The Covid-19 pandemic has created significant changes in people’s ways of living and thinking. These changes, however sudden and unexpected, also have a silver lining: it gives us the opportunity to adopt new habits. Henceforth, when we gradually return to the “new normal”, we can have more freedom of choices. That tendency clearly reflects on how we organize classes. Today, “classroom” is no longer just a space confined within four walls and accompanied with only physical learning devices. The concept of “classroom” has now become more flexible with diverse platforms while ensuring the quality of teaching and learning.
Considering the changes in students’ needs and learning behaviors, Fulbright University Vietnam has developed a hybrid model with a considerable investment in teaching facilities. The offline-online hybrid format promotes autonomy in learning and sustains equitable access to knowledge and students’ participation in classes.
Maintain inclusive education in the current context
Although the pandemic has been quite contained, people are still concerned with the infection risk . To a certain extent, the pandemic has unwittingly created some barriers for people to access education, dividing students into different groups of different wants and needs: students who are in quarantine, students whose parents are not comfortable to let them join in-person classes, those who are eligible and have the desire to study on campus, etc. So, as a student-centered institute, Fulbright needs a timely response. “The investment in infrastructure for this hybrid learning model is an immediate measure of the university’s board of directors, to be able to bring the most equitable access to education for all students,” Ms. Cao Ngọc Thiên Trâm (Academic Affairs Manager, Undergraduate Program) affirmed.
The hybrid model helps solve the real struggle of students during this uncertain time, as in the case of Ms. Nguyễn Thị Lan Anh, a student of the Master of Public Policy 2023 (MPP2023), Majoring in Leadership & Management. Being a wheelchair student, Lan Anh was concerned about how to manage her basic needs including accommodation and transportation during the time of study on campus while the number of Covid cases had been rising. “All my worries were relieved when Fulbright announced the hybrid learning format. I have been able to be at home and study online with my classmates. Quickly, our online learning students formed a group to support each other. This course is quite challenging for online learners like us, but with the support of our classmates and lecturers, we’ve gone through it together.”
Human-centered learning system
The hybrid learning model requires substantial investment in terms of finance and human resources to establish a system of wide-ranging user-friendly equipment. From the beginning of Spring semester until now, Fulbright has equipped four hybrid classrooms and expects to complete the remaining six rooms in the near future. To ensure the productivity of this model, it demands a high quality visual, sound, and interactive complex.
In addition to the 85-inch screen that projects the online participants, the class is also equipped with an “interactive whiteboard” as an alternative of the traditional board where teachers and students in both platforms can write and draw without any interruption and delay.
The dual camera system, one focusing on the lecturer and the other catching the activities of the entire class to bring a sense of the physical environment to online students. The first camera is set from the student’s perspective to make the lecturer’s delivery as lively as in-person experience, while the second camera has a 180-degree filming function which covers all happenings in the classroom. The footage will be “live edited” by Stream Desk Mini.
Sound is such an important element in a hybrid learning environment, especially in arts-related classes like Dance and Performance Production taught by Instructor Alexander Tú Nguyễn. The sound system includes: speakers and mixers that deliver quality audio output both in class and on the virtual platform; wireless microphones for the teacher and 2 to 5 microphones for students in class depending on the scale and particular requests of the students.
“For me, if there is any opportunity to reach more people with dance, I will do it. To have a hybrid system that welcomes virtual students to join the class, it’s amazing. And I think not many universities in Vietnam have established that kind of model,” Instructor Alexander Tú Nguyễn shared.
Although the limitation of online participation is undeniable in comparison with in-person learning, this new format has received several positive feedbacks from students. “I think the equipment and tools to assist lecturers in lesson delivery, discussion with students and content demonstration are all good. For the faculty, with an equal number of offline and online attendants as in Mr. Kinho’s Research Methods and Statistics class, it’s wonderful that he can ensure such effective interaction with both groups. I am very satisfied,” Hồ Hoàng Khôi Nguyên, Student of the Class of 2024 shared.
Embrace changes in the working progress
The current version of the hybrid structure is the result of untiring hours of efforts from Fulbright’s lecturers, technicians and administrators in making trials and adjustments to the pilot classes. Even so, the operation team is always prepared for the changes according to the particular requests from the lecturers and students when this model has been put into practice.
For simple requests, the operation team immediately offers a backup plan. “As in the case of the Master of Public Policy class, when there was a higher demand in class discussion, we increased the number of microphones to seven instead of three as in the original plan,” Mr. Nguyễn Quang Hà, Director of Information Technology explained. For the more complex requests being collected through feedback forms, the operation team will take them into careful consideration and make decisions based on financial and human resources.
The technical team works closely with IT assistants to ensure the hybrid system is well-prepared before the classes. “This is a new work-study role at Fulbright that I have the opportunity to take on. The IT advisor guided me carefully to set up and maintain a perfect hybrid environment. Since it’s a new format, some problems may occur, but those are quickly fixed with the prompt support from the technical team,” Lâm Vũ An, IT Assistant, Student of Class of 2025 excitedly shared about his new role.
Fulbright is one of a few Vietnamese institutes pioneering in establishing hybrid classrooms, so not only students but also the lecturers have to “learn” to adapt. This model requires lecturers to manage the participation of both offline and online learners, and to re-design their teaching materials to be suitable for dual platforms. “A teacher joked that this model demanded a new level of multitasking, I can understand how teachers are “’struggling”, but thanks to this system and the efforts of our beloved teachers, F0 students at Fulbright are still able to join the class instead of being completely absent like in other school,” Trương Lê Quỳnh Hoa, IT Assistant, Student of Class of 2025 shared.
A completely new model of pedagogy as an adaptive measure toward the “new normal” situation offers such great opportunities but also comes with several challenges. Like our saying at Fulbright about fixing the plane while flying it, we truly embrace and nurture the tradition of making improvements and resolving any problems that may arise throughout the course of our establishment. That spirit enables our community of leadership, faculty, administration and students to constantly learn and adapt to achieve more equality in education.