are expected to be fully in-person for the Fall 2021 semester. We are, however, expecting to be required to ensure HyFlex learning is available on a very large scale in as many classrooms and learning spaces as possible.

Our presumption is that a comparatively significant increase in hybrid or HyFlex classes will occur. Internally, we're expecting between 25 and 50 percent of classes will utilize the HyFlex method and the technology that provides it. Others will expect such capability on-demand, as students and/or faculty are unable to attend in person.

Spotlight on 8 AV/IT Tech Directors

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Q: Have in-person classes resumed?

A: In-person classes have been conducted for the past two semesters. Students had the option to return to campus or take classes remotely. On-premise classroom space was retrofitted to comply with proper distancing. All classrooms to be utilized were retrofitted for the HyFlex method, meaning students could choose to attend locally, participate virtually, or view the recording. Technology in these rooms included multiple cameras, touchless microphones, switching, digital bridges, document cams, and DSP products.

Often, Media Technology Services (MTS) supported these classes in what we call a "high-touch" manner, where staff were assigned and dispatched to each class start. This requirement did ease as each semester moved along and faculty became more confident and resilient in the process of starting each session for both remote and in-person audiences. The service level and technical results became very well-respected and much appreciated. Overall, the experience provided an opportunity for our staff to become much closer to and understanding of the faculty, their teaching methodologies, and their commitment to the students.

Q: In what ways is your department gearing up for the fall different than if the pandemic not happened?

A: The heaviest focus has become training the community to think about hybrid events and HyFlex learning models when planning activities. It's crucial to place classes in appropriately prepared classrooms and learning spaces, while directing event activity into managed spaces that can pivot to dual-mode and remote participation. Luckily, we have an excellent team in place that will not hesitate to reach out and work with our clients to bring out the best possible solution.

Q: Have more classrooms been outfitted with remote technologies specifically because of the pandemic?

A: Approximately half of our classroom and learning space locations are prepared for HyFlex learning—mostly concentrated in large lecture halls and medium- to large-sized seminar and flat floor spaces. The remaining spaces, untouched to date, will include such functionality within any upcoming planned refresh cycle work. We shoot for front- and back-view cameras; touchless mics; right-sized system matrix switchers; digital bridges; DSP's; document cams; lighting upgrades if possible; and upgraded instructor PC's and teaching stage areas to process multiple sources, views, monitors.

Q: Key challenges?

A: Requesting appropriate staffing to provide the high-touch support was one issue we encountered, but we were able to expand accordingly with the increased presence on campus. While most of the community worked remotely, these tech support roles remained essential requirements for on-premise learning.

A second major challenge was that supply channels were impacted, and that remains the same—if not worse—today.

Our third challenge involved the installation labor: Much work was conducted by our internal staff, and we utilized vendors for the more major upgrades. Availability of such labor was a challenge as well—especially early in the pandemic when many were limiting their time on work sites.

Q: Do you have advice for your peers on training faculty to use new hybrid classroom technologies?

A: From talking with peers, many of them have done really well in this area. For us, we've needed to have our entire staff become comfortable in training situations—confident in sharing their expertise while willingly listening to the questions and issues our community has been preparing for. Best results have come from a combination of approaches, including, most importantly, live training in HyFlex spaces where some faculty will participate remotely and others on-premise. Then they'll likely switch off and partake from the other point of view. Beyond that, we run numerous Zoom office hour appointments; publish multiple online and print "how-to" guides; release short demo videos; offer in-person appointments for more detailed one-on-one training; and provide the high-touch class-start method, at least early in the semester.

Cindy Davis
Brand and content director of AV Technology

Cindy Davis is the brand and content director of AV Technology. Davis enjoys exploring the ethos of experiential spaces as well as diving deep into the complex topics that shape the AV/IT industry. In 2012, the TechDecisions brand of content sites she developed for EH Publishing was named one of “10 Great Business Media Websites” by B2B Media Business magazine. For more than 20 years, Davis has developed and delivered multiplatform content for AV/IT B2B and consumer electronics B2C publications, associations, and companies. From 2000 to 2008, Davis was the publisher and editor-in-chief of Electronic House. From 2009 to present, as the principal of CustomMedia.Co, Davis developed content plans and delivered content for associations such as IEEE Standards Association and AVIXA, content marketing for Future Plc, and numerous AV/IT companies. Davis was a critical member of the AVT editorial team when the title won the “Best Media Brand” laurel in the 2018 SIIA Jesse H. Neal Awards. A lifelong New Englander, Davis makes time for coastal hikes with her husband, Gary, and their Vizsla rescue, Dixie, sailing on one of Gloucester’s great schooners, and sampling local IPAs.