FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Face-to-face instruction resumes Monday on the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville campus where 28 classes will be meeting, a spokesman said.
“I am looking forward to the excitement that always comes with the first day of a new class,” said Stephen Burgin, an assistant professor of secondary science education.
He’s set to teach a concentrated, 10-day course that’s part of UA’s August Intersession. The face-to-face intersession classes will end a suspension of in-person instruction that began at UA on March 12 in response to covid-19.
The excitement is familiar to Burgin, but there will be plenty that will be new, he said.
“I’ve never taught wearing a face mask before, or with students wearing a face mask or being socially distanced,” Burgin said.
The intersession courses — which begin Monday and have final exams set for Aug. 14 — will provide something of a “trial run” for the full fall semester, Burgin said.
Fall classes are scheduled to begin Aug. 24, with some courses online, while others are expected to meet in-person and be recorded for students unable to attend, UA officials have said.
Stephen Caldwell, chairman of the university’s faculty senate, said in an email that with the August Intersession, “we have an opportunity here to observe on a small scale what teaching in a socially distanced classroom will be like, how the students will respond, and what the challenges are managing the technology and the sanitizing before and after classes.”
David Barrett, an instructor in UA’s Department of Philosophy, described the intersession as a time to try out in-person teaching during a pandemic.
“I hope, far more than sincerely believe, teaching in-person can be done safely. But I’m willing to give it a shot. If my hope is dashed, though naturally it would be a bit depressing, I won’t hesitate to go remote,” Barrett said in an email.
In a July 17 campus-wide message, Chancellor Joe Steinmetz said “faculty who desire to teach remotely will be allowed to manage their classes in that format.”
UA spokesman John Post said a total of about 50 classes will be offered during UA’s August Intersession, including 22 being taught remotely.
“The face-to-face courses may include some hybrid courses in which students attend in-person on scheduled days and remotely on other days so that appropriate social distancing can be maintained at all times,” Post said in an email.
A similar plan is set for the fall, but with many more courses.
Post said last week that 1,320 courses had been switched to remote instruction out of a total of 4,675 fall courses, not including courses always planned for online-only students.
Barrett is scheduled to teach an introductory philosophy course with 30 enrolled students, he said. About 10 have said they plan to attend in person, he said.
“It will be strange to teach in front of only 10 students, rather than the normal, pre-pandemic 40+. But, content-wise, mode-of-presentation-wise, it will be highly similar to what I’ve done before,” Barrett said in an email.
When it comes to face coverings, Barrett said he’ll be wearing one anytime while on campus. He said he’d also have extra masks in case a student arrives without one.
“If masks seriously hinder communication, I’ll go back home and teach remotely,” Barrett said.
Burgin, the education professor, said he’ll be teaching a graduate-level class for 13 students. He said he surveyed his students and expects about half to be physically present with others watching online.
“The reason I’m doing the hybrid approach is two-fold. One, is that I feel confident that I can implement the safety measures for social distancing and wearing masks. And two, I feel like I owe it to myself and my students to try it out,” Burgin said. “Based on this survey, half the students said they wanted face to face.”
Caldwell, the faculty senate chairman and also an associate professor in UA’s Department of Music, described ongoing preparation for the fall term.
About face coverings, “we are working on a campus-wide statement to include in all course syllabi,” Caldwell said. He said he also expects by next week a policy dealing with any students refusing to wear masks.
UA continues to release information about new safety and health-related procedures. Campus requirements for face coverings and physical distancing requirements aim to reduce the risk of covid-19 transmission.
The new coronavirus is thought to spread from person to person mainly from respiratory droplets emitted during coughing, sneezing or talking, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Face coverings may help reduce transmission from those who have the virus but do not know it, according to the CDC.
At UA, face coverings are required indoors with limited exceptions, like when eating or in a community bathroom. Also excluded from the requirement are people with some documented medical conditions, according to the university.
UA’s return-to-campus plan calls for in-person classes to be “reconfigured to allow for social distancing, with numbered seats that are at least 6-feet apart.”
Joey Snow, a graduate student pursuing a master of arts degree in teaching, said in an email that he’s “completely comfortable” wearing a face covering in class.
“If we were not following the CDC guidelines about face masks and social distancing, I would not be going to class,” Snow said.
He said he signed up for a class on classroom management that starts Monday in person, though he did consider taking it online.
“After a lot of time thinking about it, I decided to go on campus. I choose to take the class in-person since there will be less students (due to the virtual option) and I feel comfortable going up there with the University’s policies toward reopening,” Snow said.
His plans for the fall include a full-time internship at a public school, “so I need to immerse myself into the public at some time,” he added.
Vicki Collet, an associate professor of education, and curriculum and instruction, said she’ll be teaching a total of 10 students.
“I’m excited to be in the same room with students again! We get a lot of energy off of each other during class, so I welcome the chance to be present with students,” Collet said in an email.
The face coverings add a challenge, she said, as her course partly involves preparing future teachers for instruction in phonics, a reading instruction method that involves matching sounds with letters or groups of letters.
“For these sessions, it’s important that students can see my mouth and that I can see theirs. So I am moving those sessions to a synchronous online format. I’ll need to administer their quiz on phonics sounds through individually-scheduled one-on-one Zoom meetings, too,” Collet said, referring to the video conferencing program.
She said her “biggest challenge” is teaching students in-person and remotely at the same time.
“I’m still trying to figure out the logistics of that, since the room where I’ll be teaching doesn’t have the video-recording capability yet that will be in place by the time fall semester starts. I’m glad to be teaching a course during intersession, though, as the experiences we have will give me a leg up for fall,” Collet said.
Burgin said he’s planning to use his laptop to record his class sessions and allow students to participate online.
“That will be an awkward thing. I don’t know how it will work until I try it,” Burgin said.
He said he doesn’t know how it will feel to wear a mask while teaching during intersession classes that last 2.5 hours.
“I have a pretty good teacher voice. I’m used to projecting,” Burgin said.
It’s also unknown, however, how group discussion might be affected, he said.