“It has enabled all students to feel part of one group, regardless of location.”

Birkbeck has launched a new Creative Inclusive Learning Programme, supported by a grant from the Office for Students. This will transform teaching at the College over the next three years, primarily through the installation of HyFlex technology in every Birkbeck classroom. It will also lead to the creation of a virtual reality suite, which will allow the development of new immersive learning experiences as part of academic courses.

HyFlex technology seamlessly synchronises teaching in physical classrooms with online teaching so that students can join remotely and still fully participate in classes. This is currently being piloted in 40 postgraduate modules.

All Birkbeck staff participating in the pilot have been supported to design their modules for HyFlex delivery, to help get the best out of the technology: “I’m enjoying teaching with HyFlex,” explains Dr Ken Hori, Reader in Birkbeck’s Business School. “I’ve seen my online and in-person students working together and helping each other during classes. It has enabled all students to feel part of one group, regardless of location. It’s also made a major difference this year when adverse weather and rail strikes have prevented students from attending in person.”

A consultation with disabled students identified that one of the main benefits of this technology is that it enables those who cannot come to campus to feel more involved. Since Birkbeck moved to offering more online teaching during the pandemic, students have consistently reported their appreciation of the flexibility it offers.

“A core aspect of Birkbeck’s mission is to deliver education that meets the needs of working Londoners and all others who want to benefit from the College’s teaching and research excellence,” says Diane Houston, Pro Vice Chancellor for Education. “HyFlex teaching will enable us to provide options that work for all members of our diverse student body and cement our position as one of the most inclusive and flexible places to study in the UK.”

“This development is important because many of our students are combining study with work, volunteering or caring responsibilities, and one third of our students are either neuro-divergent, disabled, or have a declared mental health condition. This means that many are time poor and are at higher risk of disengaging from their studies or withdrawing entirely. We therefore need to continue to innovate and adapt to best suit the needs of our community. This pilot will inform how we implement the technology across the College.”