As the fall semester begins at Northeastern, students and faculty are experiencing a new normal, thanks in part to the Hybrid NUflex learning model, a program which offers the choice for remote learning, in-person classes or a combination of the two.
Using “dynamic scheduling” students can indicate if they want to be in the classroom or learn remotely on a week-by-week basis.
Mrinal Subash, a graduate student studying bioinformatics, enjoys the flexibility. Most of his classes are remote, with one on campus to cut down on his commute.
“I really like the fact that we have both options, and we can choose the better of them,” Subash said. “I think it teaches us to be more adaptable in our course of learning.”
Isabelle Hahn, a fifth-year journalism major, also likes having a choice. She stayed in Boston throughout quarantine but ultimately decided to go back to Texas and attend all of her classes remotely.
“I was definitely planning on being on campus,” she said. “It’s obviously a little disappointing, but it’s nice to be able to travel and be with my family and kind of like hang out in Texas for a bit and get a break from being in my apartment in Boston.”
Many students who spoke to The News said that NUflex is the best solution for learning amid a global pandemic.
“I think hybrid NUflex was the best course of action,” said Lou Conrad, a third-year with a combined major in theatre and media and screen studies. “[Fully] opening up was never something they could not choose to do … The situation sucks, and this is the best they could do out of a sucky situation.”
Northeastern first announced the NUflex Program June 5 with faculty training starting in July. Faculty members could request to work remotely for the entirety of the fall semester. And for one professor, having that option was critical.
“For me personally, it was essential that we had that choice,” said Daniel Douglass, an assistant teaching professor in the department of Marine and Environmental Sciences. “Both my wife and I work full-time jobs and I’ve got a second-grader and a sixth-grader [that attend school remotely] … And realistically, there’s no way that we would have been able to continue to have both of our full-time jobs if we were going to be required to be leaving the house and going into campus.”
For in-classroom participation, Northeastern has technology to support the “highest quality learning experience,” the Office of the Chancellor said in an email. Students can sit in a classroom with their laptops and connect virtually through video conferencing programs like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Other times classes are asynchronous and the teacher simply uploads their pre-recorded lecture to Canvas for students to follow along.
But with all its accommodations, the new Hybrid NUflex program isn’t without its challenges.
“I think that this semester especially is the hardest to balance everything,” said Jean Phillipe, a second-year journalism major, who has a combination of remote and in-person classes.
“It’s even harder to balance with your schedule and, specifically, my time frame in between classes,” Phillipe said, referencing his back to back online and in-person classes. “It’s like just trying to balance a very tight agenda, so you’ve got to be prepared.”
Adapting to a new normal has some professors changing their style of teaching. For Dennis Staroselsky, a part-time lecturer in Northeastern’s theatre department, teaching in-person with new COVID-19 restrictions takes some creativity. Students have to socially distance and wear a mask at all times during class, which can make artistic expression challenging.
“It’s difficult, no doubt about it,” Staroselsky said. “Acting is about physically embodying a character … so much of it is verbal and physical contact. What I am recommending for most students to get are the clear masks and hopefully that will help.”
Northeastern is conducting their own testing for COVID-19, and tests students and faculty regularly. The extra precautions seem to be well received so far.
“I do applaud them for how meticulous they’ve been in terms of testing and how safe they’ve created it to be on campus and then allow the students to have the college experience as best as they can,” Staroselsky said.
Northeastern University will continue using the Hybrid NUflex learning model through the spring semester, university spokesperson Shannon Nargi confirmed in an email to The News.