March 24, 2021

Fall won't be just 'either-or'; it may also be 'both'

An ambitious classroom technology expansion is being considered for fall that would allow for much-expanded dual mode instruction; the plan would use CARES money and depend heavily on teaching assistants

Author: J.D. Warren
March 24, 2021

Only a few weeks ago, it appeared UCR instructors had two choices for instruction in fall 2021: in-person, or remote. A group charged with preparing for fall instruction realized something was missing.

Ken Baerenklau, who co-chairs the Instructional Continuity working group, said the committee kept hearing from faculty who wanted the flexibility of both in-person and remote options for the same class. Jennifer Brown, vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Education, said students also want flexibility post-COVID, to make the transition back to in-person gradually after a year of remote learning. She said students face socio-economic pressures, conflicts with course scheduling, and balancing their course loads with childcare availability.  

But the university had only seven classrooms equipped for dual-mode instruction, in which one group attends in-person and a second group attends the same class remotely. 

“We wondered if we could equip many rooms,” said Baerenklau, the university’s associate provost. “The proposal from ITS and XCITE, and the availability of CARES Act funding, made it all seem financially feasible.” 

The ambitious proposal from UCR’s Exploration Center for Innovative Teaching and Engagement, or XCITE, and Information Technology Systems, or ITS, calls for equipping as many as 106 general assignment classrooms with new video and audio equipment. The proposal also calls for hiring an additional 50 teaching assistants to work with the faculty to use the upgraded spaces. 

“A goal of the initiative is to give both faculty members and UCR students flexible teaching and learning options as we transition back to campus life over the upcoming quarters,” said Richard Edwards, director of XCITE, which is a unit within Undergraduate Education.

On March 2, Interim Provost and Executive Chancellor Thomas Smith announced that fall instruction will involve a return to 75-80% in-person instruction, with department chairs determining which courses will be in-person and which will be remote. In making the announcement, the Instructional Continuity group referenced surveys in which faculty and students favored remote learning for large, lecture-style classes. They were split on remote vs. in-person instruction for smaller classes.

After a year of emergency remote teaching, fall 2021 will be a transition period for faculty and students across the U.S. who are returning to campus, Edwards said. Live lecture capture and other forms of dual mode instruction are being considered for fall 2021 by universities including UC campuses Davis, Irvine, and San Diego.

Edwards said the XCITE-ITS proposal calls for dual-mode classrooms to be designed uniformly.

“This provides for great flexibility and options for instructors as they decide how they want to teach their fall courses,” he said. “Uniform design also helps students know what to expect and how to prepare to succeed.”

He said the uniformity would also allow easier scheduling of classes, as the technology allows for transition from in-person instruction to dual-mode instruction. 

The UCR proposal calls for two types of classrooms. Sixty-two classrooms with 12-60 students would be equipped with microphones throughout the room for two-way sound. Forty-two larger classrooms, with 60-570 students, would have one-way audio interaction. Other equipment would include a camera to record the instructor, a computer with touch-screen monitor, and a document camera. The rooms would use Zoom and YuJa, a proctoring tool, to deliver instruction to the remote cohort. 

The plan calls for XCITE to train 50 additional graduate student assistants this summer. The additional TAs would work directly with department chairs and faculty, Edwards said.

“These additional TAs will provide a new layer of assistance as faculty members return to in-person instruction, while needing to support some students who will still be remote,” Edwards said.

Edwards said his team will reach out to stakeholders, and welcomes questions from department chairs, deans, and others. 

“If we work together and prepare adequately, we can meet the upcoming challenges,” Edwards said. “We want to make sure this plan is an equitable and inclusive solution.” 

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