Campus News

University prepares for return to classrooms

CTL Instructional Technology Systems Professional Benjy Fry installs a new monitor, complete with camera and microphone, to help facilitate lecture capture in a large classroom in the Miller Learning Center. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Multiple instructional units are working to enhance the learning environment

Whether in person, virtual or a mixture of the two, instruction at the University of Georgia will look a little different in the fall due to the continued impact of the global pandemic, but much work is underway to ensure that high-quality teaching and learning continues. Faculty members and administrators have spent the summer getting ready for students to return to classrooms—both in buildings and online.

In-person instruction will conclude at Thanksgiving break, with all remaining coursework and final exams moving online following Thanksgiving. The calendar for online final exams will remain as previously set, Dec. 11–17.

“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 are putting every effort possible to make this coming fall as safe and productive as possible while providing the best learning environment for our students,” said Rahul Shrivastav, vice president for instruction.

That starts with a safe and healthy place to learn.

“We’re reviewing all classrooms to meet social distancing recommendations and to accommodate students who cannot be on campus for health reasons,” said Fiona Liken, associate vice president for instruction and registrar. “Many classrooms will need to operate with 20%-50% of their normal seating capacity. However, our goal is to have as many face-to-face interactions as possible.”

To continue building faculty members’ skills with virtual classes, the Office of Online Learning offered a series of workshops for faculty to learn how to share their expertise more effectively to provide better experiences for their students. Workshop topics covered all aspects of online teaching and learning, including creating content and using video, managing productive online discussions and assessments. Since mid-March, more than 780 faculty members have enrolled in one or more workshops.

The Center for Teaching and Learning also is helping faculty members prepare for the coming semester with “Preparing to Pivot,” a two-week course to help them create an instructional plan for the upcoming semester.

“Through ‘Preparing to Pivot’ we are encouraging faculty to pursue one of several possible models of hybrid instruction: face-to-face online, face-to-face remote and hybrid flexible (or ‘hyflex’),” said Ruth Poproski, associate director for teaching and learning. “In the first two, students rotate between socially distanced face-to-face meetings with their instructor and either online or remote engagement in a course. In the hyflex model, faculty provide face-to-face, online and remote options, and students choose their path through the course based on which engagement method they prefer.”

Participants will work through seven modules in eLC and benefit from the support and guidance of CTL and Office of Online Learning experts and colleagues from across campus. The program is offered as a paced, two-week cohort experience with the benefit of peer and expert support or as a self-paced individual course. Some 115 faculty members took part in the first session of the course, with another 300 faculty members signed up for the remaining options.

Chairs in a Miller Learning Center classroom are marked to indicate where students should sit to help facilitate social distancing once classes resume. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

Sujata Iyengar, a professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences’ English department, participated in some of the Office of Online Learning’s workshops and has signed up for “Preparing to Pivot.” Her hope is to find a balance in her classes.

“The COVID-19 lockdowns offered us an unprecedented opportunity to investigate and improve how we teach particular kinds of content and to build on the changes UGA faculty have made to their curricula and course planning over the past several years,” she said. “For example, UGA’s Active Learning Initiatives, the Office of Experiential Learning, and Online Learning fellowships have taught teachers how to make the most of fully co-present, synchronous, face-to-face formats, on one hand, and of remote, asynchronous, online formats on the other. Each of these learning environments has different strengths. Our challenge for next semester is taking it to the next level and offering students and faculty a hybrid model that takes advantage of each format while protecting the health of students, staff and faculty by enforcing safer standards for co-present classes, such as a combination of screening, physical distancing, requiring masks and robust testing procedures.”

Margaret Christ, associate professor and PwC Faculty Fellow in Terry College’s J.M. Tull School of Accounting, also took helpful information from the workshop series.

“I think the most important advice from all of my resources has been to focus on effective communication with students. This includes developing a system for communicating and using it throughout the semester,” she said.

Christ intends to use discussion boards from the beginning of the semester, regardless of a face-to-face or virtual classroom, so that everyone in the class can see the answers to questions asked by other students.

As the university changed to remote instruction due to COVID-19, learning services for students outside the classroom offered by the Division of Academic Enhancement were purposefully redesigned, and DAE at a Distance was launched. This online initiative for academic success provides a variety of learning tools and referrals to critical campus resources as well as instructions for students who needed hardware or Wi-Fi accessibility.

Currently, DAE continues to serve students in a virtual setting through peer tutoring, academic coaching, student success workshops, UNIV courses and more. DAE is preparing for both online and physically distanced face-to-face interactions for the fall semester.

All students will have access to DAE at a Distance, including the eLC experience. The eLC experience—a set of online, self-paced learning modules within eLC—is being updated this summer to reflect changes for the fall semester. In addition, the DAE at a Distance webpage will continue to be updated with technology support, tips for success and updates to DAE services. Additionally, working with various campus units, DAE will partner to launch a peer education program called PLaTO (Peer Learning and Teaching Others) to further support students.

Advising and career services support for students are also being adapted in response to the pandemic. Academic Advising Services began offering remote advising during the spring semester. That will continue to be an option for the fall semester, but students will be able to request on-site advising support that follows appropriate health and safety guidelines. Advisors will continue to share notes and plans with their students via email, DegreeWorks planner and/or SAGE notes so that students can reference what they discussed with their advisor at a later date.

The Career Center also moved to virtual formats for its events in the spring semester. All services, resources, programs and events, including six career fairs, will continue to be virtual during the fall semester. During the summer, the Career Center is hosting a Summer Learning Series, which includes timely career programming during the pandemic. The series includes more than 20 programs within four learning “tracks”—Industry Insiders, Careers & Covid-19, Beyond the Basics and Alumni Career Bootcamp. The Arch Ready Professionalism Certificate Series will take its place in the fall semester.