BeaconFlex Teaching Guide
BeaconFlex is UMass Boston’s flexible teaching and learning model which allows students to participate in the same course session either in-person or remotely via web conferencing technology. BeaconFlex allows student choice in the mode of participation.
Key Pedagogical Principles
The key benefit of flexible teaching and learning is student choice. For this model to be effective and successful, the learning experience in the remote environment has to be equivalent to the learning experience in the face-to-face environment. Students in both audiences are considered equal participants.
One Course, Two Audiences
As an instructor teaching a flexible course you are expected to provide the same attention at the same time to students in a mixed audience, with some students attending the class session physically in the classroom and some students joining in remotely via web conferencing.
While you will need to adjust activity instructions for each mode of participation, your lesson objectives and student deliverables remain the same. Below are some best practice recommendations to help you prepare.
Preparing for BeaconFlex Sessions
- Plan your sessions and have a clear timeline for the duration of the activities and the selection of tools you will be using.
- Establish student expectations for the session and communicate to students ahead of time.
- Post learning objectives and To Do list in the Before–During–After format for the session on Blackboard and/or send out via an announcement.
- During the BeaconFlex pilot period, you will be provided with a form which you can use to poll students ahead of your class session to indicate which students will be joining remotely and which students will be attending the class session in person, adhering to the room capacity limits. This list will be provided to the university ahead of your session for health and safety purposes.
- Provide necessary support materials and guides for students; post on the weekly session folder in Blackboard.
- Make it clear what course components should be completed asynchronously (before or after class) by all participants.
- Make it clear what activities can be completed asynchronously by students who can not attend the live session in person or remotely.
Virtual Digital Assistance (VDA)
You will be provided with a Virtual Digital Assistant (VDA) to help you during your live session. The VDA is a dependable graduate student who has been trained in supporting web conferencing and can assist with managing your Zoom session remotely by:
- troubleshooting technology problems for students
- monitoring the chat
- managing students participation (e.g. raise hand, mute/activate microphone)
- assisting with setting up Zoom breakout rooms
- pre-assigning students to breakout rooms
- facilitating student activities during live class meetings
- recording your meeting
- helping with the content sharing
To facilitate the VDA's access to your session you could either make them an alternative host ahead of time, or promote to co-host once your session begins. You will be introduced to your assigned VDA during your technology training session on campus. The VDAs will be joining the meeting remotely via Zoom.
Managing BeaconFlex Learning in the Synchronous and Face-to-Face Mode
- Use active learning strategies to engage students in problem solving during your live meeting time.
- Maintain eye/screen contact with the remote audience.
- Encourage remote students to speak up and share by either raising their hand in Zoom or unmuting and asking a question.
- Have a window showing the remote students on one of the large screens so students in the classroom can see the students who are joining remotely.
- Encourage remote students to turn their camera ON so the students in the classroom can see them. (Do not require the camera ON if students are not comfortable sharing.)
- When engaging in class discussion with the students in the physical classroom, make sure this interaction is heard by the students participating remotely, or repeat it/summarize it for them.
- Use Zoom Chat to allow remote students to ask questions or make comments.
- Monitor the chat window and “hand raise” indicator on the web conferencing tool or have the VDA student monitor and alert you.
- Instruct students not to chat with you directly with any private information as this will be shown on the large screen/monitor.
Whiteboard and Collaborative Tools
- Each BeaconFlex Classroom has a Document Camera for using instead of the whiteboard. Use this tool to take notes, enter equations or show printed documents. By using the Document Camera you will not have your back to the remote students or the in-person students.
- For class-wide collaboration use a Google Doc or Jamboard through your UMass Boston G Suite account to facilitate information storage and sharing in the course.
- Breakout Rooms can be held with both “remote” and “in-person” learners.
- In-person learners would need to bring their own devices such as phones/tablets/computers, log on to the Zoom session, use headphones and a microphone and mute audio prior to participating in the breakout sessions so no feedback occurs.
- Use Zoom polling for both sets of students. Students in the classroom would need to log on to the Zoom session on their own device and disconnect or mute audio to participate.
Managing BeaconFlex Learning in the Asynchronous Mode
- Post as much instructional guidance as possible on the Blackboard course site ahead of the session; use a To Do list in the Before–During–After format and post it in your course as an item.
- Organize your course using weekly session folders to keep all learning materials and activities organized and contained in the same place for quick access.
- Build gradable activities on Blackboard to accept student work, facilitate grading and keep learning continuing outside the live session (assignments, graded discussions, quizzes).
- Record mini-lectures or screencasts using VoiceThread and/or Echo 360 U-Cap and post on Blackboard before your session.
Tips and Tricks
- Try to arrive at your classroom 15 minutes before the start of your session to get your materials loaded and Zoom connection started.
- BeaconFlex classrooms are equipped with a local desktop computer. While it is possible to connect your own laptop computer, we recommend you use this computer for your session.
- Bring all presentations on a flash drive and load prior to class saving yourself time from downloading.
- If you are showing web pages, set up a browser with all pages tabbed and loaded so you only have to switch tabs instead of entering addresses.
- If you are sharing videos from YouTube etc, load those ahead of time in the browser and start your Zoom session with computer audio shared to remote students.
- Schedule or edit your Zoom meetings to “mute participants upon entry” to avoid feedback when in-person students join the Zoom room.
- Be cognizant of what you are sharing. Make sure your email is not open, and advise your students to not chat with you directly with any private information.
Participants in the BeaconFlex pilot will be provided with technology orientation and instructional design consultation opportunities. For questions and help planning your BeaconFlex sessions please contact Irene Yukhananov (Learning Design) and/or Zack Ronald (Classroom Technology).
On Site AV Support
On Site A/V support during the BeaconFlex pilot will be provided by Chris Rennie, reachable at 857-385-6866.