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HyFlex and Insects: Student Learning and Community Engagement 

HyFlex learning

In the new normal for education after the arrival of COVID-19, hybrid and flexible (or “HyFlex”) teaching models are growing in use—including in entomology. (Image by Gerald Simons)

By Gerald Simons

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series contributed by the ESA Student Affairs Committee. See other posts by and for entomology students here at Entomology Today.

Gerald Simons

Gerald Simons

As undergraduate and graduate students, many of you have experienced taking classes pre-COVID, during COVID, and now, as we have returned to most activity while managing the pandemic. In addition, many of you function as teaching assistants or participate in community outreach to educate the public about entomology.

During the initial phases of COVID, the rapid conversion to online classes was difficult, especially for those of us with laboratory or hands-on sessions. Community engagement evaporated as well. Staying connected and involved with faculty, fellow students, and the community was immensely challenging, which is critical in our field. As we emerge from the most significant part of the pandemic, we can learn from our shared online experiences and blend them into our new normal.

At home, learning for science students did have some benefits, including no commute to school (and thus fewer transportation costs), more study time, and even less laundry. Educational institutions saw a drop in facility costs in many situations, but also a drop in enrollment. Several colleges closed their doors permanently due to COVID. Challenges for schools included keeping students in class and arranging methods of assessment. All in all, students were presented with a multitude of novel ways to learn about science, but all lacked one attribute: engagement.

HyFlex Learning

A positive result in many of these changes in education, though, is the emerging concept of “HyFlex” education. HyFlex combines the words “hybrid” and “flexible,” and it is an immensely adaptable learning method for students. It involves both traditional in-person classes with the option for students to log in remotely in real time. In addition, classes are recorded, and, in select circumstances, students have the option to listen to a session at their own convenience. HyFlex is the ultimate method to accommodate students’ learning needs; after all, the student is the academic consumer. As many undergraduate colleges are trying to recruit new students, HyFlex is a great opportunity to recruit new students and help current students graduate.

As a student in a HyFlex course, the homework, assignments, and exams are all the same, regardless of how you receive the information (at home live, at home asynchronous, or live in person). Students must be exposed to the same quality of learning and achieve similar outcomes. Early data does show that HyFlex is effective in both meeting the unique goals of students’ needs and achieving learning goals and outcomes. HyFlex as a term was coined by Brian J. Beatty, Ph.D., at San Fransisco State University, in his 2019 book Hybrid-Flexible Course Design: Implementing Student-Directed Hybrid Classes. (Beatty was clearly ahead of his time, using online learning well before COVID.) Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies also has an excellent review, “HyFlex Teaching: One Class, Three Modalities.”

Students must be flexible to succeed in a HyFlex course. Tips that I have found useful include:

  1. Keep a strict schedule, knowing when you will be attending class and when you will be remote.
  2. Prepare for class the same way, regardless of the delivery method: Review notes, objectives, and readings in advance.
  3. Have a dedicated study and class space at home.
  4. When participating in group projects or online discussion boards, always draft your submission and then review it before submitting. Waiting until later in the day, or even until the next morning, will allow you to review the submission for accuracy and be sure it is submitted in a professional format.
  5. Always know how to contact the instructor with any questions, both in person and online.
  6. Enjoy the flexibility of a HyFlex education.

HyFlex in Entomology

Even online or in a HyFlex environment, community and grade-school engagement in entomology is possible. A famous example is the use of the STEM programs developed by the CDC’s David J. Sencer Museum. I encourage you to review the CDC Museum’s Public Health Academy Trapping Mosquitoes home lesson. As a CDC summer Public Health Academy graduate, I was an initial participant and evaluator of this lesson. I enjoyed learning about mosquito behavior, but I mostly enjoyed sharing this lesson with other teens and college students. The project can be done at home or from a classroom, where data can be easily compared to others, both in real time and in shared documents online (a great addition to any HyFlex training, further fostering engagement among peers). With data documenting just how far mosquitoes can travel, it makes this lesson even more effective as a backyard or local park STEM exercise.

The directions are clear and the set-up is straightforward. Simple experiments like these are fun and easy ways to educate and involve people of all ages, stirring interest and participation!

If you or your students find the mosquito project interesting, I encourage teenagers to sign up for the monthly email newsletter and Zoom meeting from the CDC Public Health Academy Teen Newsletter. Every issue includes a relevant topic related to public health, including vector-borne disease. Each month during the online meeting, teens can meet CDC leaders and other teens interested in similar fields of study. Since the CDC was initially established to address the growing threat of mosquitoes and malaria, there are usually great topics on the array of vector-borne diseases in medical entomology.

Another great community project for college students is direct engagement at the local school level. Encouraging kids to get outside to look for bugs is a great way for college STEM students to gain additional hands-on experience. The increased screen time over the past few years has decreased the time kids spend outside, and we need to rekindle children’s desire to explore the outdoors. Simply starting a “flip a rock” program to encourage kids to look for bugs under rocks is a simple way to get them involved with entomology, as programs such as Vassar After School Tutoring affords. Naturally, you replace the rock after doing some careful observations. I have found this is a simple and fun way for urban and rural students to get engaged and would make an ideal addition to any HyFlex entomology lesson. After all, these kids are our future entomologists, and the time is now for kids, and you as well, to flip a rock!

Gerald Simons is a rising sophomore at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where he majors in science, technology, and society. He has a special interest in the role that COVID has played in the increased incidence of tick-borne diseases. Email: jerry.simons122@gmail.com.

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