OGDEN — Weber State is preparing to resume in-person courses for the fall semester, with the guidance of a plan released Wednesday by the Utah System of Higher Education.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the university announced on March 12 that it would be transitioning all spring courses to a virtual format for the remainder of the semester. After canceling regular classes from March 13-17, all courses resumed virtually starting March 18. The university also transitioned summer session courses to be held online and virtually, as previously reported by the Standard-Examiner.
Ravi Krovi, provost and vice president of academic affairs at Weber State, said that faculty, staff and students should expect an announcement with more details about fall semester in the near future, though he did say the university expects to hold in-person classes, he said.
“We ... want to make a decision relatively soon so that our faculty will have a good idea of what to expect and students will have a good idea what to expect,” Krovi said.
“There’s been no formal announcement (of fall in-person instruction), to my knowledge,” Krovi continued. “We should have a pretty good idea of what fall should be looking like in the next week or so.”
In-person classes will be offered in the fall, but more online, virtual and hybrid courses will also be offered, Krovi said. Due to social distancing requirements, there will likely be constraints on classroom and other space, so priority for in-person classes will be given to courses with “a significant experiential component,” Krovi said — like science labs or dance classes.
There is a difference between online and virtual courses, according to Brett Perozzi, vice president of student affairs for the university, who previously discussed the subject with the Standard-Examiner.
Online courses are asynchronous, meaning students can work on the course at any time — they don’t need to be accessing lectures or other course content at the same time as their instructor and classmates, Perozzi said. Virtual courses have elements that are synchronous, where all class members gather virtually at specific times using video chat or conferencing tools, he said.
Hybrid courses combine virtual or online work with in-person meetings, Krovi said. Depending on the conditions when fall semester begins, the university may convert some in-person classes to hybrid or virtual models, he said. Many students have already registered, he said, so students will be informed if the format of their course changes.
The university has polled students to see if there are clear preferences for certain types of formats, Krovi said. About 3,600 students have responded, and responses are still coming in, he said.
“A lot of the students expressed desire for face-to-face classes or online classes,” Krovi said, “so they just wanted some predictability and certainty in terms of what is going to happen for fall.”
“What they didn’t want was a situation where (the course) would be hybrid, and (the format of the course) would be decided much later,” he continued.
Enrollment is slightly down for fall semester, but Krovi suspects this is because students are waiting for more concrete information about fall semester, he said.
Many Weber State students are nontraditional — above the age of 25, often with family responsibilities, Krovi said. Students with children are likely waiting to see what the fall will hold for K-12 schools before making decisions about their own education plans, he said.
“We expect to have a full schedule this fall,” Krovi said, “and we’re very optimistic about students coming back to Weber State.”
The university is currently planning to be prepared to resume on-site classes during the state’s yellow health status, he said.
Krovi said the university’s planning process to prepare for the fall has been intensive, involving five working groups. The five groups each have their own charge:
- Classroom prioritization (departments selecting the highest priority courses for in-person instruction).
- Policy (determining policies on face coverings, travel, internships, research, etc.).
- Facilities capacity and utilization (of which facilities management plays a large role).
- Classroom scheduling and campus communication.
- Developing online and virtual teaching competencies for faculty.
These working groups are cross-functional, he said, meaning they involve administrators, faculty, staff, students and facilities management.
With this approach, university leaders are trying to “make sure that everybody who typically would have a say in that decision is involved in the decision making,” Krovi said.
The plan and schedule devised by these groups will require approval from the university’s academic leadership team, which is composed of deans and vice presidents, among other leaders, Krovi said.
On Wednesday, the Utah System of Higher Education released a plan called “Reopening Colleges and Universities” for state universities to follow as they prepare to resume courses on site, according to a USHE press release.
This plan gives universities the ultimate decision over when and how to reopen, the plan states.
However, it lists four areas that USHE wants to see addressed in each university’s plan to reopen. These areas include how each university will repopulate campus (likely in phases), actively monitor health conditions to detect the presence of COVID-19, contain and prevent the spread of the illness if it’s detected, and prepare to halt in-person instruction in the event of a virus outbreak or a directive from the state to do so.
The USHE plan also lays out eight conditions that universities should meet before resuming on-site operations, including low disease prevalence, adequate COVID-19 testing supplies, adequate personal protective equipment, adequate capacity in nearby hospitals, and a plan to assist health departments in contact tracing, as well as compliance with state guidelines and a university plan that addresses the four items described above.