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NECR Lecturer Camilo Azcarate on the Unexpected Benefits of HyFlex Learning for Students and Faculty Alike

International dispute resolution expert and lecturer for Columbia's M.S. in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution program Camilo Azcarate recently spoke about the most surprising benefits of instructing a HyFlex course this term.

Which course are you teaching this term? How have you adjusted to the HyFlex teaching model?

I co-teach Conflict Resolution and Dynamical Systems with Dr. Beth Fisher Yoshida who is present on campus. The availability of one instructor on campus and another one online helps us to manage the challenges in each environment.

SPS has always been at the helm of innovative learning formats, but the pandemic greatly accelerated the advent of the new HyFlex learning model. The HyFlex model calls for a lot of flexibility and proactivity on the part of instructors and students alike. As an instructor, I have to plan classes with even more care and creativity, keeping in mind that some students are in the physical classroom and others are online. I’ve become much more agile in my use of online communication and collaboration tools; I really see just how much can be accomplished regardless of physical location.

I have been much more involved in discussions and activities than ever. The Negotiation and Conflict Resolution (NECR) program has implemented periodic virtual meetings for students, faculty and alumni that, in my view, have been excellent opportunities for communicating and initiating projects that otherwise may not have happened.

In addition, students take on the extra responsibility of closely following the online schedule and assignments. In the HyFlex model, it’s impossible to just sit and listen to the instructors; the most successful students are those who are taking initiative, and actively participating in the learning process, which are ultimately good qualities to have in any career. This is, in my view, a beneficial unintended consequence of the HyFlex environment.

In June, you shared your suggestions for combating systemic racism. What have you witnessed as progress in your profession as it relates to ensuring racial equity and inclusion?

As an academic institution, our duty is to work toward a greater understanding of social phenomena. Columbia University is a world leader in the research, theory-building and practice of dynamic systems theory (DST) applied to social conflicts. The events of the last few months have increased public awareness about racism as a systemic issue that is also dynamic (that is, it evolves and changes over time) and not just as a matter of individual or cultural attitudes and values. This recognition is a step in the right direction. However, there is still a lack of widespread understanding of the dynamics that underlie systemic racism. This understanding can only be achieved through an effort to identify the elements at different levels of analysis (macro, meso and micro) that make racism such a protracted and contentious issue in the US. In the NECR program, a group of students, faculty and alumni are engaged in this process of historic inquiry about the different elements and dynamics that have made systemic racism such a protracted issue.

What is exciting about being in negotiation and conflict resolution at this time?

All societies experience conflicts; this is unavoidable. What is avoidable is that such conflicts become destructive to the social relationships that make societies viable.

Understanding how social conflicts become destructive and protracted has been the lifelong quest of scholars and practitioners such as Columbia University’s own Morton Deutsch, Peter Coleman and their colleagues at the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution, the Earth Institute’s AC4 and those of us collaborating in the  NECR program here at SPS.

The recent decades of political escalation have shown what happens when social and political disagreements are managed as a competition to be won or lost, at almost any cost. Political norms and values built over centuries of trial and error to avoid the unnecessary escalation of such differences into protracted conflicts are being weakened. Citizens around the world are experiencing the angst created by the continuing escalation of tactics and an ever-growing stalemate in their political institutions.

Unlike other times in human history, we now have the tools to understand better what is happening and how this could be resolved. This accumulated knowledge of decades of research and the hard-won lessons of the practitioners can be an invaluable source of information and wisdom to decision-makers and the citizens alike.

Applications to join Columbia University’s Negotiation and Conflict Resolution master’s program in Spring 2021 are open. Visit Deadlines to learn more.