Classes kicked off at the University of Georgia Aug. 20 after months of preparation to ensure students will have a safe and comfortable learning environment. Faculty members and administrators have spent the summer getting ready for students to return to classrooms—in person, online or a hybrid mix.
Instruction at UGA looks a little different this year due to the continued impact of the global pandemic. These classrooms – complete with social distancing guidance, new technology and plexiglass barriers – are getting their first use. So far, things are going better than expected, according to a few professors who taught on the first day.
“My classes are set up as hybrid with both remote and face-to-face instruction,” said Professor Greg Vessels, who teaches in UGA’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “I was pleasantly surprised that I had a full classroom, socially distanced and almost at capacity. Everyone that was remote logged in on time. I had to resist the urge to walk around the classroom so I could maintain contact with the camera. I sent out a quick exit poll and have only received a few responses so far, but they have all been positive. It was nice to return to some semblance of normalcy.”
Returning to class today, despite the changes and accommodations, was magical. It feels great to be back in a classroom and interacting with students.” — Joseph Watson
This summer, more than 700 classes were reassigned to larger classrooms to allow a greater number of students to learn in a face-to-face environment; 793 instructional spaces total were prepared for instruction this fall, and technology was added, upgraded or modified in 111 centrally managed classrooms. This included adding webcams or monitors, as well as microphones for in-room sound amplification and Zoom broadcasts.
Professor Lance Palmer, who taught a tax planning class the first morning of school, said, “Class went really well today. Students were ready to go and very understanding of the environment, and it was nice to have smaller numbers of students in each class – my class was divided into two sessions during the regular meeting period to maintain social distancing – because I could make eye contact more easily with each student. I was worried that students would not be able to hear me with a mask, but that was not an issue. It was a good first day.”
In addition to the physical changes made in each room, a large number of faculty worked hard over the summer to learn more about how to create engaging virtual classes.
A series of training sessions was held over the summer with high attendance: 868 professors participated in “Preparing to Pivot,” a series of short courses offered by the Center for Teaching and Learning; and 781 instructors participated in training sessions about improving the online learning experience for students offered by the Office of Online Learning.
“We know that the semester will be impacted significantly by the pandemic and will require flexibility from the entire campus community. However, I know that our faculty and staff put every effort to make this fall as safe and productive as possible while providing the best learning environment for our students,” said Rahul Shrivastav, vice president for instruction.
“For faculty members, teaching is a special calling and the premature end to in-person instruction this spring was difficult,” said Professor Joseph Watson, who teaches in UGA’s Grady College of Journalism. “In that light, returning to class today, despite the changes and accommodations, was magical. It feels great to be back in a classroom and interacting with students.”