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Teaching modality ‘shock doctrine’

A response to ‘HyFlex’ classes

Last spring CUNY announced a pilot program across a number of campuses in “HyFlex learning,” or courses that are both hybrid and flexible, in which students are given “modality” options to attend in person, remotely, or a hybrid of both. (e.g., synchronously or asynchronously).” HyFlex learning boasts that “students can move among available modalities from class session to session at their discretion.” Since the start of the pilot program, participating campuses have spent considerable sums from their federal stimulus monies to invest in technologies to support such teaching.

The union has requested to bargain over CUNY’s expansive “experiment” with HyFlex as an impact of the pandemic. Using the money this way and launching this program during the pandemic, clearly indicates that CUNY links the expansion of HyFlex to its general pandemic response, and sees this modality as a possible panacea while the ongoing health crisis makes scheduling unpredictable.

In-person density on the campuses is lessened if rosters are split between in-person and remote students. In-person students can continue if they need to quarantine and students who do not want to attend in-person have access to classes that are, at least in part, “in person.”

MASSIVE EXPANSION

CUNY could massively expand its online footprint while keeping the other foot nominally in the classroom. In fact, CUNY has indicated that for class schedules in Spring 2022, HyFlex courses count toward their arbitrary mandate of 70% in-person courses. On the other hand, hybrid courses, which traditionally alternate between in-person and online meetings, are counted as “online.”

But the PSC sees it differently. Taking a page from the “shock doctrine” playbook, CUNY is not letting a good crisis go to waste. Despite its appearance as a benign response to pandemic conditions, the HyFlex pilot program and the massive investment in related technologies represents a new and problematic direction for CUNY.

The union has raised both broad and specific concerns regarding the dedication of resources to this new modality and the expansion of training and institutional structures that extend its reach. Our emerging positions reflect the concerns raised by individual faculty, department chairs and academic technology experts. The union has been convening groups to explore and hear from members on HyFlex learning.

In September, the John Jay Faculty Senate unanimously approved a resolution registering grave concerns about CUNY’s plans that stated. “‘HyFlex’ is not a teaching modality with a defined instructional workload for CUNY faculty, even though it requires two course preparations, two course deliveries, two examination and assignment modalities, two methods of documentation attendance, and two assessment plans to document student learning, with absolute autonomy for students to flip from one mode to another without notice or any limitation.”
Whatever its merits, the hard pivot to HyFlex at CUNY has major implications for pedagogy, faculty governance of the curriculum and workload.

Pedagogy: Most important for faculty who want to see our students succeed, instructors are concerned with the quality of education and the academic experience that this modality provides. Any widespread adoption of this new modality must be reckoned with by faculty with the best interest of CUNY students and faculty curricula in view. HyFlex instruction is not teaching in person or teaching online, it is both, simultaneously.

DEMOCRATIC INPUT

Governance: Course modalities must be approved by faculty governance bodies, and decisions to teach in specific modalities must be made by faculty and their department chairs. All HyFlex courses must pass through governance, with consideration of class size and technological supports, and all HyFlex teaching must be voluntary. On at least one campus, Lehman College, the administration changed certain Fall 2021 courses during the semester to HyFlex without the permission of the instructors, and the union has filed a grievance.

Workload: The HyFlex modality demands significantly greater resources – of time, work, technology, assistance – as well as significant training and experience. It is the union’s position that teaching HyFlex should come with paid training and additional hours or compensation while teaching. The union also expects that technical and teaching assistance be provided for all HyFlex instructors since effective teaching in this modality requires ongoing assistance with equipment and instruction.

In short, the PSC believes to the extent the HyFlex modality is used at all, it should be targeted and therefore rare; governed by faculty governance bodies with clear stipulations about class size and the purpose for which it is being used; supported with technical and teaching assistance; and voluntary and compensated commensurate with its additional demands.

PSC members can share their experiences with, reactions to, and questions about HyFlex teaching.