Flex Classes: A format to fit everyone’s needs

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Carlos Balladares knows that life can throw curve balls. Even before the pandemic, this Assistant Professor for Human Services was keenly aware that students often work full-time, raise kids, caretake elderly parents and shoulder unexpected responsibilities. During his 15 years of teaching at SFCC, he’s readily adapted strategies to help students graduate.

“I believe part of being a great educator is you have to have flexibility and keep adapting and have an empathy for your students, because even before COVID, life happens,” he said.

This fall, Balladares nimbly adapted to the pandemic, offering two of his seven classes in flex format, in which students attend class in person, remotely via Zoom, or both. “I’m always adapting and innovating new technology, but COVID has pushed all of us to continue adapting with the technology we use in the classroom,” he says. “It’s reinforced what my ideas have been to continue supporting students’ success. Having these flex classes just reassures me that we’re headed in the right direction.”

Students have taken to the format because they can work their classes around their personal schedules. On the first day of his Professional Skills and Human Services flex class, a dozen students attended in person. “Once I told them they had the flexibility to physically not be on campus, and they could participate on Zoom instead, I had four to six students participating on Zoom,” Balladares said. He even had a few students virtually participating in class from their offices at work.

Associate Professor of Social Sciences Jen Breneiser also used the flex format this semester to teach her Psychology of Human Sexuality course. The approach is working well. “Overall, it has been a really positive experience for both me and for the students,” she says. “I have had a few students who have expressed to me that they enjoy taking the class in person and they also appreciate taking the class in flex format. It’s really nice that there’s a flexible way for students not to be on campus and still get the information.”

“Once I found out that Carlos Balladares was going to do his Case Management class in a flex format, I was so excited. I’ve seen the term “hybrid” because I have kids of my own and they’ve done classes that way. But I hadn’t really experienced a flex class and I didn’t know what that was going to look like. The first day we  had a few students in the classroom, but Carlos turned on the Zoom video camera so we could see what other students looked like. I thought it worked very well and he kept the students engaged, so I was pretty impressed. What I discovered was, this is great for people to be able to come to class if they have time or to stay home and join in online.  I now appreciate people being able to have that flexibility, to come to class and then be online when they can’t—if they’re sick, if they have kids at home. I think it’s a way to keep students involved and to get people into college courses.”

—Raquel A. Baca Tompson, SFCC student pursuing an Associates Degree in Human Services

Having previous online class experience helped Breneiser and her students transition to the flex format. “In my experience, it felt like the vast majority of the class adapted to the flex format really well,” she said. “It’s a format that allows students to do what they’re comfortable with. I’ve had a couple of students attend exclusively online and I’ve had students attend exclusively in person, and a few students who change, based on the day. I think that the flex format works so well for everyone this semester because, with COVID, almost all the students had at least some experience with online courses at this point. But even if they didn’t, flex classes are pretty user-friendly, so students figure out what works for them really well.”