UMD pilots HyFlex classrooms aimed at combining in-person and online learning

The University of Maryland created a new HyFlex classroom — a room designed to blend in-person and asynchronous learning — in the Art-Sociology Building this semester.

The change was part of a series of classroom updates made last summer.

The HyFlex classroom is located in Room 1213 of the Art-Sociology Building and has been redesigned to allow students learning in person to connect with those learning virtually, according to a university announcement. The rows of built-in seats usual at old campus conference rooms have been replaced with rotating desks, which are chairs on casters with a small table and a circular top underneath. The tiling was also replaced with carpet.

The new room features four television screen monitors – two toward the front of the room, two on the back wall. It shares many similarities with the classrooms of the Edward St. John Center for Learning and Teaching. Assistant sociology professor Dr. Daniel Swann, who teaches SOCY100 in the HyFlex class, likes its flexibility. The room allows instructors to put different slides on each screen, Swann said. For example, it can put videos on one screen and discussion questions on another.

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The teacher’s desk at the front of the classroom is equipped with two computer screens and an audio-visual touch screen, a new interface tested in this classroom.

The new interface is very user-friendly, Swann said. It provides new lessons for better use of technology.

Aryn Schriner, a graduate anthropology student who teaches a course in the HyFlex classroom, said she was surprised by the beautiful room, especially the display screens.

“I’m also very impressed with the smart monitor,” Schriner said. “As a kid in school, I was right there when Smart Boards were introduced, so having a smart monitor in front of me is really fun for me.”

The HyFlex classroom eliminates what Schriner called “hierarchy” from the traditional classroom, in which the students face the teacher at the front of the class, usually with their backs to each other.

“Here, I can move around. I can come and stand in the middle of [the room]”, said Schriner. “People can move much more easily in these chairs and make group [activities].”

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Jessica Agustin, a first-year public health science student taking Swann’s course in the HyFlex classroom, said the room design was ideal for the collaboration.

“It’s easier to have conversations with other people because you can get closer to another person or group to have those conversations,” Agustin said.

Leen Jawiesh, another first-year public health science student also in Swann’s class, said the choice of where you sit in a normal classroom has important implications. The new HyFlex classroom does not have this problem.

“Where you sit and the people around you have a big impact on how you interact with the professor and the students around you,” Jawiesh said.

Now, students won’t be excluded from discussions because they can’t see the material, Swann said.

Swann – who has taught in other classrooms in the Art-Sociology building, including a large lecture hall just around the corner from the HyFlex classroom – said the updates are long overdue.

“It looks like the caliber of the hall that students go to [the university] deserve, rather than the cold room of the 1970s that they mostly left alone for a long time,” Swann said.

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