LfA POV Deb Breen

Learn from Anywhere: Pedagogical Partnerships in a Time of Questions

A recent BU Today article announced the “Learn from Anywhere” (LfA) model, which will allow students to attend classes in person or remotely. The LfA model provides flexibility for students based on location and need. At a time when we are surrounded by more unknowns than knowns, having a description of this general approach for classes in the fall is very helpful; however, many instructors are understandably concerned that the LfA model brings even more questions and unknowns into play including faculty and student safety. As faculty prepare for classes in the fall, how do we alleviate these concerns?

First, we can learn from earlier, similar models. While LfA is new for Boston University, it is not a completely new approach, but a variation on synchronous in-person and remote learning models that have entered higher education for a variety of reasons. In 2008, for example, instructors at East Carolina University experimented with a similar approach to “provide continuity of instruction in case of a possible pandemic.” In the same year, the Online Learning Consortium presented its “Effective Practice Award” to Dr. Brian Beatty of San Francisco State University for his development of the HyFlex (hybrid + flexibility) model which had been in use for several years, providing simultaneous but flexible learning choices for students. We can look to these earlier models and experiments to understand the challenges, benefits, and strategies that can make LfA a useful learning paradigm for BU’s faculty and students.

Next, we can harness the power of peer-to-peer knowledge. We are in the world of learning precisely because of our intellectual curiosity and ability to analyze new information and synthesize it with what we already know. Although most instructors have not had direct experience with LfA-like teaching, many are already thinking about strategies that connect face-to-face teaching approaches with the online environment. Brainstorm with colleagues, seek input from students, create learning communities around specific questions (how will hands-on classes work in the LfA environment, for example?), and bring the enormous and very diverse wisdom of our teaching crowd to bear on the many questions that LfA brings.

Finally (for now), utilize CTL and EdTech resources and training programs: we may not be able to answer every question that faculty have about LfA, but we will provide information and strategies to support this shared learning journey. Training is underway for faculty coaches and the new CTL Blackboard site, available via the Learn from Anywhere Faculty Resource website on June 24, provides resources to help faculty plan for their fall classes. EdTech training also provides support with key learning platforms such as Zoom, Blackboard, and MyMedia.

In recent days, I have frequently been reminded of this thought expressed in Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 book, Their Eyes Were Watching God: “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” We are in a year that continues to challenge us with many difficult questions, some connected to learning about LfA and others with much broader implications for our society. Within our own educational environment, let’s work together to address our questions about the LfA model, from student and faculty safety in the classroom to pedagogical strategies that work across the in-person and remote environments. Our shared goal is to provide the most inclusive learning experience we can for our students, yet in this year of asking questions, we all have much to learn.

Dr. Deborah Breen

About the Author: Dr. Deborah Breen is the director of Boston University’s Center for Teaching & Learning. Deb is focused on developing and expanding partnerships at BU that highlight and strengthen significant learning experiences for all students. She encourages research into learning experiences, collaborations with faculty and staff in initiatives that support teaching and learning, and opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to contribute to an understanding of BU’s learning environment.