Here to Stay
The last time we checked in on BeaconFlex—a hybrid teaching/learning modality—we described how this innovative educational system came to UMass Boston’s rescue at the height of the pandemic, when the university had to unexpectedly hold courses remotely in Spring 2020. BeaconFlex allowed the school to implement a hybrid instructional model in many of its classes, giving faculty the tools to teach an in-person class to students on campus while simultaneously streaming the same content via Zoom or a similar application to students off-campus. Incredibly, the Spring 2020 semester proceeded almost without interruption, and BeaconFlex was one of the biggest reasons why.
Eventually, the pandemic began to loosen its grip on virtually every facet of American life, including here at UMass Boston. But when academic life on campus slowly got back to normal, administrators made a discovery they maybe weren’t expecting. BeaconFlex had proven itself to be so useful, helpful, and flat out popular among faculty and students alike, that it was deemed too essential not to keep, even without a pandemic necessitating its use.
In fact, by popular demand, the number of classes serviced by BeaconFlex has grown significantly over the past year. “We did over 50 BeaconFlex classes last year and installed over 120 web cameras in classrooms to support ad hoc BeaconFlex classes,” said Classroom Technology and AV Services Director John Jessoe. Academic Technology Specialist Zack Ronald was quick to add, “This coming Fall 2022 semester we have over 40 classes scheduled which is almost double what we had this past spring,” but he was even more excited that “We’ve gotten two graduate programs in their entirety to adopt BeaconFlex,” those being the McCormick Graduate School’s public administration program and the Nursing School’s Ph.D. program.
Associate CIO Apurva Mehta forecast that the biggest growth of BeaconFlex at UMass Boston will result from its use by the nonacademic side of the university. Administrators who have seen how well BeaconFlex works in the classroom are also getting in on the action. “John Jessoe and his team are building out conference rooms to accommodate the same modality.” Jessoe heartily concurred, saying, “We’re upgrading seven meeting rooms this summer and fall,” as the “demand for having high flex meetings is outpacing the demand for high flex classes.”
The AV Team has also developed something they call BeaconFlex Lite, which are portable audio/visual kits with everything needed to setup an ad hoc BeaconFlex classroom or meeting space. They were designed and put together by the Classroom Technology team to support last minute requests for BeaconFlex classes or hybrid meeting support. Zack meets and trains faculty who want to teach in a room that’s not outfitted, and the Classroom Technology staff delivers and sets up the equipment for them. This type of service has helped to ensure the success of the BeaconFlex program. “Faculty have stated to me that it’s the support they’ve gotten, whether it’s Zack or my AV office, which has made it easier for them to teach via this modality. Zack meets with faculty constantly from the beginning to the end to get them up and running with BeaconFlex Lite and provide invaluable assistance,” Jessoe said. Support from IT is the main reason why virtually every professor or instructor that used BeaconFlex before was eager to have access to it this upcoming school year as well.
Both Jessoe and Mehta also touted BeaconFlex as a great way to increase interest in typically low-enrollment classes or programs, with Mehta pointing to the two graduate programs transitioning to BeaconFlex as a prime example. There was also acknowledgement that students are much more likely to register for a course if they see that it’s offered via BeaconFlex, especially grad students, who usually can’t be on campus as much as undergrads.
Overall, everyone in Classroom Technology and AV Services who’s worked to provide BeaconFlex to students, faculty, and staff at UMass Boston is very bullish on its future. Zack Ronald put it very simply. “I have faith in BeaconFlex, and I say that a lot, but you know, I truly do have faith in BeaconFlex.”
To watch a video on BeaconFlex at UMass Boston, take a look at https://umb.edu/BeaconFlex.