Building on the state of Kansas’ pioneer history, Fort Hays State University (FHSU) is adopting a pioneer spirit in its response to COVID-19.

In a Sept. 8 press release, FHSU detailed its classroom technology upgrades for the fall semester. Ahead of the new semester, FHSU spent the summer expanding its use of classroom technology and preparing for three different class modalities – on-campus, completely virtual, and hybrid.

“We are planning for any number of possibilities, all the while realizing that a portion of every course might need to be delivered online at some point,” said Dr. Andrew Feldstein, the university’s assistant provost of Teaching Innovative and Learning Technologies (TILT). “We want to make sure that, whatever the modality, we are focusing on the quality of the student experience.”

Prior to COVID-19, a hybrid course was one that utilized campus access and meeting time to complete or supplement some learning outcomes, but used online media to complete other learning outcomes. As a result of the pandemic, that definition has begun to shift.

“Faculty recognized that there would be occasions when they would need to meet with students online and in a face-to-face classroom at the same time,” Feldstein said. “The types of interaction needed for those two methods are very different, and we needed to determine how best to deal with both groups of students at the same time.”

In order to best meet student needs, the university enlisted the help of its Office of Technology Services. Mike Nease, enterprise technology support director for TigerTech, and his team developed a scalable approach to teaching hybrid courses. Nease and his team deployed new document cameras installed in the classrooms that can connect to instructors’ laptops via USB, and will appear as a second camera in virtual class session. The new camera pulls triple duty as both a traditional doc cam, as a whiteboard surface, and as a webcam that can be turned towards the instructor or in-classroom audience.

Before classes got underway this fall, Jeff Bitikofer, campus audio-visual support specialist, and his team installed doc cameras and capture boxes in nearly every FHSU classroom. With the new cameras in place, university instructors only need to bring their laptops and head-worn microphones.

The use of head-worn microphones, versus a lapel mic, was strategic. A head-worn microphone gives the instructor more flexibility to move around the classroom, Nease explained. This type of microphone doesn’t pick up audio feedback as a lapel microphone would.

This new style of instruction – and the heavy reliance on technology – is new for FHSU.

“In the past, we prided ourselves on the simplicity of our classrooms; faculty liked that,” Nease said. “We’re just adding a few enhancement features without interrupting the regular classroom. These components will add a lot of flexibility.”

Both the TILT and Technology Services teams have collaborated to get the new technology ordered, deployed, and tested ahead of classes. To get faculty prepared for the new additions, Nease’s team made instructional videos for faculty and set up a checkout station for the new microphones.

“Our people always step up, and this is another example of collaboration across campus, good communication, and the willingness to work together,” said Dr. Jill Arensdorf, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “The Tiger Tech and TILT teams have done a fantastic job getting our faculty ready to go this semester, with short notice.”

While COVID-19 may have spurred the IT modernization across the campus, once the pandemic is over, the new technology won’t go to waste.

“These were timely changes and not just COVID related,” Nease said. “The technology additions we’ve installed will immediately enhance the quality of the teaching and learning experience at FHSU for years to come.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs