District 42 House Candidate Makes Plea for Hybrid Learning at Universities

By Sherry Stevens, 

Editor, MHA Times

BISMARCK, ND — At a meeting held via ZOOM on September 9th, a group of Dem-NPL legislative candidates urged the Governor to protect teachers, support staff, and students at K-12 schools and higher education institutions throughout the state of North Dakota by extending the definition of an executive order already in place. One of the attendees, Zachary Tomczik, a University of North Dakota law student and

Zachary Tomczik
Photo from nd42.org website

District 42 House candidate, also asked for a change to the current method used to conduct classroom interactions by universities of higher learning around the state. This action would implement a hybrid learning process. The system would allow classes to vacillate between being held in-person, face-to-face, and distant learning. This would occur by utilizing strong sources of broadband technology with less internet interference. This system would also be capable of operating on short notice to both, the instructors and students if a COVID-19 virus exposure were detected.

The hybrid process is more versatile than the current system of distant learning which is ridden with connectivity problems and does not allow for staff to alternate from in-person classroom settings to distant learning on a moment’s notice. Currently academic courses face the risk of cancellation for the entire semester until the health risk is reduced by a timely quarantine.

Tomczik states, “This year all of the law courses I am currently taking are online, but many of my friends and classmates are doing hybrid learning which involves both in-person and online. This adds another layer of an issue between learning between professors and teaching students in technology. In order for classes to run smoothly, we need to have access to desktops or laptops that require broadband access or good wireless internet. It’s kind of hard to figure out how to make it all work and we want to do it because we want to continue to learn. Classes don’t run as smoothly as we always hope; the audio or video may not work, people buffer, computers decide to restart randomly, and WIFI goes out. The list goes on, and many of you have witnessed parts of those. It’s important to have a hybrid option for many of the students.”

The hybrid learning method would also be a much quicker response to a COVID-19 virus outbreak by giving college staff the option of switching from face-to-face to distance learning the morning of a notification of a virus outbreak. The hybrid system will support students and faculty in completing required course work without the cancellation of the entire course thereby, allowing the learning process to continue without a hitch. Tomczik further offered, “The key is to make sure that we can keep our schools open so we don’t lose the work that we’ve already put towards our education and as you know, Grand Forks has already been hit pretty hard with the Coronavirus; at one point the New York Times ranked Grand Forks sixth as the fastest-paced increases per capital for metro areas in the nation. UND also had over 300 self-reported, affiliated students, staff and faculty with COVID-19, with hundreds more in quarantine for being in close contact.”

Tomczik also mentioned the struggles students face due to families and children who are now homeschooling online, “As you all know COVID-19 has challenged society in many ways, and education is definitely one where we have all had to adapt. We also have the issue of balancing education and families. Many of the students at UND that I know actually have children at home, and are now responsible for taking care of their children while also being in online classes. We’ve had multiple classmates who have had to leave classes for a little bit at one point or another, to help their students (children) with their own lessons.”

“It’s been hard, but North Dakotans are strong, and we are working together. As of yesterday, I saw there were over 383 active, confirmed cases in the city. These are confirmed cases, so we know the number is going to be a little bit higher than that. The most common age is college students. It’s important for us to control COVID-19 and the spread as a city because we cannot afford for the university to close its doors. UND is a large employer in the area and brings close to 15,000 students to Grand Forks (annually),” he stated with confidence.

The group also discussed a request made collaboratively to Governor Burgum to extend an executive order for benefits for sick leave due to virus exposure from contract educators to incorporate all support staff within the public-school system, colleges, and universities of North Dakota. “The executive order covered paid or voluntary first responders, healthcare workers, funeral directors and others employed in a funeral home, individuals employed to provide direct care, treatment, and services to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities.” [A.Rohr, Dem-NPL Sep. 2020].

Both requests are with Governor Burgum, and the group is awaiting a response at this time.

Also present at the meeting was Naomi Muscha, a retired teacher and current District 24 House candidate, Kari Breker, a former social worker, mother of school-age children, and District 16 Senate candidate, John Pederson, Ph.D., Professor of Economics and History at Mayville State University and District 20 House candidate.

Face-to-face instruction is an important method of learning

Face-to-face interaction is an important element in academic course work involving the Socratic method, also known as Elenchus, or the Elenctic method; which is a form of a cooperative argumentative dialogue between students and instructors and is vital in learning fundamental critical thinking skills used in studies of law, journalism, philosophy, medicine, etcetera. This is only a small portion of academic style that will be enabled to complete semesters in time for graduation; all university students within any field of study would be the focus and beneficiaries of this action where necessary.