Note: This is the second in a series of stories exploring the ways in which Pittsburg State University has been preparing all summer for the fall semester in an effort to be as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. Future stories will focus on specific aspects of campus life, including academics in each of the university’s four colleges, recreation, student health, and more.
As students prepare to return to classes this fall at Pittsburg State University, they may be wondering how the university is planning for courses to be delivered in order to ensure that the campus is able to reopen and stay open amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The answer, according to the university, is that the approach is not one size fits all — it's highly customized from course to course (and there are thousands) and has been the product of collaboration this summer by a myriad of offices across campus.
The guiding principle of PSU’s efforts, the university said, is to focus on the safety of faculty, staff, and students while providing students high-quality experiences that preserve their progress toward a degree.
Since summer began, a working group tasked with helping to guide the approach has been meeting weekly under the leadership of Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Howard Smith.
“It’s important for people to know that deans, chairs, and faculty are working hard to deliver the highest quality instruction,” Smith said. “We’re on back order on some things — the whole country is — but I feel good about our planning and where we’re headed.”
The Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology, under the leadership of senior instructional designer Susan Dellasega, has conducted an evaluation of all classrooms on campus; there are hundreds of them.
Electronic technicians Rick Estenson and Mike Smith, who have expertise in audio-visual instructional delivery, have audited the “Zoom readiness” of each classroom.
“There may come a time during in-person classes that we have to be able to accommodate someone at a distance, perhaps because a student has to quarantine, for example,” Dellasega said. “The rooms must have the capability for us to capture the computer screen and the audio.”
An audit also has been done of classroom sizes with consideration to “COVID capacity” based on CDC guidelines.
“With that in mind, each course had to be considered based on the number of students enrolled,” Smith said. “Then, we began looking at alternate spaces that might be available, such as using the ballrooms in the Overman Student Center. At the same time, we had to keep in mind that other activities may be planned in those spaces, so we have to have flexibility.”
Departments and the Registrar’s Office are updating course schedules to show modifications, if any, with the goal of having them accessible to students in the GUS System by July 22.
Faculty, meanwhile, have been carefully weighing which kind of delivery model will work best for each course.
1. Fully online: 100 percent of instruction is online through the learning management system (Canvas) and does not require attendance on campus.
2. HyFlex: full class instruction will be delivered online either synchronously during the scheduled class time or asynchronously via a recording in Canvas. The class will be split into smaller groups by the instructor and required to attend on-campus sessions as assigned.
3. Hybrid: a minimum of 50 percent of instruction is online through the learning management system (Canvas); established classroom meeting dates are listed in the schedule of classes.
4. Face-to-Face: course content and learning material are taught in person.
5. Other: specific techniques/schedule/process due to the nature of instruction required.
Faculty also are getting creative: The Chemistry Department, for example, is building lab kits for students to use remotely.
In order to provide faculty with best practices for teaching in a hybrid, hyflex, or online approach, Dellasega and Jennifer Pursley, PSU’s faculty development specialist, created a three-hour workshop.
“We have a template we recommend they adopt for Canvas, the online learning management platform, that will prepare them to do everything, from fully online to face to face,” Dellasega said. “The second phase will be showing them tools that will help them, including Canvas Studio, which is for video creation and can be interactive.”
Faculty will receive a stipend for completing the training, paid for with federal stimulus dollars.
“We’ll conduct the training using the social distancing model with masks, which will be a good practice run for fall,” she said.
PSU has invested in technology to enable for the hybrid, hyflex, and online instructional models; web cameras, microphones, and software have been ordered, for example, to enable faculty to record lectures, deliver them live, and employ other distance learning strategies.
“We are definitely enhancing our online presence and our ability to deliver remotely,” Smith said, “and that is a positive regardless of the pandemic.”
“One thing we’re making sure everyone understands is that while our target is to start out face to face, on any given day something could occur where there’s a county order or a directive from the state or an external agency that says we must reduce gatherings again to 10 or fewer, in which case we’d have to go all online again,” Smith said.
They key, he said, is remaining flexible.
“We must remain flexible and open minded. We’re still not done with the unknown; there are many variables that can occur. What we can plan for is three months, maybe four, at best,” he said.
When it comes to the maintenance and sanitization of classrooms, Smith said PSU is using CDC guidelines with a thorough, frequent cleaning regimen. Additionally, resources such as hand sanitizer and wipes will be made available on a routine basis.
“Above all, we will continue to monitor to adjust and remain flexible to mitigate spread as we learn new techniques and new information,” Smith said.