Hybrid Programming –-Pandemic-based or here to stay?
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Hybrid Programming –-Pandemic-based or here to stay?

Howard Miller, Chief Information Officer, Anderson Computing & Information Services (ACIS), UCLA Anderson School of Management
Howard Miller, Chief Information Officer, Anderson Computing & Information Services (ACIS), UCLA Anderson School of Management

Howard Miller, Chief Information Officer, Anderson Computing & Information Services (ACIS), UCLA Anderson School of Management

I’ve been in higher education for almost 8 years after leaving a career mostly in pharma and biotech. My experience with higher education IT has always been one in which IT was an integral part of the background but never really progressed to the forefront. IT was always operational and very rarely, if ever, considered strategic. It was that way, at least until late last February 2020.

We began planning for the pandemic impact sort of innocently, mostly in terms of big picture what-if’s. UCLA Anderson was fortunate that we were already teaching a few classes in a hybrid format for our FEMBA (Fully-Employed MBA) students, but no one ever thought we could fully pivot to teach, administer exams, or even host programming events in an entirely on-line format. Two weeks later, we made the switch to all on-line and the rest is history, as they say.

Technology conversations started to be more strategic and IT was involved in almost all of them. On-line proctoring tools, Zoom webinars, touchless audio solutions in classrooms all became part of the conversation. Better quality cameras, updated recording studios, higher production qualities all were to be considered.

As we reached the end of February 2021, almost one year later, a faculty director reached out after the Golden Globe awards and essentially lets IT know that “I want that”. This individual is not entirely off-base, as outlandish as the request may seem on the surface to a higher education IT department. We learned many new things during the pandemic about operating our business in a hybrid format. This includes remote teaching via Zoom as well as continuing to host events with panels and speakers as we have always traditionally done.

We had some astonishing results upon initial review. Speakers who in most case were extremely hard to engage became a little easier to confirm since they were also exclusively remote. Alumni who might not have otherwise had the opportunity to get to campus for a variety of reasons were also remote and they decided to engage. We achieved an increase of about 67 percent  year-over-year in number of alumni engaged in the hybrid format. We were also able to overcome some of the physical boundaries previously in place, such as the number of people we could physically fit in a classroom. For us, hybrid programming is here to stay.

Nevertheless, the hybrid programming format will provide higher education technology leaders with both opportunities and challenges. While we are excited about higher engagement numbers and the possibilities, there are still a multitude of questions. Are we able to create the same exact experience for in-person and virtual participants on a higher education budget? Do we have enough resources to ensure all transitions between in-person and virtual participants in a given class or event is seamless, both from a dollar and a dedicated employee perspective? I’m not sure we’ve even been entirely able to elicit all of the possible requirements in play to ensure we can satisfy the ask and meet the needs.

There is plenty of good news, however. We continue to learn as we conduct more classes in the hybrid modality, while some in-person instruction is allowed yet either faculty or students (or both) remain remote. This modality is likely to be with us even through fall 2021 and beyond. We’ve figured out that audio is king and is the secret sauce for hybrid. We’ve also figured out how to accommodate for audio in a variety of settings. We know that as we are asked to continually deliver, we will continuously improve in our ability to fine-tune the mechanics and deliver an excellent experience that’s most likely here to stay.

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