Brave new-ish world: Want to prepare students for the real world? Permanently hybridize classes

A hybrid system represents the best of both worlds.

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University classroom filled with students
A hybrid system represents the best of both worlds. Photo: Dom Hou / Unsplash

By Michael Le, SFU Student

Over the last two years, we’ve learned to work in a whole new way. As of 2021, 66% of business leaders have cleared out space for a hybrid model going forward. With the popular trend seemingly here to stay, it only makes sense that SFU adapts a hybrid model to best prepare its students for the new job market. 

While it’s been a challenge to adapt to, we’ve all felt the benefits of a hybrid system over the course of the pandemic. According to the consulting firm McKinsey & Co, over half of the surveyed workforce prefers hybrid because of its flexibility. As a student, I’ve felt the same way. Not only are we gaining more time from a reduced commute, but we’re also able to work from anywhere. As an accounting intern myself, being able to take naps in between breaks was a godsend. A hybrid system can also help students who may experience a short-term upheavals, like moving or surgery. With more content available virtually, students will have an easier time working around unexpected shifts in their schedules. 

Hybridization also helps to clear frequent hurdles associated with the workplace. Being entirely in-person presents challenges for commuters who might not have access to frequent bus routes or a car, thus increasing commute time and stress. On the virtual side, workers that don’t have proper access to reliable internet services or electronic devices might not be able to keep up with the class. Through hybridization, workers and students alike have the best of both worlds. Despite some bumps along the way, we’ve proven the hybrid model can work. 

That’s not to say there aren’t some real concerns about the hybrid system. 

One recurring critique is that it risks undermining “office culture” in the workplace, or “campus life” at school. Socially, it’s true that a purely virtual environment severely limits the ways we can communicate and puts us at risk of Zoom fatigue. Completely hybridizing work, however, opens the door to choice in communication. It’s a key part of the business environment. Aside from creating a fun environment, socialization fosters psychological safety — a sense of being able to provide and receive positive feedback between co-workers. Adopting the communication channels needs and standards of today’s workforce early on gives students a headstart in practicing their hybridized communication skills.

Should SFU pursue an expanded hybrid model, there are more factors than just an in-person culture to consider. Over the course of the pandemic, teaching staff have borne the brunt of having to adapt to a mostly virtual, sometimes hybrid environment. They’ve done so without the kinds of support they need from the administration and without adequate compensation that reflects the extent of new training and extended hours they’re working. To prevent instructors from having too many non-teaching duties associated with a hybrid system, the administration needs to step in. Training intended to increase knowledge of requisite technologies and programs aimed at keeping learning fresh will help smoothen the transition to a hybrid system. Sitting down to establish a new pay scale that reflects an expanded job purview is also a necessity. 

For students, SFU can work to tie success to performance, which can enhance productivity. In a class setting, instructors can reinforce this by incorporating graded micro-projects or assignments throughout the semester to help students walk through the class material via experiential learning, rather than large heavily-weighed exams. Moreover, students have to keep in mind that accountability has always been an in-demand skill, no matter the environment. 

With the hybrid model a likely mainstay to some degree going forward, students will need to not only embrace but adapt to the challenges that come along with it. This also means that, on the administrative side, SFU should allow students to continue with in-person and virtual learning systems. The hybrid system has been a rare benefit of the pandemic. It’s time for SFU to lean in.