Flexibility: Reinventing the classroom

A new immersive experience bringing together remote and in-person learners

As the pandemic moderates and we welcome students back to campus, UCSC Silicon Valley has been  rethinking the classroom. 

“Our new flexible classroom modality serves students who are eager to be back on campus with their instructor as well as those who are either still hesitant to return or want to have the flexibility to choose where they want to learn that day,” said P.K. Agarwal, dean of the Santa Clara-based UC campus for professional development. 

Choose where you want to learn

The flexible classroom doesn’t look much different than a traditional class. But, if you look a little closer, you’ll note an AI-tracking camera that follows the instructor, monitors at both ends of the classroom, an audio conferencing system, and a digital whiteboard camera that puts the chalkboard on a browser window and allows students to download content as PDFs.

And, it all happens in real-time for students wherever they are. Students in the classroom learn alongside their remote classmates. 

“Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to learn key skills wherever they are—here on the Santa Clara campus, at home, or on the move,” Agarwal said. “We’re in Silicon Valley so we’re using leading conferencing technologies to enable in-person and virtual learning.”

The campus, which continued instruction throughout the pandemic, reopened to the public in September offering the flexible classroom as a response to living in such a tentative world.

“We wanted to make sure everyone is accommodated,” Agarwal said. 

Beyond the classroom

The challenges of the pandemic have been monumental but the solutions have also opened new avenues of learning.

“It’s not enough to set up a camera and a microphone in a classroom and call it a day,” said Carl Rand, the business analyst/program manager who headed up the design, implementation, and training for the new technology. “We are focused on how to make the learning experience more inclusive. We are training our instructors, who have different teaching styles, in the art of engaging students in-person and remotely.”

We also want to accommodate geographic diversity. In an early beta flexible class on Java Programming, a student in Taiwan and a student who didn’t want to commute from Fremont just 10 miles away from campus equally appreciated the convenience of flexible learning, as did the students who joined us in person.

“We’re constantly trying to innovate with a sense of purpose, to create more value for our students, and to give them the flexibility they need in this pandemic world,” Agarwal said. “Life is changing by the hour. Given all the health, family, and work challenges our students are facing these days, we wanted to make professional growth a little more accessible.”


UCSC Silicon Valley Professional Education, also known as Extension, is the Santa Clara-based professional development arm of UC Santa Cruz. We offer hundreds of professional development courses in technology, business, design, biosciences, education, and diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as more than 40 certificate programs and skills-based specializations. We serve a global population of professionals, providing people the skills they need throughout their careers. Visit us at ucsc-extension.edu.

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