By Emma Crowder and Avery Dunlap
Coronavirus has spread to more than 180 countries and is affecting approximately 66% of the world’s population.
The symptoms of Covid-19 and its effects it has on a person’s physical health are known factors at this point. But something that has not often been discussed, in detail, is the effects of the virus on an individual college institution.
In March, when the virus originally became a cause for concern, there were a lot of things happening at South Plains College. Because of the fact that the virus began to spread rapidly in the middle of the semester, a lot of things were put on hold.
At the time of the shut down, Aaron Greene, assistant professor of geology, was about to take a trip with his Historical Geology class to Big Bend National Park. The class had put an immense amount of preparation into this trip, as reservations were made at national parks, arrangements were being made for the bus driver, everyone’s meals and accommodations were planned. However, the reality of the situation forced cancellation of reservations and arrangements previously made, disappointing many students and faculty members as well.
The in-class transformation was dramatic for faculty and students as well, in the sense that face-to-face classes had to be transferred to online. Chad Trammell, one of Professor Greene’s students at the time, said the transition to online was difficult and caused stress on him, as well for many other students.
There were several new steps required to submit homework and to take tests. Many professors had to create instructional videos for platforms such as “Screencast-O-Matic” and “CamScanner” in order for students to be able to turn in presentations and homework.
Many changes were made to each course last semester, and changes are still being made this semester as well.
“Unfortunately the majority of what I’m doing is still adapting and changing and having to be redone in a sense every former document and assignments are having to be redone, because it is slightly different now,” Greene said.
He continued to explain his hybrid or flex class schedule by saying, “We had a choice, as professors. We could choose to meet totally in class, although we were heavily encouraged to do either a ‘flex’ schedule or ‘hybrid’, which is meeting once a week, or totally online.”
Dr. Robin Satterwhite, president of South Plains College, said that when the virus first hit, college administrators realized very quickly that the virus was spreading rapidly and that any type of large gathering was going to be unsafe. Their first thought was to extend spring break, to see if the virus would continue to get worse and to see what the governor and other local leaders were going to direct the college to do.
However, the SPC Board of Regents quickly concluded that bringing students back was not going to present a safe environment. Therefore, the decision was made promptly that the school would not be able to function normally with the constraints that were being placed on citizens as a whole, such as keeping distance from one another. The biggest challenge with shutting things down was, according to Dr. Satterwhite, making sure that professors could deliver the coursework online, and making sure each professor had the correct resources.
“The process of reopening was almost more complex than shutting everything down,” said Dr. Satterwhite.
The college needed to prepare the right environment for reopening. This included making sure there were sanitizing stations in each hall and by each class room, and providing ways to sanitize the classrooms, according to Dr. Satterwhite.
The size of each class had to be reduced by approximately half in order for students to remain at a safe distance from each other. So, administrators physically went into each class to determine how many students could be in each class and remain at a safe distance.
Also, the faculty needed to be prepared for the reopening. Professors were told that if they had classes that were on alternating days, they needed to teach one day and have the rest of their material online, be prepared to stream, or give out readings in order to decrease the face-to-face class time. When deciding which classes to have face-to-face, Dr. Satterwhite said, “Our goal was to have as many classes face-to-face as possible.”
Faculty also wanted to respond to student demands when it came to determining class platforms, because what the school did not know was how many students would want to take an online class, or some form of hybrid course, or a face-to-face course. Therefore, staff began to monitor the enrollment process in order to determine which platforms for classes were preferred by the majority of students.
Interestingly, the results showed approximately 24% of classes ended up going online, which is relative to about 18% of the total number of classes offered online at the college last year, showing a 6% increase in courses being held online. About 76% of classes were either face-to-face or some form of hybrid course.
“Overall, there were a lot of different factors that went into how we decided to teach each one of these courses,” said Dr. Satterwhite. “We simply had to look at them each individually;
how many students had enrolled in each course, can the content be delivered completely online effectively, and what are the student’s demands.”
There was a lot of uncertainty for the future, since everyone asked to start working from home. Yet, according to Dr. Ryan Gibbs, vice president of academic affairs, “productivity remained high,” throughout all of quarantine.
There was an obvious amount of change happening physically at SPC, yet the professors and administrators effectively worked together to ensure that the transition was as smooth as it could be. Dr. Gibbs explains that if he, “ever needed to get a hold of someone,” or “needed to complete a task,” that there was never any problem getting what he needed to get done.
SPC has done a good job of preparing their staff and students for several types of emergencies. Unfortunately, nobody could predict the intensity of the coronavirus, and the effect it had on campus. With uncertainty, there are also challenges.
According to Dr. Gibbs, there were some “challenges getting students the technology they needed,” in order to finish out the Spring 2020 semester. But, SPC’s administrators were able to purchase Chromebooks for students, and were even able to expand the wifi so that they would be able to work on schoolwork anywhere on campus from their vehicle. He explains how they would take any problem and “roll with it,” which is all they could do to “solve problems quickly.”
Dr. Gibbs states that SPC is equipped with the “right faculty and students to meet the challenge.”
Since coming back to campus this semester, there have been several rules and regulations implemented for safety from the virus. These cautious measures include social distancing, a mandatory mask policy, and “robust cleaning procedures,” according to Dr. Gibbs. Although
inconvenient at times, these policies will ensure the safety of all SPC students, and to keep the school a healthy environment.
With taking class sizes into consideration, the “flex” program has been put into action to keep the class sizes low. This means that half of the class would meet one day a week, while the other half takes it remotely. Then the classes switch, depending on the day of the week. Another way that some professors have chosen is to take a recording of themselves giving the lecture in real time for their students.
As for whether the protective measures will remain in place for the spring semester, Dr. Gibbs explained that it is, “not wise to create an environment that could be potentially dangerous to our faculty and students, just because we want to go back to normal.”
Eventually, there is hope to go back to a “normal” classroom setting, he added, but the administrators are, “not naive enough to think that the world will be the same when we go back.”
According to Dr. Gibbs, administrators “feel like we already are, and will continue to be, a better institution because of the flexibility we have built into the way we instruct our courses.” SPC is now able to offer more online classes for the students who thrive in that way of learning.
Some advice Dr. Gibbs has for freshmen is to “stay vigilant,” to continue being hygienic and adopt healthy habits that we will continue to use. But, most of all, Dr. Gibbs says, “to remain positive.”
When things get rough, be optimistic and try to find a way around the barriers. Whatever issues arise, personal or financial, have grit to get through whatever you are going through, Dr. Gibbs said.