To help prevent further spread of COVID-19, SFA has decided to switch almost all classes to online after Thanksgiving break from Nov. 30- Dec. 18 into the winter break. Instead of students returning for two weeks, keeping as many students as possible off campus for a longer period of time will help control the spread of the virus between faculty, staff and students.
In an email sent out by the Office of Academic Affairs, University officials said the main campus will remain open, as well as Steen Library and other facilities, but, “some classes and labs may continue to be conducted face-to-face after the break.”
The email also said to contact professors to determine how individual classes will be conducted.
“The reason we made this decision is because if a student goes back home and has Thanksgiving dinner, especially if they have it with extended family where someone could have COVID, then the student could get COVID and bring that to campus,” Associate Provost Marc Guidry said. “And since, [the time between Thanksgiving and winter break] is relatively short, it’s two weeks, the thinking is that even a class that’s been face-to-face could probably go remote.”
Remote learning can be achieved through several different means according to different classes. Classes could Livestream using Zoom or post modules and assignments on D2L. However, some classes are unable to equip their students in any virtual format.
“There are some nursing labs, for instance like modern physics, would be a case where the lab equipment can’t be replicated virtually,” Guidry said. “You have to be there with the equipment. In the end, it’s based on the ultimate discretion left up to the faculty and the academic departments.”
This idea to transition courses to remote learning is based on a recommendation given by the Open SFA Task Force- Academic Affairs. The Task Force involves three primary groups: classrooms, laboratories, and course scheduling; academic support units and performance facilities and clinical and educational services.
“The Task Force involved all six of our academic deans, plus 39 faculty and staff members, academic unit heads and representatives from across key groups that provide services to students and support academic affairs,” Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Steve Bullard said.
Although Guidry “wants everyone on campus as much as possible,” COVID infection rates, hospitalization rates and death rates are on the rise in Texas, according to the Texas Tribune. In Harris County, there are over 36 cases per one thousand people. In Dallas Country, there are over 39 cases per one thousand.
“Lots of our students come from the Dallas and Harris metroplexes,” Guidry said. “Roughly, about two thirds of our students, so they would be going back to areas with higher rates of infection, and then they’d be coming back here. [The switch of most classes to remote learning] is only because of COVID.”
The pandemic has caused a lot of changes in the past semester, and students, faculty and staff had confusion on the course of action SFA would take after Thanksgiving Break.
“Adjustments to normal routines during COVID have been abrupt,” Guidry said. “They’ve been changing depending on how the disease is acting. You might have a mask requirement in a city one month, and the next month, you don’t. This stuff can be quick. Communication is always difficult, especially with a large organization like SFA.”
With all of these changes and communication difficulties, the goal “to support [students’, faculty’s and staff’s] success in every way possible” is still being pursued by SFA.
“Our students, faculty and staff have shown tremendous resilience this semester, as well as in the spring and summer sessions,” Bullard said. “We are extremely thankful for their dedication and commitment to a positive and safe learning environment.”
With resilience in mind, SFA decided to include as much face-to-face interaction as possible, although there was another option on the table for Thanksgiving Break was to go fully remote for the fall semester.
“Our students, for the most part, would rather be here,” Guidry said. “We felt like the safest thing we could do, but also the most efficacious, was to come back for as much face-to-face as possible for most of the semester, and then, just to prevent any unnecessary spread of COVID, go mostly remote after the break. So, it was a compromise, but we felt like it was a way to honor student’s needs and wishes without taking a too high level of risk.”