By Zach Strohecker and Matthew DeForest, Dec. 7, 2021

On Nov. 17, the Academic Senate’s Executive Committee heard a proposal to clarify the definition of Cal Poly Pomona’s hybrid courses offerings, hoping to allow more student flexibility and prevent the university from submitting a substantive change form for accreditation.

The proposal, put forward by Eden Haywood-Bird, interim chair of the Early Childhood Studies Department, would make 50% in-person classes the minimum for a non-distance learning course. This distinction is meant to keep CPP consistent with its current accreditation. As hybrid courses are currently operating at the university, they are all categorized as distanced learning.

According to the university’s fall 2019 accreditation report by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, written before the pandemic, “CPP provides a variety of online major and general education courses, but does not currently offer any degrees in a distance education modality.”

The current modality definition restricts departments and professors in how they teach the courses offered. This accreditation is where the conflict arises between the hybrid modality definition and the degrees CPP offers.

“So, if you are 50% or more in a distance learning modality you are supposed to be accredited as a distance learning program, of which there are none of on our campus right now,” said Haywood-Bird. “If you are non-distance you can have up to 49% distance learning modalities.”

WASC provides the accreditation of courses and degrees offered at CPP and other colleges in California. Under WASC, hybrid courses are currently considered distance education rather than face-to-face education courses.

Most classes offered at CPP today have some form of a hybrid component. However, due to the requirements of CPP’s accreditation under WASC, no more than 49% of a student’s degree program can be offered under the distance education definition.

The confusion surrounding hybrid courses currently being offered and how often classes are required to meet in person has been a top issue for students at CPP. Some students found the modality for classes unclear when registering and were unsure what format classes would take until the first meeting.

“I didn’t want any hybrid; I wanted all in-person,” said biology student Diego Castaneda. “The ones that I picked I wanted to be in-person, but they figured to be hybrid. I don’t plan to take any more hybrid or online courses. They told me if it had a classroom, it’s in-person, but some of them look to be hybrid.”

Most departments offered only a few sections of a given course and sometimes only one. This scarcity of class offerings has created conflicting ideas between faculty and students about modality and academic demands of a class.

Haywood-Bird was concerned the current definition of hybrid courses does not allow for the course flexibility students desire.

“Some students want to do hybrid; some students want to be fully face to face,” said Haywood-Bird. “Let’s say all Psychology 1000 courses are now sorted into the distance learning bucket, you no longer have the choice as a student to take it hybrid or fully face-to-face because now they are all considered this distance learning modality.”

As COVID-19 restrictions relaxed and more students were allowed back onto campus, a strong desire to step away from Zoom and participate in in-person instruction has emerged.

“I feel like with the in-person classes you feel more engaged, and it’s more helpful as opposed to being online,” said sociology student Kimberly Rodriguez.

Without a change in the current hybrid modality definition, Haywood-Bird worries changing CPP’s overall accreditation would be a labor intensive and time-consuming process the university cannot currently handle.

“I know in my department we don’t have the capacity to do that right now, we just don’t have the faculty, we don’t have the time. It’s a ton of work, I mean the president has to sign it,” said Haywood-Bird.

Having been presented to the Executive Committee, the referral will now go through the approval process. Two detailed readings will be conducted by the committee before a vote is held on whether the referral will be approved and sent to President Soraya Coley. If the president gives her approval, then the contents of the referral will be sent to the Academic Senate for implementation.

Students can view Haywood-Bird’s proposal through the Academic Senate’s website. Students can also learn how to submit referrals of their own on the CPP web page.

Feature image courtesy of Nick Morrison

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