For universities across North Carolina, the show must go on this fall. When students return to campuses and begin classes next month, their settings will look different. But many professors express confidence that the remote learning which schools adopted in March will provide students with the fine-tuned educational experience expected of state universities, regardless of COVID-19.
At UNC-Chapel Hill, in-person classes have limited themselves to maximum 35 students. Classes with fewer than 35 students will happen remotely, in-person or a combination of both, according to UNC journalism professor Deb Aikat.
“It won’t be baptism by fire anymore,” Aikat said of instruction in COVID-19. “We had time to plan.”
In Aikat’s building at UNC, classrooms designated for in-person classes now include cameras to record the lectures. Chapel Hill and other universities will hold classes in “hybrid” style, a rotational method where half the class attends the lecture on certain days, while the other half tunes in through Zoom.
Professors get a say in styling their class structure to suit COVID-19 concerns. Some have chosen remote classes with weekly in-person recitations, and others have designed classes to allow students the choice between remote or live attendance.
Universities have changed other COVID-19 responses.
Recently, the UNC System Board of Governors centralized the process of closing any public universities. The state will now make that decision, rather than the individual schools. The Board also decided recently to cement the costs of all 16 schools’ tuition and fees for this year, regardless of any pandemic-related closings that might happen.
In nearby Raleigh, NC State is maneuvering to increase the number of courses that can be held face-to-face. Jessica Jameson, an NCSU professor and the director of the communications department, explained some of the ongoing tactics.
Jameson said that some buildings around campus, like the Talley Student Union and the McKimmon Center, will house classes for the first time.
“They’re using non-traditional spaces. They’re using larger spaces,” she said.
Jameson said she hadn’t known of the NCSU policy that (like UNC’s policy) limited in-person classes to 35 students. For students and faculty’s safety, two plexiglass barriers will join every classroom — one by the computer, and another on a mobile platform.
“The cost of doing that throughout the university, I can’t even calculate,” she said.
Douglas Reeves is the associate dean of Graduate and International Programs for NCSU’s College of Engineering. He said the university created an initial game plan for class structure. That early outline had capped in-person classes at 50 students maximum. However, Reeves will teach a hybrid class this fall with an enrollment of 80. He guesses that the guidelines must have shifted.
Both Reeves and Jameson said that a contingency of faculty has objected to NCSU’s reopening. However, they both acknowledge the triumph universities have found in online learning.
“The faculty rose to the occasion in March, when courses were suddenly all mandated to be taught online,” Reeves said. “We’re certainly better prepared now than we were then.”