Northeastern details NUflex program

A+classroom+in+East+Village.

A classroom in East Village.

As Northeastern gears up for students’ return this fall, the university has clarified details about its new flexible learning program called NUflex. The program will allow students to choose whether they attend classes in person — in conjunction with public health guidelines — or online with the assistance of new classroom technology.

“This is one of the largest and most ambitious projects the university has undertaken in years,” Vice President for information technology and Chief Information Officer Cole Camplese told [email protected] “We’re really investing in the future of technology in higher education.”  

NUflex allows students to choose how and when they want to attend classes, whether they select certain days of the week or do it all virtually. In-person classes will require students to wear face masks and sit six feet apart. Classroom formats are still subject to change based on new information regarding the science of transmission. 

The emphasis of this program is that each student — undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate — has a choice,” [email protected] reported. “Each week, students will be welcomed to choose which days to attend class in person, with total capacity limited based on the size of both class and classroom. Students may opt to take all classes online, begin the semester remotely then venture to campus, or begin in person and later make the transition to remote learning.”

All classrooms will be equipped with new, advanced cameras and microphones to improve the quality of remote learning. Cameras will automatically pivot to and zoom in on the speaker, while a camera in the back of the room can be configured to follow faculty as they move. Both students and faculty will have the opportunity to share screens. This is a substantial change from the university’s current online learning model, which currently relies on static webcams and traditional video conferencing via applications such as Zoom.

Accommodations will be made for classes that generally require hands-on learning, such as arts-based classes, science labs and health science training. Details are still unclear, but faculty expect to provide more information as the semester approaches.

NUflex will be supported by the Canvas learning management system, which will replace Blackboard by the beginning of the fall semester. All content will be encrypted and communication platforms will be securely hosted via Canvas.

To assist with such a large undertaking, the university has ramped up its information technology services department. Hardware and software will be connected to a central network that staff can monitor remotely, allowing them to tackle technological issues as quickly as possible. 

Kenneth Henderson, chancellor and senior vice president for learning at Northeastern, stressed the fact that faculty will get a choice in how exams are run, and that how classes are taught would not be different from a traditional semester. He also explained that students who decide to live on campus will be required to keep their housing for the entire semester. 

Henderson believes that the new hybrid learning model will create “unprecedented advantages” for students. Referencing Northeastern’s growing global network, which includes sites in London, Toronto, the Bay Area and more, he discussed the new opportunity for mobility. Students could potentially take classes in Boston, London and Toronto at the same time and relocate without missing out on the Northeastern educational experience. 

“This fundamentally allows students the Northeastern experience who, for any reason, don’t have the ability to travel to campus or be a resident on the campus,” Henderson told [email protected] “It allows students to progress toward their degree in a flexible manner that doesn’t anchor them to a place.”