Aug. 14—When assistant history professor Steve Martinez pulls out the syllabus for his Western civilization course later this month, some of students will be reading it in person while others will be live-streaming footage from a 360-degree camera stationed in the classroom.
Even as pandemic-era restrictions forced many colleges and universities nationwide to dive head-first into remote learning fade, schools including Santa Fe Community College are embracing courses hinging on technology.
Martinez, who has taught college courses for more than 20 years, still sometimes pines for a fully brick-and-mortar classroom with paper assignments and students raising their hands.
"But there's the other part of me that says, 'Steve, those days are gone,' " he said. "You have to use technology now."
Since the onset of the pandemic, the community college has vastly increased its online and "hybrid" course offerings.
Only about 23 percent of classes at the college were available online before the pandemic according to school officials. Now, it's 58 percent.
This percentage encompasses 24 "HyFlex" classes like Martinez's, which allow students to choose on any given day whether they show up in person or stream the course online live.
It's a modality administrators would like to see more of, and which college President Becky Rowley said could help students who work or have families stay in school.
"For a lot of people who have previously had to drop out, now they have a different option," she said.
Yash Morimoto, vice president for strategy and organizational effectiveness at SFCC, said equipping classrooms with the technology needed to teach HyFlex courses costs between $14,000 and $18,000 initially.
Twenty such classrooms exist, and SFCC administrators plan to bring that total up to 70 by the spring semester.
Morimoto said SFCC is using federal pandemic relief dollars and money from educational technology measures passed by voters to outfit the spaces. The school is looking for grant funding for more upgrades too, he added.
Faculty can decide whether to teach using the format or not. Martinez said the college's history department has largely converted its offerings, although some faculty were hesitant to do so.
Faculty Senate Chairwoman Kate McCahill, who is stepping down in the fall after finishing her two-year term, said her discussions with other staff at SFCC have shown the HyFlex model still needs some ironing out — and some faculty have expressed stress over trying
to teach a group of in-person and a group of online students at once.
"We haven't had a big chance to pilot this stuff," she said.
McCahill, who teaches English, said her department is not offering any HyFlex classes. But other departments, including human services, are.
McCahill said it will be important for faculty training sessions to be available for teachers who do use the format — since it's essentially the work of running two classrooms at once.
Administrators said training is available to faculty, but those trainings are not paid.
Martinez said he has to show up to his HyFlex classes 15 to
30 minutes earlier than he would a regular in-person class.
It's a difficult adjustment, he added, to learn how to keep online students engaged while also catering to students in the classroom.
Regardless of how a student shows up, he said attendance remains a large percentage of everyone's grade.
"Higher education will never be the same that it was before COVID-19," Martinez mused.
Following a HyFlex convocation at the college's main campus Thursday, Martinez pointed out the new microphone and rotating camera installed in the ceiling of one of the classrooms.
He said he's had to scrap free-for-all classroom discussions in order to avoid interruption while teaching online and in-person students at once. Now, he lectures and leaves time for questions at the end.
As colleges move toward making more classes reliant on tech, Martinez worries about students who lack technological resources and savvy who might be excluded from accessing them.
Pockets around New Mexico, for instance, remain unequipped with the broadband internet access needed for students trying to study online.
Martinez said that includes some of his students.
"Will they be left behind?" he asked.
Morimoto offers another perspective.
Surveys conducted in 2020 and 2022 show low-income students, students of color and students who have children prefer to have at least some kind of online option.
One survey of 105 student parents from the spring semester showed well over half preferred hybrid courses that mix online and in-person learning. Morimoto said more online offerings could also draw students from outside the county.
"That's what people are really asking for," he added.
Data from the New Mexico Higher Education Department shows that in fall 2021, New Mexico's public colleges provided more in-person courses than hybrid or web-based courses — although student enrollment in hybrid and web-based courses was slightly higher than solely in-person courses.
The data show 172,637 students had enrolled in either hybrid or web-based courses, with 149,041 of those students enrolled in just web-based courses. The figure outweighs the total student enrollment for in-person classes by more than 400 students. The numbers include some duplication as students may have enrolled in multiple kinds of courses at once.
Heading into fall, Rowley said SFCC is not planning on having to revert back fully to online learning due to rising COVID-19 cases.
The college has scrapped its face mask requirement in most campus areas and put an end to its previous vaccination mandate for students and staff.
Rowley said she's confident vaccine rates on campus are high, but the college ran into issues monitoring who was vaccinated and who wasn't.
"The landscape for emergency-type online learning has changed," she said. "I don't really foresee we go back into hard shut-down mode."