The Hybrid Campus and the Future of Education

Heidi Werner
General Manager, Patch

This article is written from the point of view of three individuals who are experiencing the impact of COVID-19 from a university and technology perspective — and a solution that supports hybrid campuses. This is a follow up to the post: How a Team of Remote Natives Is Changing Campus Connection.

The authors:

  • Jake Matatyaou, consultant and educator describing scenarios for fall 2020 instruction. Product strategy advisor at Outer Labs.
  • Kyle Hovenkotter, consultant and educator supplying the bigger picture and global impact. Product strategy advisor at Outer Labs.
  • Heidi Werner, full-time employee at a distributed technology company, supplying the voice of product strategy and design. Senior product strategy manager at Outer Labs.

The Future of Education

Jake: In less than a month, schools across the country will resume session and we still only have a sketch of what this return will look like. The who, the where, the how, and even the what that comprise higher education are filled with uncertainty. To better understand the dynamics of this uncertainty, academic institutions have worked through countless planning exercises to develop strategies for preserving standards of instruction, research, intellectual pursuit, and academic achievement for both the near- and long-term future.

In this article, we’ll discuss how some schools are moving forward proactively — bridging the gaps in hybrid and remote education with Patch, a remote learning solution.

Laying the Groundwork

Kyle: In our last post, How a Team of Remote Natives Is Changing Campus Connection, we shared how Outer Labs helped colleges and universities make the switch to remote education. This has led to an increasingly widespread acceptance of remote learning — and by extension, telepresence — throughout society. We argued that both today and for the foreseeable future, institutions must cater to “remote natives,” members of their communities who are equally comfortable with telepresence and physical presence.

Since then, it seems both much, and little, has changed. During the spring quarter, I taught my course at the University of Washington entirely through remote instruction — never meeting with my students face-to-face. This presented many challenges. For example, my section spanned three time zones, including a student whose time zone differed by 15 hours. As a solution, the section collectively agreed to shift the class time so all students could sleep during their own nighttimes. This also proved an invaluable problem-to-solve for the Patch development team. After a few days of testing, we had Patch set up and correctly syncing with each member’s Google calendar, on either side of the International Date Line.

Shifting the start time of a remote instruction class from 4:00 p.m to 6:30 p.m. in Seattle (Washington) allowed students in Phoenix (Arizona), Billings (Montana), and Singapore to all attend and sleep during their nighttimes.

This experience was typical during the quarter. Countless times we confronted uncertainty with improvised, nimble adaptations that have transformed the learning environment. Occasionally, we found that our improvised solutions improved upon the ways we used to do things. Now, it’s the height of summer, and we’re still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Above all else, uncertainty about the near future characterizes the moment and the discovery of extraterrestrial life would not surprise us.

In fact, we were hesitant to write a follow-up post, fearing that our thoughts would become obsolete between writing and publishing them. The situation has left everyone — including major institutions often lauded for their stability and foresight — walking back decisions they made confidently in the spring. Many universities — including schools engaged in our Patch pilot program — declared they would return to in-person instruction in the fall. But now, mere weeks away from the beginning of many fall terms, those spring plans once again face revision.

Navigating Uncertainty

Navigating this uncertainty has left students, faculty, and administrators frustrated, and, in some cases, afraid. Many students are paying in-person tuition rates but have no guarantee they’ll experience the education they desire — and international students, unsure if they’ll be allowed in the country at all, are often not feeling welcomed. Many faculty members, myself included, don’t love teaching remotely, especially in creative fields where hands-on learning is paramount. I’m concerned that I’m not providing students the same quality of instruction as I could in person.

At an institutional level, colleges face an existential threat — will enough students show up this fall to keep the lights (or the Zoom) on?

But it’s not all doom and gloom. In addition to our frustration and fears, we’re resilient. Just like my students this spring, universities are acting nimble and adaptive. As campuses are retooling for the fall, “hybridity” has become the name of the game and many fall slates will simultaneously offer virtual and in-person learning (remote natives, eat your hearts out). This means we’re in for another completely new experience, one that we’re excited to support with Patch, and with any luck, it’ll lay the groundwork for more educational opportunities tomorrow.

Patch in Real Life

Heidi: We envision Patch as the technological backbone for creating equitable educational experiences and lasting habits within learning communities. To better explain how this works, let’s walk through a typical day in the life of a faculty member and a student in a hybrid campus environment this fall.

A Day in the Hybrid Life of a Faculty Member

It’s 9 a.m., Professor Jones attends an All Faculty Meeting scheduled through Patch. Earlier that morning, he checked how other guests planned to attend and compared that against the reduced capacity of the reserved on-campus meeting room. Since 12 of his colleagues had already signaled their preference for in-person attendance on Patch, Professor Jones chooses to join the session virtually from his bedroom. With one click, his status updates to “remote” on the event guest list in real-time. Professor Jones, and 15 other off-campus faculty, participate in the meeting without feeling left out.

Patch helps faculty members signal meeting attendance preference, publish class guidelines, and announce remote academic office hours.

At 1 p.m., he hosts a hybrid class for 10 students. By creating this event in Patch, Professor Jones has the option to set a limit for in-person student attendance. He indicates that this synchronous event will be recorded for students with schedule conflicts and he signals his preference for remote attendees to keep their cameras on. A couple of hours before class time, his student, Yuki posts a question to the group chat. Professor Jones responds with a clarification about today’s agenda, Patch sends a real-time notification to the entire class group and displays these recent messages in the event summary. The thumbnail photo of Yuki helps Professor Jones recognize her when he meets her in person for the first, and only, time this term.

At 4 p.m., a breaking news story — relevant to some of his classes — prompts Professor Jones to announce an unscheduled opportunity for students to reserve time with him. He creates a last minute availability for office hours on Patch by setting an overall time window and four back-to-back timeslots. For convenience, he chooses to make all the sessions virtual and selects Zoom for video conferencing. The Patch profile for Professor Jones is automatically updated and the students in his class groups are notified with an invitation to reserve a spot for later that afternoon.

By 5 p.m., three students have booked time with Professor Jones on Patch without having to exchange any emails. Reservations display as events in his Google Calendar with a link to join each 1:1 remote session seamlessly.

A Day in the Hybrid Life of a Student

It’s 9 a.m. and Yuki is about to host a study group she organized through Patch. She arrived on campus early to pick up her 3D printed model from the digital fabrication shop. Now she needs a place to join the study group remotely while her teammates meet up at a local outdoor cafe. Yuki uses the live occupancy map in Patch to find a nearby common area with a ‘partially empty’ rating. Yuki checks in to an available hot desk by tapping the NFC sticker with her phone. The Patch popular times chart helps her feel more comfortable with the activity levels in the space for the next 45 minutes.

Patch helps students find low occupancy common areas, reserve takeout meals, and remember academic building safety protocols.

At 12 p.m. Yuki is ready to take a break. Earlier that morning, she received a Patch notification with the dining hall menu and liked the lunch options. Yuki checks Patch and learns most of her friends have selected takeout service rather than reserve a table indoors. She books a grab-and-go timeslot with the fewest people so the pickup line will be short. Yuki spots her friends outside eating on the lawn and joins them.

At 1 p.m., Yuki attends her architecture studio class with Professor Jones in person for the first time this fall. In the Patch event details, she reviews the latest classroom safety reminders from the building facility manager about social distancing and self-cleaning. Yuki silences her phone based on Professor Jones’ class guidelines and checks the guest list to see which of her classmates will be joining her on campus today. She’s relieved that Professor Jones will be recording this session in case she needs to leave early.

At 4 p.m., Yuki receives a Patch notification that Professor Jones has offered extra office hours to meet virtually with students this afternoon. Yuki quickly books a reservation. She knows in advance the session will be up to 15 minutes long and which classmates will be speaking with Professor Jones before and after her timeslot.

At 5 p.m., Yuki attends her remote office hours session with Professor Jones via her Patch activity page. Her list of upcoming Patch events reminds her that tomorrow morning she has an on-campus room reserved for a study group session — she still has time to decide whether to attend in person, or virtually.

What Happens to the Classroom?

Jake: So, what does the future of education look like? Flat is one possible way to envision this structural transformation to higher education. In terms of physical space, we’re already seeing a dispersion of students and faculty across geographic regions and timezones — as Kyle and I experienced this past spring within each of our design studios.

Decoupling spaces of learning from the individuals who occupy them might also dissolve the traditional student-teacher hierarchy that biases a unidirectional mode of exchange. Relaxing this traditional form of knowledge transfer would set the conditions for activating the latent potential of peer-to-peer networks and lateral flows of information exchange. We’ll need tools, like Patch, that enable these connections and facilitate non-hierarchical modes of learning.

Tools that Bridge the Learning Gap

Tools like Patch bridge the gap between two entangled continuums of connectivity — synchronous and asynchronous, physical and remote — so that what is commonly referred to as the college experience is no longer exclusively located on-site within the campus. Rather, it’s activated within and across times and spaces that transcend the here and now of shared physical space.

Patch supports learning communities — of all sizes — operating seamlessly in hybrid mode. –Building rendering by Ballinger

Hybridity not only describes the duality of physical and remote learning, it aptly characterizes the real-time transformation of spatial typologies: classrooms are now bedrooms, garages are now gyms, living rooms are now seminar rooms, and so on. We may have some remorse for the loss of immediacy and intuitiveness experienced in familiar, shared physical spaces. However, we should give pause to the impulse to replicate the interactions and exchanges that take place within physical classrooms, lecture halls, research labs, and informal study spaces that we’ve inherited as norms. Instead, we should use this moment to question and change — where necessary — the habitual ways of teaching and learning so that we can be more inclusive and allow for a wider range of voices to actively shape curricular environments and agendas.

The pandemic may have precipitated the change to remote learning that was experienced this past spring. However, it’s the yet-unrealized demands to make higher education more accessible, equitable, diverse, inclusive, and affordable, that will have a lasting impact on how we learn and what we teach. So while administrators calibrate risk tolerance and work to maintain a high quality of education across hybrid learning environments, it’s precisely the norms of in-real-life classroom dynamics that these demands call into question.

Rather than try to preserve the business of higher education, we ought to use this moment of uncertainty to build platforms for wider, more distributed, accessible, equitable, and inclusive modes of learning than ever before.

A Campus of the Near Future

Heidi, Kyle, and Jake: As we look to the near future, we see a campus that takes a hybrid and asynchronous approach to the college experience, a crucial first step toward making higher education more accessible to all Americans.

As we begin this transformation, take a moment to imagine a campus of the near future, activated for remote natives. On this campus, students are free to choose what learning environments work best for them. As you imagine this campus, ask yourself:

  • What if an introverted student could choose to retain their energy by attending several of their classes remotely each day?
  • Would this student thrive because they can prioritize where they invest their energy?
  • Would they not feel like they were missing out because they weren’t up to attending class and/or social functions?
  • What if group meetings — organized by students — automatically provided in-person and remote access?
  • Would a commuter feel less pressure to come to campus at all hours?
  • Would it curb the discrimination experienced by nontraditional college students?
  • What if a mother could choose when she attended her classes each day because the content was available asynchronously?
  • What if there was no asterisk on this mother’s transcript for doing so?
  • Would people who previously thought college was impossible for them become students?
  • Would students who look or feel different from the norm experience a sense of belonging and ownership?
  • What if any student could book space on campus using their mobile device — as easily as a faculty member?

We have a lot of work ahead of us to get to this campus, and we aren’t so naive as to think that software alone can solve these problems. But amidst all this uncertainty, one thing is quite clear: Going back to 2019 is not an option.

See Patch in Action

Learn how to support your school’s most important connections with Patch. Schedule a demo today.

Content originally published by outer labs

August 12, 2020

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