Have you ever said ‘Yes!’ to an invitation before you knew exactly what you were getting into? That happened to me this past spring, and I’d like to share my experience with you. After the COVID-19 pandemic sent everyone home, I was invited to lead a virtual team on an adventure that none of us had planned for or knew where it would lead. Of course, I said. ‘Yes!’

My name is Connie Sattler, I’m the Assistant Dean for Professional and Graduate Studies, and I am the team leader for the HyFlex Design Team. I love leading teams to overcome challenges bigger than ourselves because I have learned that facing our biggest challenges is when we see how faithful and wise our God is to lead us and carry us through them.

The challenge we were given was to quickly and comprehensively move GRTS courses into a new format that would allow us to continue providing excellent graduate theological education beginning in the Fall 2020 semester an onward. We took this concept through a three-stage process: (1) Idea, (2) Design (3) Delivery, and the result has come to be known as HyFlex.

Idea: 1+1=3!

Prior to Fall 2020, GRTS offered most courses in two separate modalities: on-campus and online. Students had to choose which option suited them best. The HyFlex idea brings together these two modalities. The term HyFlex comes from:

  • Hybrid, meaning we are bringing together two modalities (on-campus and online).
  • Flexible, meaning students can choose which flexible learning format they prefer.

Bringing together two modalities, we now have three flexible learning options for students:

  • On-Site: in the classroom at a scheduled time.
  • Live: online, yet with the in-classroom students at the scheduled time through videoconference technology.
  • Anytime: online and in coordination with the On-Site and Live students but on their own time.

These three formats benefit our current students and open our classrooms to students from other cities, states, and countries. Who would have thought that HyFlex courses would increase the diversity of our student-body and bless our community richly? Only God.

Design: Excellent and Easy!

The idea was solid, HyFlex delivery of courses in three formats made sense. As a design team, we needed guiding values to pursue the goal and provide clear direction to faculty. Our two guiding values were that the design needed to be Excellent and it needed to be Easy. Excellence was our first goal. We wanted to make sure the HyFlex course design would deliver a high-quality educational experience regardless of whether students participated on On-Site, Live, or Anytime. Our second goal was that the design needed to be Easy. We wanted the course design to be easy for students to participate, easy for students to find and submit assignments, and easy for everyone to distinguish which activities related to their modality.

The design required both hardware and software decisions. The hardware we chose allows for in-classroom speakers and cameras so students who participate Live can see and hear both faculty and other students. The hardware also utilizes electronic whiteboards so that all students, whether on-site, attending via videoconference or watching a recording of the class session, can see clearly what is being written. The software partners our current learning management system, Moodle, with features of the Microsoft MS Teams suite to enhance and expand the learning experience and create a storage location for recorded class sessions. With the hardware, software, and course design templates created, the remaining work of the design team involved supporting faculty in translating courses to the new design, ordering the new hardware, and training on new hardware and software so courses are ready for this fall.

Delivery: Tech and Training

Technology orders are at an all-time high this summer. However, the HyFlex Design team made the technology hardware recommendations in time for orders to be placed and equipment to arrive by the end of July! The hardware for most classrooms will be supported by a KanDao 360 camera, MacBook Pro computers, and iPads. One classroom will have an installed microphone and a classroom camera focused on the professor. All courses will have MS Teams integrated with their Moodle courses so that schedules can be arranged and all class sessions can have interactions recorded.

Faculty training is happening every two to three weeks and student support for all the changes is being arranged and created.

We are excited about the future that God has planned for GRTS and HyFlex, and we feel privileged to have been used for His glory!