University students around the nation prepare for a 2020 academic year that will be like no other in recent memory, with social distancing, remote classes, and limited on-campus activities, and now, increasing numbers of COVID infections. How are leaders assessing the situation and planning to keep their students and communities safe, while maintaining the high standards of education that their students expect?
This virtual media event welcomes presidents, deans, and other university spokespeople to make the case for how their universities are handling this once in a lifetime challenge.
There will be 3 panels beginning at the top of the hour starting at 2PM, 3PM, and 4PM.
- Associate Vice Provost Jill Leafstedt at Cal State Channel Islands
- Provost Christopher Sindt, Lewis University
- President Jonathan Brand, and VP for Academic & Student Affairs Ilene Crawford, and Associate Professor of Chemistry Jai Shanata, Cornell College
- President Harvey Stenger, Binghamton University
- Danielle Xiaodan Morales, CUR and UTEP
- George Zimmerman, Executive Director, Admissions and Recruitment, West Virginia University
- Dean Michael Dennin, UC Irvine
- LaTanya Love, MD, dean of education at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston
- Stephen Conard, MPA, CEM - Emergency Management Coordinator, University at Albany
- Henry C. Lucas, Ph.D - Robert H. Smith Professor of Information Systems Emeritus, University of Maryland
More panelists TBA
Here's the schedule so far, with additional speakers still TBA.
Join for part or all of the briefing.
Register to get the video and transcript after the event, even if you can't attend.
2:00 - 3:00 PM EDT
- Jill Leafstedt, Ph.D. - Associate Vice Provost, Cal State Channel Islands
- Dr. Christopher Sindt - Provost, Lewis University
- Jonathan Brand - President, Cornell College. Ilene Crawford- Ph.D. - Provost, Vice-President for Academic and Student Affairs, Professor of English, Cornell College & Jai Shanata, Ph.D. - Associate Professor of Chemistry, Cornell College
- Harvey Stenger, Ph.D - President, Binghamton University.
- Danielle Xiaodan Morales, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor, UTEP & Member of the Council on Undergraduate Research.
3:00 - 4:00 PM EDT
- George Zimmerman - Assistant Vice President of Enrollment Management, West Virginia University.
- Michael Dennin Ph.D - Professor of Physics & Astronomy, Dean of Division of Undergraduate Education & Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning at University of California, Irvine
- LaTanya J. Love, MD - Dean of Education at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston
There will be a 15 minute break before the 4:00 PM session
4:00 - 5:00 PM EDT
- Stephen Conard, MPA, CEM - Emergency Management Coordinator, University at Albany
- Henry C. Lucas, Ph.D - Robert H. Smith Professor of Information Systems Emeritus at Robert H. Smith School of Business
Thom: Let’s get started, welcome to this Newswise live event, we have with us today 10 experts to talk about how this fall is going to be an academic year like no other. Students are preparing to start the semester with social distancing, remote classes and limited on campus activities and of course the increasing number of Covid infections and we’re here to talk with our panellists here today about various ways that universities and colleges are addressing the situation, how this is going to go for keeping students and the community safe, while also maintaining high standards for education that the students expect.
So, to start off we have with us – I'm going to spotlight her video – Associate Vice Provost, Jill Leafstedt from Cal State Channel Islands. Thank you for joining us Jill, I want to ask you to tell us a little bit about what the plans have been for Cal State Channel Islands? How you came to these plans and how you plan to adjust as the situation evolves?
Jill Leafstedt: Sure, so the California State University System made a decision back in mid-May, our chancellor decided that we would be mostly virtual which provided us with time to plan and organise for a mostly virtual fall. So, a lot of our time was spent preparing faculty to teach online, helping them improve their classes, create more engaging classes, to launch we opened the semester two weeks ago with 96% of our classes virtual, 4% mostly labs and art classes taking place on campus. So, it was very nice for us to have the decision made early and to be able to focus on the virtual environment.
Thom: Making that decision early surely helped with some of that planning, can you tell us what sort of steps you’ve taken together with your faculty to ensure the high quality of experience in those remote classes?
Jill Leafstedt: Sure, so the time allowed us to create a very comprehensive program for the faculty. So, it did last all summer, faculty were able to participate, to learn how to teach online, to create engaging classes where they could capture the students interests and make sure they had ways for the students to interact and get to know each other in the classes. So the faculty participated in both synchronous, where they got on Zoom with us and learnt different tools for using Zoom in an interactive way, as well as asynchronous where they were using our learning management system – our platform where the classes take place in an engaging way that allowed students to once again interact and to know who is in their classes and to connect with the faculty or the experts.
Thom: So, from the student perspective of things, what are you doing to make sure that students are able to get the best experience and the kind of things that they sort of have control over in their remote learning. Tell us a little bit about what your plans are for that.
Jill Leafstedt: So, there’s been a lot taking place across campus to stay connected with our students. So, from the faculty end, like I said they’re trying to create interactive engaging experiences for students where the students are getting on video, they're sharing with each other, they're getting to know each other. We’ve also launched a chat bot that reaches out to students using artificial intelligence that can answer the student’s questions and that is keeping them engaged. We have also launched a course for students to learn how to learn online, its called learning online 101 – a two hour course where students can participate to learn all of the technologies and tools, but more importantly to learn the study skills that are needed, to understand how the process of learning online is different than just showing up for a class and listening.
Thom: Yeah that sounds really helpful because I'm sure there’s a broad range of knowledge and abilities with some of these remote learning tools. What sort of socio-economic disparities exist? Maybe things like access to technology or other issues that may be a concern, among others, especially knowing that the Covid pandemic is affecting different socio economic and racial groups differently, what steps are you taking to address those kind of issues?
Jill Leafstedt: So, we are a Hispanic serving institution and we have a large population of low-income students, so that’s been a very significant concern for us. Our library along with our technology program has set up a service for students to be able to come and check out a laptop. We’ve set up lockers outside so they go online and they check it out and then they go and pick it up from a locker, or if they're not in the area it gets mailed to them. We have also created virtual desktops, so that all of the technologies and programs that students would normally access in labs on campus are now available to them virtually. We have created – taken our tutoring centres and embedded tutors in the online classes so that they're easier to find and to connect with the students, allowing a tutor in all of our higher need classes to be available to the students.
Thom: Are there any particular online classes that have been developed with online learning being in mind for that and taken some creative approaches to making online courses that could be unique as an offering this year?
Jill Leafstedt: Yeah, I think we’re seeing a lot of things that aren’t going to go away. Faculty are engaging and thinking differently about their classes. They're learning – the labs are probably the biggest point of concern and so they're trying to figure out how can we do this and they're doing labs in their backyard – they're engaging their own children in labs, they're sending kits home, so they have experiences that are – the students can actually engage and that also will be able to be used in the future – so these videos and these examples they can embed in classes after they move forward. There is people creating scavenger hunts and so we’re thinking a lot about how our web-based resources are available and how difficult they can be for students to find and so we’re seeing faculty really work through how do I present my information? How do I make sure that everybody can find it – knows where it is and that its understandable in online format, those kinds of things I think will continue forward when the pandemic ends and we return to a place-based campus.
Thom: For any of our media on the call, if you have questions for Associate Vice Provost – Jill Leafstedt from Cal State Channel Islands – or any of our other panellists as they come up through todays program, please do let us know. You can chat your question directly to me, we’ll offer if you like to ask the question live here in the video chat or if you’d rather not do that, I will relay the question on your behalf.
So, Jill can you tell us any silver linings that you see in this whole process? Anything that we’re learnt, any solutions that we’ve come up that actually could transform modern higher education for the better?
Jill Leafstedt: I think we are seeing a lot of things and I wish I had a magic 8 -ball that could tell me what’s going to stick but I think the resilience in our students and in our faculty is something that just needs to – we need to sign the spotlight on there. The willingness to put in that extra time, to make sure the learning happens and to really think through what learning means. We’ve heard from faculty that they’re more excited about teaching than they’ve ever been before – they’ve had to pause and really think how do they make learning happen, instead of just showing up and doing the same thing that they’ve been doing year after year. So, I think what they're rethinking and how they're turning towards learning we keep saying is going to be remarkable and that is going to transform higher education as we move forward.
Thom: Once the pandemic has ended and this is all a rear view mirror, what role do you see online learning taking in the future and is this one of the things that you hope would stick in that potentially more hybrid approach to in person and online classes with students living on campus or in the same area or even learning from far away – are those the kind of things you do hope we take out of this and make work?
Jill Leafstedt: So, I don’t know that we can separate out online learning and what’s going to happen there, but I think that the way that the use of technology and approaches to teaching are changing, are going to transform higher education. I think we’ll see a lot more options for the way students participate in their learning experiences. I hope we see a lot less counting of – as we say -butts and seats and that we see that learning can happen in lots of different places and lots of different ways. So, I don’t know – we might see a growth in online programs, but I think we’ll just see a lot more options and variability in the way learning happens for place-based campuses.
Thom: Thank you so much, that’s all the time we have for associate Vice Provost Jill Leafstedt, thank you so much for joining us. If anyone has further questions for Jill, please contact Kim Gregory who is the PIO there at Cal State Channel Islands, I've added her email to the chat, thank you so much Associate Vice Provost Leafstedt. Have a great rest of your day.
We’ll take it next to – let’s see – we’ve got Provost Christopher Sindt from Lewis University, I’ll spotlight his video. Provost Sindt, thank you so much for joining us.
Dr. Christopher Sindt: Thank you.
Thom: Tell us a little bit about the plan for Lewis University and anything that helps us to understand the way that you're approaching college under Covid – how did you decide on that plan and what’s your plan if the situation as it surely will – evolves.
Dr. Christopher Sindt: Sure, so first just in case people are not familiar with Lewis University, we’re a catholic and Lasallian University located in the south west suburbs of Chicago. We have about 6400 students including 3300 traditional undergraduates and about 1000 residential students in our population. So, before Covid hit about 20% of our courses worked hot online in any given year, so we had some capacity there and we found that transition to fully online challenging but not overwhelming for our system, for our faculty. And then another thing I would say is a significant aspect of our mission is related to sophisticated, professional preparation that includes a lot of emphasis on experiential learning and community-based learning. So we’re kind of weighing those two factors very much back in April when we decided to go with a hybrid approach where we are about – for our traditional under graduates about a third online – a third in a blended modality where students are meeting on campus, the classes are meeting on campus, once a week and about a third that is kind of on campus or off campus experiential learning, labs or placements in – teaching placements or clinical placements and so on.
We have evolved over the summer from the very beginning – our model – we wanted to make the decision very early so that we can both prepare but also be flexible as the summer has evolved. So, we have been prepared to make gradual adjustments. We have made some gradual adjustments as Covid has persisted in our community through the summer and we’re prepared to go fully online – planning to go online after Thanksgiving.
Thom: That’s great to know that you already had a little bit of a structure in place for handling that hybrid approach, can you tell us what else you're then able to do building off of that to ensure the highest possible level of quality in that education experience as more students may be required to go into those remote type of courses?
Dr. Christopher Sindt: Yes it was great to have a core group, a faculty in many departments across our university who were skilled and experienced and it really began in the spring as a peer to peer help amongst colleagues to bring out those really excellent methods, and then when we made the decision in April we designed – like what Jill was talking about – very concentrated training and profession development in online teaching, so we have an online teaching certificate. Our faculty went through it over the summer. We have peer to peer teaching; we did this thing called Teaching Tuesdays where experienced online instructors provide different elements of their expertise with their colleagues. All of that’s been incredibly important and popular among our faculty over the summer and we’ve certainly had some of that creativity and excitement that Jill was talking about using new tools, around rethinking what learning is and then I would just say quickly that for many of our faculty, the hybrid blended delivery was more new than traditional online education, so we’ve really had a exciting conversation about what a classroom is, going back to the silver lining of this experience is it really does make you take everything apart and rethink what its for and so we really are making a very limited time in the classroom, and we’re making a very good use of that time and that’s been a really – I think stimulating conversation with our faculty in preparing for the fall.
Thom: How are you handling monitoring for cases of Covid infections and what’s your response plan if there is any level of cases of concern there on campus?
Dr. Christopher Sindt: Yeah so we follow the CDC guidelines and did not require testing in the beginning of the term, although we did target many different populations such as NCAA Athletes, international students coming and students coming from Chicago or states that have larger frequency of positivity than ours, and quarantine those students and then targeted testing towards those students, and that has been a big part of the initial approach. We have a daily required screening on our Lewis University app that all students have to go through, essentially a health screening that positive outcome of that screening is required for students to enter classrooms with a QR code, and so it also weeds out or identifies students who need further testing or need further attention by our health professionals and then we have a large group of professionals dedicated to contact tracing following up on any of those leads and so on and that has been successful and nipping things in the bud as they’ve developed since we’ve gone through the summer and into the fall.
Thom: That contact tracing is surely a very important part of this, how are you incentivising students to follow these guidelines in their lives off campus?
Dr. Christopher Sindt: Yeah that’s a great question, something we talk about a lot. First of all, I would say – I'm going to give a quick aside, Lewis started as an aviation college and its still one of our largest majors, aviation. So, our mascot is the Flier – so everything that we do has the word Flier in it, so I will just explain that context. Over the summer we developed a big communication initiative called The Fliers Promise, which is essentially a pledge that students and employees are taking to keep themselves safe and healthy as well as to consider their peers both on campus and off campus. Our students have really embraced the spirit of that and have signed it in droves and it’s a big part of our vigilance around communicating or educating the students around Covid-19 and around the risks that are present in our society. So that’s been very positive, we’re doing a large amount of social media communication by email, video and so on and that’s certainly making an impact.
That said, we know that there are some of our students – significant number of our students are young, we know that they will make mistakes and we want to support them in as positive a way as possible through that, but it is a reality of our situation for sure. I guess I want to say one other thing about that is that – universities like Lewis, Channel Islands is probably not that different – our students are mostly here – most of our students are here to learn to find vocation, to be prepared for jobs, to get a degree to be able to change career and that kind of cliché of a college party life is present certainly in our community, but its not top of mind of most of our students and so I think that’s a huge benefit – that silver lining benefit to us right now is that our students have economic motivations to take their learning opportunity very seriously.
Thom: How are you partnering with your surrounding community as the student, staff, faculty all overlap and intermix with local residents? Is there any way that you're working with your local and regional public health officials to make sure that the disease rates and everything are monitored successfully?
Dr. Christopher Sindt: Yeah, our county health department is working very, very closely with us, daily conversation and contact and they’ve been incredibly helpful partners and they’ve also been partners in administering tests and connecting us with the state health department and so on – it’s really a very tight relationship and positive relationship with those community partners. I mentioned that we’re also very much integrated with our local municipality police and fire and we’re just participating as a member of that community and very – it was like this before which was helpful, but right now it’s much more integral and as I said, as a place that really emphasises professional development, we have so many relationships with hospitals and health centres for our nursing and other health science placements and schools and so on – so community engagement is a huge part of who we are and its been beneficial to continue those relationships through this.
Thom: If any of the media on the call have questions for Provost Christopher Sindt, from Lewis University, please do chat those to us and we’ll ask them for you or you're welcome to get on and ask it yourself, if you have any further questions that you’d like to follow up on, I’ll also give the PIO’s contact information there for Lewis University. Provost Sindt could you tell us how you're addressing any socio-economic disparities?
Dr. Christopher Sindt: Sure, responding to social justice, especially understanding and supporting communities impacted by poverty is a huge part of our mission here and so from the very beginning we set out to make learning possible for all members of our community during this time that has had a huge economic impact on our student population. In addition to the usual financial aid and the CARES Act funding that we distributed through the CARES Act, we developed a Covid – what we call a Covid-19 relief fund which is largely donor funded, reserved grant funding that we’re giving to students who are directly impacted by Covid-19 in their families or in their ability to pay for their education and over the summer and leading into the fall, we’ve been able to grant 1.4 million dollars in those funds to our students and that’s really made a massive difference in our ability for them to continue.
We’ve also instituted something we call a Stars Program which stands for Student Technology Academic Resources which means that students who are living in communities or living in situations where they don’t have access to laptop, computers or reliable internet connections, they can request to loan laptops and mobile hotspots and other technologies that support their learning, and so far we’ve been able to grant all of those requests from our students as the semester is getting started. I might also mention that this ability to access education was a factor in our decision to take the hybrid model in the beginning because our campus itself is sometimes a haven or a place where students can sit and attend an online class if they don’t have access elsewhere in their lives.
Thom: Thank you so much Provost Christopher Sindt from Lewis University, if you have any follow up questions and would like to contact them, I've given the PIO’s contact information in the chat, that’s Katherine – please do follow up with them if you have any further questions, thank you so much Christopher.
Dr. Christopher Sindt: Thank you, have a great day.
Thom: You too, next we’ll be going on to talk with three panellists from Cornell College, we have with us President of Cornell College – Jonathan Brand.
Hi president Brand, thank you so much for joining in, we also have colleagues of yours, we have Ilene Crawford who is VP for academic and student affairs, thank you for joining Irene, and we also have Jai Shanata who is an Associate Professor of Chemistry who can also answer questions about how things are proceeding, so to start with President Brand, tell us about your plan, how you came to this plan, what factors you took into consideration and what you'll do if things change?
Jonathan Brand: Right, thanks, so going into the pandemic, or at least once the pandemic hit, we realised unlike our cousin school Cornell University in Ithaca, believe it or not we’re the older of the two, that we had a distinct advantage in that we’ve been on the block system for over 42 years and of course this is our one course at a time model, one where our students don’t take 4 or 5 courses at a time they take one course for 3.5 weeks, and then of course they do this eight times over the course of the year. And so, as we were thinking about how to respond and prepare for the pandemic, we realised that we really had this model, this philosophy even that offered our students, that offered them the flexibility and certainty that they need. And let me just say that the block system it turns out is great in that each month if something changes externally with the crisis, with the pandemic, if there’s a spike, we can respond month to month, block to block. Its also an incredible asset on the daily basis, so that if we have to juggle classes around on a given day, we don’t really have to worry about students’ schedules because they're only taking one course. So, while they're in that block, its their only priority, and we don’t have to think about faculty schedules in the same way because our faculty are only teaching one course at a time also – so recognising the benefits of the block system, of the one course calendar, we decided to really maximise those benefits. So we added two extra blocks to the year, so now the year for us- the academic year, rather than 8 blocks, we’ll go into next summer and we will have 10 blocks, which will allow our students if there’s a given block where for example they can’t or don’t want to be on campus or don’t wish to study that block, they can make it up over summer, over one of our flex blocks in the summer. Which just means that over the course of their academic time at Cornell, we can really ensure that they graduate in 4 years, or under 4 years. I mean if a student says I'm really motivated by the schedule and I wish to take all 10 blocks over the course of the year, they can graduate as quickly as in three years. And so that was one part of our plan. We also decided that we would move about 90% of our courses into a format where they're available online. So, we have courses that are being taught entirely remotely, we have courses that are being taught on campus and remotely at the same time, and we have some courses, a smaller set of courses like lab sciences that are being taught exclusively on campus. And so, with the block system and our real hybrid format, we basically turned to our students and said – under our approach we are welcoming you back to campus. You can come back at the beginning of the year, you can choose to come back to campus after block 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 or even 5 of starting courses if you wish in a remote format, and interestingly at this point, I think about somewhere between 10-15% of our students have chosen to start the year in a remote format, the remainder of our students are back on campus and we’re taking it block by block and I noticed in your questions to the other two – how will we prepare for changes in the virus? So, for example, I think the prevailing wisdom four months ago was that the summer would be relatively quiet and then the virus was going to re-emerge fiercely in November – well look what happened in the summer! Its been pretty fierce. So, over the fall, we’re prepared and we’re a month or two ago – I think many schools were thinking we’ll send our students home early, the latest wisdom that we’re hearing from Dr. Fauci or Dr. Birx is keep them on campus. So, as we sort of monitor the external environment, I would see us perhaps tightening down campus more and doing more of a keep up – we’re not telling our students that they cant leave campus, but we will do more to keep them on campus rather than sending them home where they have the possibility to spread the virus, which wouldn’t be good for anybody.
Thom: Tell us how you're partnering with your surrounding communities as well as student faculty and local residents mix, what are you doing to make sure that public health guidelines are followed as closely as possible in students off campus lives.
Jonathan Brand: Yeah, when you live in a beautiful hamlet like Mount Vernon, Iowa – and no we’re not Cornell in Ithaca and we’re not Mount Vernon in Virginia – Mount Vernon, Iowa – we know that nothing really works well unless we’re partnering with the town and with the school district. On a couple of fronts – 1] we actually very early on in the process did join forces with the school district in ordering PPE and different equipment’s and supplies that we needed on campus. Very hard to secure, and collectively when we found a path or a channel for obtaining supplies, we did it together. The city of Mt. Vernon – enacted a mask mandate and they did it explicitly because they wanted it to be aligned perfectly with Cornell’s own mandates around face covering and physical distancing. And I will say as a little aside – our students returned last week and it was heartening that our local police department was willing to go to the few local drinking establishments in town and reminded them – not that they needed reminding, but just to remind them of the Iowa laws around physical distancing and the consumption of alcohol and food and mask wearing, all before our students – before the first week together – that was huge, and then the last thing I’d say is that in our area we have the University of Iowa down the road, there are two other liberal arts colleges and those two schools called us and said – we understand you have ample isolation space and we don’t, and we wont should we have a real cluster on our campus, would you be willing to take some of our students into your isolation spaces and we said – yeah, absolutely. I just think – I would have said this before the pandemic – we rise and fall together and if we’re not helping each other then we are disserving society.
Thom: Excellent message President Brand, I want to ask Vice President Crawford to tell us about how you're engaging with the student body especially but also making sure that the highest level of quality education is achievable under these conditions too – tell us about what you’ve been working on in those areas?
Ilene Crawford: So I will say that our faculty have really led up the charge on this and straight after the experience in the spring really quickly got to work in developing some collective guidelines for fall, guiding the development of our courses as we began to move forward with the hybrid courses- the default option, but broadly defined, leaving faculty a lot of choice to design their own courses. So as president Brand said, we have a handful of classes on campus that are all in person – the vast majority of them are hybrid but also accessible to students that are learning remotely from us and then we have some classes that are offered 100% online right now and that was really designed to meet faculty need, who might be high risk themselves versus faculty who felt like they were ready to be on campus and have some in person experience with students and then some of our faculty feeling that for labs and other intensely interactive courses, that in person experience was still essential. But these are all really anchored continually by our educational priorities and outcomes. We’re a small liberal arts college and so it was essential for our faculty to hold onto those values and moving forward with hybrid and online course design from those essential principles. So, our excellent centre for teaching and learning was already well down the path with many of our faculty and having designed courses that already have some online. Some interactive elements, so we’re pursuing engaged learning while physically distancing, grounded in our liberal arts priorities and so we’re seeing a lot of really exciting new uses of things that were familiar to us – the google suite- in ways in which there was already a lot of collaborative, interactive assignments designed around that but we invested in some additional things like voice thread and Panopto that gives additional video presentation capabilities. Very interactive. Many of our classrooms already had cameras in them, but now the majority of them do and we’re piloting 360-degree vision owls in some of our classrooms, so where we have students that are participating remotely as well as students that are in the classroom. So, this is allowing faculty to really step up to the challenge and they’re combining synchronous and asynchronous components, group work and single author projects, remote and in person components, so we’re seeing the kind of rich wonderful assignments that you expect to seeing in a liberal arts environment. The laboratory work that students are doing, case studies, debates, but also new things, like videos, presentations, podcasts – in addition to some of the more reading and writing assignments. So the level of creativity has been really invigorating and I think Jill and Chris both pointed our in their comments that the silver lining in all this, our new opportunities to rethink what learning is, what an exciting, interactive learning environment can look like making use of some of these new tools, and I think that’s the case at Cornell as well there –
Thom: Thank you Vice President Crawford, we have a question from Rick inside Higher Ed – president Brand I’d love if you could address this then we could maybe see if any of our other panellists in administrative roles can answer this too – can you talk about testing capacity? Have you experienced any bottle necks with contractors providing testing or other delays as they sought to ramp up the capacity for students coming in this fall?
Jonathan Brand: So, had you asked me this 6 weeks ago, I would have had to pause and get really nervous and I would have been in a cold sweat. So, one of the reasons why professor Shanata is on – if it comes up is – he and a colleague of his who happens to also be his wife, and I should note – our two other Cornellians on the meeting here are both Cornell graduates, so we developed a randomised and stratified testing plan that has us – our goal, our aim is to test approximately 2 – 300 students every month and we decided in mid-July that we were going to use Sofia Analyser and do an antigen test as the basis for our testing. And we are pretty enthused about it, of course it gives results in a matter of a minute, so our students can get their results within the matter of an hour or two – so it was a great plan and then in mid-July after we made the selection, we started to hear from the company Quidel, which is the company that produces the Sofia test and analyser that it might be November before we get an analyser and we might have tests before then but what’s the use without the analyser? So I went into – well first of all our distributor was very kind and helped us partner with a company – not a college, in Demoin, Iowa to lend us an analyser until ours comes in. so first we had the testing equipment, but we didn’t have the tests, and so I took the best skills that my mother taught me to become a first rate Kvetch, and call and call and call and call and we received 3000 tests in the matter of a week, before our students arrived. So now we have ample supplies, we have the analyser, we have the tests, we have a testing space and so it is working like clockwork and I knock on wood – right next to me there's a chair, because I cant believe this will continue, but at the moment we don’t have any student who has tested positive and the belief of our testing philosophy is by testing somewhere between 200-300 students every month we believe that we can track the transmission rate on campus and as long as its under one it would suggest that we’re not seeing any transmission on campus. So, at the moment its been a shining spot for us.
Thom: Thank you very much President Brand, just time enough for some comments from Professor Shanata and I’d love to hear from you about the testing process that President Brand referred to and tell us a little bit more about your part in that.
Jai Shanata: Sure, Randy Shanata, my wife and I – she’s a statistician, worked with multiple students over the summer on a research project. Our research projects – most of them couldn’t be done in person but students were still anxious to have those summer research experiences that is the hallmark of a small liberal arts school like us and working close with faculty. And so, they came up with a number of ideas, we compared that to what was available and as president Brand mentioned settled on the Quidel Sofia.
The sampling strategy really was around – as president Brand mentioned – getting R- nought, below one – and in fact that modelling didn’t exist 3-4 months ago, but once that became available – it wasn’t the modelling we did but others did, we realised that by using that combination of periodic testing, cluster testing – which means testing one person from each residence or floor every week and random sampling of faculty staff and some students, we would be able to add that to our toolkit of hand sanitisers and footfalls on doors and plexi glass barriers and face coverings required and all of the other physical mitigations. We had another faculty member monitoring the air exchanges in classrooms, building filters in fans to make sure we can minimise aerosol transmission, and when we add all of these pieces together, we feel really confident that we have a good chance of keeping that transmission rate low.
Thom: Thank you Professor Shanata, thank you to all of the panellists from Cornell College, that’s all the time we have for you professor Shanata, Vice President Crawford and President Brand, thank you very much, if anyone would like to follow up with Cornell College for any further questions, I've entered the PIO’s contact information into the chat, that’s Jill Hawk – thank you very much everyone. Have a great day.
We’re going on next to President Harvey Stenger from Binghamton University – President Stenger thank you so much for joining.
Harvey Stenger: Thank you for hosting this and conducting these interviews, this is great I'm enjoying listening to my colleagues tell their stories cause we’re all pretty similar in this situation right now.
Thom: We had this question from Rick inside Higher Ed – about testing that President Brand from Cornell College was just talking about, we’d love to hear about Binghamton’s approach to testing, I understand that you’ve done quite a big project in making sure that you're able to test all students.
Harvey Stenger: Right so we have about 18,000 total students, 14,000 undergraduates, 4000 graduate students we have 7000 students that live on campus and we decided early in the summer that we needed to test every single on campus student the day they moved into the residence hall. Just like Cornell college ran into the problem, we had the same problem. Finding the test equipment that we could use for this big effort. We found it – it got delivered about a week before moving started. We moved in a 1000 students a day for 7 days, we tested them all at about a 100 -150 students per hour, we had our industrial engineering department, our school of pharmacy, our school of nursing design this system which was in our basketball arena, where we had 10 lanes of tests set up and in 30 minutes a student could walk in the door and be outside getting a text message with the results of their tests.
They were then cleared, they got their dorm keys in the building next to them and they moved into their residence hall. One thing that we added though, was that only the student could go into the residence hall, no one else – no parents. Which was probably the biggest complaint we got all summer, was that the mom and dad couldn’t go in to see their son/daughters room and help them set it up, but we kept to that and we were lucky enough that not many people tried to violate that because the consequences were going to be – your son/daughter has to go home now because you just violated that rule. Out of the 6200 tests that we ran before move in, we had 28 positives, and those positive students were counselled immediately, and out of the 28 we had isolation rooms on campus, a dormitory that was set aside for isolation but after a conversation with those students 24 of the 28 decided to go home with their parents and to isolate there and then after 14 days of isolation come back to campus – because we’re moving in over 7 days they probably missed about 6 or 7 days of classes, but because we’re teaching everything in this flex hybrid mode, they were able to stay at home and take their classes and not miss anything. Even though they were isolated for that short period of time.
So, moving testing was a big lift – we almost – it was one of those tests where you say – this is impossible, are we really going to be able to pull this off? And you're right – the CDC has said all that probably isn’t as important to do, but from the standpoint of our students and parents feeling of safety it was critical to do. We retained 85% of our on-campus housing reservations. We only lost 15% of the students who decided not to live on campus, compared to the other public universities in New York state- Binghamton being one of them, where the numbers are less than 50% occupancy. I think we built a sense of confidence that staying on campus was the best place to be, not just the only place to be.
Now since then, we’ve started testing all off-campus students – and some on campus students randomly. We’re doing 200 tests a day, yesterday we did 266 tests, we had one positive yesterday and again we go through a counselling and recommending where you can isolate on campus or isolate at home, most off campus students are isolating in their apartments, with guidance from the county health department to make sure they're following all the right protocols.
That testing system will be in place for the rest of the semester and we’ll be selecting students – we’re trying to pick students that are of high risk, students that pretend to gather more – perhaps who don’t follow social distancing rules as well – so we’re looking at certain sub groups, sub populations and testing those selectively and we’ve done a pretty good job, it’s a requirement as part of your responsibilities and rights that you sign for the semester to come in and be tested, so you can’t say I don’t want to be tested, everybody is coming in and testing when they're being asked to – so that’s kind of the two steps that we’ve done in testing in order to keep the campus as safe as possible, we’ve done about I think 600 surveillance tests – we’ve done about 660 surveillance tests and we’ve had 3 positives in the first week of testing off campus students. I think we’re in good shape, we’re below 1% infection rate, about 0.5% - and that’s about where our county is – we have a website that posts our results everyday and a lot of the residence in the Binghamton area look at that to see if we are the bad guys bringing the virus into this community and I think we’ve shown them that we’re actually slightly below the county infection rate which is about 0.8% - we’re about 0.5% - so we say we’re contributing to the health of the community not contributing to the dis wellbeing of it –
Thom: That’s very good news and we wanted to ask you about – on top of this very rigorous testing program and what a success that’s been – some of the ways that you hope to keep that status as the ones bringing health and having a better rate than maybe the surrounding county. We in fact have a student reporter from Binghamton from the student run paper who asked this question – have there been any students suspended or expelled due to not following regulations? We wanted to know – what are you doing to incentivise students adhering to these guidelines in their lives around and off campus?
Harvey Stenger: Right its all about positive messaging, its about what can you do – how many things have we put tougher that students can do virtually or in person, I'm looking out my window right now, they're on the peace quad which is where students gather and they're out there socially distancing, playing a little frisbee, having conversations, no where near the density that we used to have or we would normally have – its 1/3rd the density that we would have had last year in terms of students per square foot, so we’ve been trying to create a lot of opportunities for students to have things to do, whether it’s on the weekends, in the evening or during the day making it as attractive as possible to be here and I think we’ve done a good job with that. We have not suspended or expelled any student yet – we have not had a case that’s been that severe – we have some reports that we’re investigating, and we’re working through our student conduct process.
Really unfortunately the move in and the violation of the parents was our only real bad problem and I think it was six students’ parents violated our rule and those six students lost their housing privilege. They weren’t told that they couldn’t be a student, but they had to go home and take their classes online at home -and that was sad – I think the students were upset, parents were upset, but it was the only way that we thought that we could hold the line and make sure that people knew we were very serious about this. But so far, no expulsions and no suspensions, but a lot of investigating. We actually have a university police department that works well with our local police department. A lot of our students live off campus in this city of Binghamton and our university police department work with the Binghamton police department to patrol and to knock on doors and to visit where we know there is either fraternities or sororities or clubs that gather, and we pop in and ask them questions and make sure that they're all socially distanced and wearing masks – at least when the police are there they are, but we’re trying to be as positive as possible, the police carry piles of masks with them when they go to these locations and we tell them – look, your gathering cant be more than 15 – so keep it under 15 as best as you can. So, we’ve been trying to use that more community support for our student’s well-being than the hammer that some of our other universities have been using – I heard on the news.
Thom: Tell us how you're addressing any socio-economic disparities being experienced by your students at this time – access to things like technology or food or housing insecurity and of course the way that the pandemic is certainly affecting certain racial and economic groups more than others.
Harvey Stenger: Yeah in the spring it hit us very hard. In New York state the governor said – all higher education public and private – ahs to go fully remote and they could stay on campus but many of our students went home and many of our students lived in the New York city area and about 33% of our students are Pell Eligible, which means their families income is below $45,000. Those students when they went home – we found very quickly that many of them did not have the internet bandwidth to support streaming of Zoom classes, many of them didn’t even have a laptop with a camera on it – or a laptop that was strong enough to participate in Zoom – so we through the help of our system, we distributed – I think it was 200 laptops to students – they just had to call us or email us and tell us they needed a new laptop and we got that to them. We distributed about a 100 hotspots with 3 months of unlimited data so that they could have wireless internet in their home that was probably stronger than the internet that they had themselves and we said keep them for the rest of the semester, bring them back next semester when you come back to campus or bring them back during the summer. So I think that was really helpful, certainly we had the CARES act funding that we supported our students who were Pell Eligible and that was 6 million dollars’ worth of funding that went out to those students as well, and we put on a campaign for alumni to give to students of need and we raised about a quarter of a million dollars from not just alumni but from faculty and staff as well to support students who perhaps couldn’t pay rent or were food insecure. The food pantry did a lot of business this summer for the students who stuck around and stayed in a local community, so we put that at the top of our list. UNI is a big public system – the University of New York is a big public system that accesses one of our key attributes and values and I think we did a pretty good job of helping those students, but now we’re looking at them coming back and same kinds of problems with technology, although now that they're on campus they have the high speed internet and again we’re using a lot of laptop loaners to give them access that they need to classes.
Thom: Thank you so much president Stenger, that’s all the time we have, if any follow up questions to President Stenger there of Binghamton university, please contact their communications office, their PIO is Ryan YArosh, I will chat his info to everybody here in the chat, thank you again President Stenger.
We’ll go on next to Professor – we have with us an associate professor from University of Texas, El Paso – Danielle Morales, thank you so much for joining us Professor Morales. You took part in a multi institute survey involving how the Covid pandemic and this years unprecedented academic year would impact undergraduate research – tell us about what you found in that survey.
Danielle Morales: Okay thank you Thom. Good afternoon – I'm very happy to be here, its nice to learn from other panellists about amazing things they're doing and I would like to contribute to today’s conversation from a slightly different perspective.
So as a researcher over the past 5 years I have been studying undergraduate research experience and I also coordinate undergraduate research program at my institution too, however in March this year because of the pandemic, many undergraduate research programs across the country had to be modified, cancelled- at that time my colleagues and I felt we really need to develop a better understanding of how this pandemic itself and other changes effect our students and we want to hear from those students. So, using our previous study we designed online survey and partnered with 17 universities, we launched our survey in early July and were able to email about 2900 students and 1600 of them took the survey, about 900 of them completed the survey. So, what we found is – first question we want to ask is, how did the pandemic affect their research experience in the spring semester – because March is in the middle of the academic year research and based on the data, we found out that about 90% of students mentioned that they did not formally resign from the research positions. In other words, they continued their research. However, among them about 75% students reported a decrease in research workload which means they had to do limited research activities because they were doing most of them virtually. And there were some challenges students mentioned including they could not meet with research team or mentor in person, they felt a lack of motivation and they felt uncertain about next research steps.
So generally speaking, we feel the situation in the spring semester was not as bad as we expected. Most students were able to continue their research but with challenges with reduced research activities. So, then the next session we moved to how the pandemic effects students research in the summer, because summer research is different from academic year research. Usually in the summer students would apply or get accepted by low structured research programs, usually sponsored by NSF - National Science Foundation or NIH - National Health Institute, so they get paid to conduct full time research because they don’t have courses, they can travel to other institutions to have different research experiences. However this year with the pandemic many summer research programs were cancelled and our data confirmed that about 44% of students who took our survey reported that their summer research opportunities were cancelled and because of those cancellations the students felt like they lost opportunities to learn new research skills, they felt they lost opportunities to now work with other students and professors and they also felt their lost source of their summer employment. So summer is really a worse situation compared to the spring.
Then we asked about their relationship with faculty mentors, because for undergraduate students, who are doing research, their relationships with their faculty mentor is the most important part. Having high quality faculty mentorship can positively effect students. So, we ask students their communication and satisfaction with the mentors – before and after the pandemic and we find that the communication frequency decreased. Before the pandemic usually undergraduate students communicated with the mentors several times a week, but after the pandemic, the average – they communicated with the mentors about once a week. However, when it comes to satisfaction – we find out that both before and after the pandemic most students feel that the mentor meets the expectations, but the overall satisfaction level decreased a little bit.
Thom: Tell us where reporters or anyone else interested can find out about the survey – are you publishing a survey about it or how else might there be more information available?
Danielle Morales: Okay – we actually just finished collecting the data, by the end of July and we’re doing some preliminary analysis – yes, we do plan to publish our results and if you're interested in our preliminary results you can definitely reach out to me, I'm more than happy to share with you our results.
Thom: If any of the media on the call have more questions for professor Danielle Morales about her survey, please do chat them to us and we’ll also tell you how to get in touch with the counsel for undergraduate research of which professor Morales is a member, the PIO there is Robin Howard and she can help to facilitate any follow ups that you might have with questions about the survey and I'm sure if you’d like to see more about the report once that’s finished, Robin can help you get that. Professor Morales do you see – do you predict that things will hopefully turn around by the spring of next year or is this maybe something that could have a more long-term impact overall?
Danielle Morales: I think overall I'm positive, because I know other program directors – we are learning, we are trying to modify our programs, we have a better plan and for example while we were recruiting partner institutions, within a very short period of time we got 17 institutions. People really want to – they were eager to know what students were thinking. And another thing I want to highlight here is – although I mentioned a lot of connective impacts, but we do also see some silver lining here – about a 60% students mentioned that – because of Covid-19 they were more motivated to pursue a science related career and they were more motivated to conduct a research to address real world problems – so we do see that.
Thom: Wonderful, thank you very much Professor Morales and thank you to the Council for Undergraduate Research for helping us to connect with you as well as your colleagues in communications at the University of Texas, El Paso for helping us to get in touch with you today. Thank you very much, have a great rest of the day.
We're going to go next to West Virginia University and we have with us George Zimmerman. George is – let me just get your title right, George – you are Assistant Vice President of Enrolment Management at WVU. So, we want to talk with you about how the pandemic has impacted enrolment and recruiting and admissions, and what you're looking at from your perspective there in Morgantown.
George Zimmerman: Great. Well, thank you again, Thom for having me on the panel today. I'm really excited. You know a lot of great things that are going on in terms of all the changes in higher education. Here at WVU I think we're really just in the midst of understanding how our environment has changed from the enrolment perspective. You know we did not see actually a very huge impact in terms of, in role of COVID-19, and so when the pandemic first hit, all sorts of predictions were out there in terms of what was going to happen in higher education. 20% of students were thinking about not going to their first-choice college or 15% of students were thinking about taking a gap year. Every person that was doing research out there seems to have these very large predictions in terms of what we would see for a decrease in the normal. But we did see a low pit. Our first-time freshman class came in slightly behind what we would have expected in previous years and we initially saw that as soon as the pandemic hit. I always make a joke when I am in our recruitment meetings, you look at our velocity graph and it was going to be great, great, great and it just kind of flattened out for us and there was a recovery post that. And what we found was that students that were looking during the COVID-19 crisis when it first kicked off, used that in their decision-making process. They were looking at the colleges and they were talking about how is the college actually handling the pandemic. So, it was less about the concerns that were in their immediacy because these students still were very, very focused and still are focused on going to college, and they wanted to feel comfortable in the environment that they were going into and students that used that as part of the decision making process, behaved very differently than the students who did not use that in the process or the students who committed prior to March. And so, we knew that we needed to be very open, we needed to be very transparent when it came to the communication that we will have had around COVID-19 and that involved us not only creating a -
Thom: So sorry about that, George. My Zoom program quit on me. Please continue.
George Zimmerman: Okay, so I thought it was me because with all of our students being remote in the first day of courses in Morgantown county, internet has been challenging in West Virginia.
Thom: Yes, no problem, no problem. Sorry for the interruption there. I just dropped out for a moment.
George Zimmerman: Okay.
Thom: Tell us about – and I don't want to needle or anything that might be a soft spot but there's obviously been news that WVU has suspended classes for 2 weeks. It sounds like the prudent thing to do with an uptick in cases. How is that being accepted by the student body and how are you and your fellow administrators adapting and addressing that situation as it develops?
George Zimmerman: Sure, and I agree, Thom, it was very – I think it was the prudent thing to do and I think one of the things that WVU has done, even from the beginning of the pandemic as I was talking about, the way we’ve communicated this, we’ve been very transparent. And so, we tested all of our students and our faculty when they came, to get a baseline. So, we knew of the people who came back to campus and we're going to be in on face-to-face learning kind of where our floor was, in terms of infection rates. And when we started seeing those rates going up and that includes not only just infections but also students who may have potentially been exposed or were self-isolating and then we had some instances of potential super spreader events that had happened off campus, we knew that we needed to, for the protection of not only our students but also the community in itself, to pause in-person learning and go to 2 weeks online. And so, we’re – again it's all about that how are we making sure that we're being proactive and how are we again doing what's in the best interest of the public health. We're very lucky at WVU that Doctor Clay Marsh, who was the coronavirus doctor for the state of West Virginia to governor Jim Justice – he’s the Vice President of our health sciences, he's the Dean of our School of Medicine, he's involved in our incident in command and so we are really intertwined with not only the public health of our community but that of the entire state. So, we're not going to take actions that would be detrimental to the community at large because it's important to us. We are this community and so we're hopeful that we'll be able to return to classes, we’re going to be monitoring very closely, you know, levelling out again the rate of infection and hopefully getting to that point where we are able to resume in-person classes as some other schools in the country have successfully done.
Thom: It really can be turned into quite a positive thing with the reality as unpleasant as it is, of maybe needing to suspend classes in-person for a time if there are spikes in cases and other large universities, WVU is a pretty big school, are certainly in a position to need to do the same thing. And Morgantown, as I've been to it, is very much a college town. So, how are you communicating with students and incentivizing them to follow guidelines in their off campus lives?
George Zimmerman: Sure. So, obviously it had been discussed with our students and in other places. We do have students who are under interim suspensions for violation of public health. It’s in our student code of conduct that students must follow the public health guidelines and if they don't, they face the same student disciplinary actions for any other activity that would be against the code of conduct. So, we have taken action in those respects. In terms of, you know, I don't want it the – we can't force the student to do something. We just have to encourage them to be responsible for their actions, and it all comes down to this whole idea of understanding that the actions that you take not only impact yourself but impact the community at large. And the self-awareness of how your actions kind of impact the community I think is an important learning environment when you go to college. It's just been exasperated with something like a global pandemic being in that environment. It's something that you always learnt. You know a lot of times these students are out on their own for the first time and they don't have their mom or dad telling them what to do. They're not going to have that replacement here at the university and that's not the university's role but we do guide them. And it's our responsibility to help them know when the acts that they're taking can be detrimental to other people and follow through as some of the things that we separate.
Thom: With the modest impact that the pandemic is seem to have on your enrolment, you said it wasn't very severe, what other things are you doing as a university to ensure, while this year may be so unprecedented, to really fortify the value of WVU education even if it needs to be remote, even if it needs to be with in-class, in-person classes suspended when cases increase? What is it that West Virginia University is doing to make sure that the students feel that same sense of pride and achievement in attending West Virginia University?
George Zimmerman: It's a really good question and I think this is something that lots of schools are struggling with right now, big and small, because it's important to be able to show that the value of the education is in the content, how it's being delivered regardless of modality. And that's the challenge. So, I think there's been this idea of what online education is for a number of years and that's being reimagined because of this pandemic and I think it's a good thing for online education. I think it's going to show people that it's not a lesser than source of education but it's just another way, another form of delivery as long as we're showing students are getting the engagement that they expect whether that's in-person or whether that's online, that they're working with faculty members that are at the top of their field. I think that's key, focusing on the content, the content delivery and the creation of that content. And that's something that WVU or another large public research university is able to do differently than maybe some of our traditional outlets for online education, and really provide that engagement with the content experts – people doing the research, the people who are creating the new pass if you will in their fields. And that's something that you're not going to get. And this is not going to last forever. So, at some point you're going to have this opportunity to then engage with these people in-person to be able to have mentorship and other aspects that doesn't end when your education ends and you get your certificate or you get your degree.
Thom: For any media on the call, if you have questions here for George Zimmerman from West Virginia University, he's Executive Director of Admissions and Recruitment. Please chat those questions to us. George, what can you tell us about the protocol for testing and to Rick Seltzer's question earlier from Inside Higher Ed – I don't know if you were on the call yet when he had that question – is anybody experiencing delays in getting those tests processed, for example, or any other factors that you're dealing with to ensure that testing is done at the levels that needs to be?
George Zimmerman: Sure, so when it comes to testing – as I mentioned we did a baseline test so all of our students and faculty were tested over a number of weeks before returning to campus. Again, we have that benefit of being part of the largest healthcare system in the state, so we not only have third party testers with WVU medicine and the resources of WVU medicine to back us up. In some cases there were, especially when students started coming back, we saw a little bit of a backlog in tests but we were able to get results in well within the time frame that we expected in terms of achieving that baseline and now it's just a matter of continually working with students who either think they may have been exposed or had a high likelihood of being in contact with someone with COVID and getting them through the testing process. So, there's not been any major issues with testing results and we're also encouraging students to participate with contact tracing apps as well as we have a daily survey that goes out to students to help them track their symptoms, if they are experiencing symptoms. Again – so that we're constantly having this conversation with our students that this is something that's important and it's something that you need to be checking on. It's not something you do once and then forget about because it's with us; then it'll be with us for a while.
Thom: Thank you very much. That's all the time we have for George Zimmerman, Executive Director of Admissions and Recruitment at West Virginia University. George, thank you so much for your time and have a great rest of your day.
George Zimmerman: I appreciate and thanks for having me, Thom.
Thom: We’re going to go next to Micheal Dennin, he is Dean at UC Irvine. Dean Dennin, thank you very much for joining us, how are you today?
Micheal Dennin: I'm doing great, thank you for having me.
Thom: Can you tell us about how the plan has been formulated there at UC Irvine, what factors were brought in to decide about the approach and how do you plan to adapt as the situation evolves?
Micheal Dennin: We started actually back in June planning for this year and one feature of it is that we really went right into it from our spring planning and the lessons that we learnt there and our summer session. We were fundamentally structured around a joint administrative team and the faculty senate team to include both of those sides as well as our student government, have them engage before they left for the summer, and it quickly emerged at the undergraduate level that one of the priorities was making decisions early so that our students can make decisions about where they would live. Housing for our 30,000 students was a big questions – particularly we have a fair amount on campus, we have a lot of students who live locally in the community, and just knowing what types of contracts they would need to get and so on – as well as just a general – the biggest unknown of all this was when would the pandemic go, what would be the public health guidelines come fall and then where did we stand in our preparation remote teaching and we were very confident in that third piece and we had some very solid plans for the summer, so we omitted early to the students that instruction in the fall would be remote and to a core principle that throughout the year we would meet every students need with a remote option if needed, so they could be free to choose their housing most flexibly, and that’s where we started – and then for us as the summer emerged and as things evolved here in southern California, we’re pretty happy with our choice. We’re going to be remote in the fall and that’s really aligning with where the state is at the moment and we don’t start October 1st cause we’re on the quarter system, so we still have three weeks to be learning from our fellow campuses out there, how to handle the housing piece because we do have students on campus. We did decide – many of our students need that housing, it’s a critical resource for them, and so we’ve landed on one student per bedroom in student housing, with a whole bunch of other measures around it and so we’re trying to combine those two things, maximally provide a chance to be here on campus for students who need it, but maximise the remote teaching and the experiences around that to give students as much flexibility as possible.
Thom: You mentioned the importance of housing, I want to ask you what other socio-economic kinds of issues and disparities amongst your student body that you're putting any programs into practice to help address those?
Micheal Dennin: The other two big ones are the general internet availability, cause obviously if you’re remote you need the internet and I'm mentioning that first cause I find that to be our hardest challenge – for an interesting reason I think many people realize but don’t think about it off the top – so much of our communication to our students is actually by email and the internet that if they don’t have internet its hard to find out if they don’t have internet. There's kind of a self-referential problem there. The flip side of it is with WIFI hotspots, they're kind of the easiest resource to get to students because they're very easy to mail, they're fairly easy to navigate and use, the actual hotspots are fairly inexpensive and easy to find the funds for and then the cost of the subscriptions, you don’t really have to worry about getting the actual physical devices back because we control the on and off of it as needed and throughout the year, so there's a fairly large program around hotspot loaning to help with the WIFI situation. We’re also leveraging and we’re looking to partner with other institutions that the Edu Room network exists among campuses, which is the EDU room system that anyone can access at any university campus if they’ve set it up. So, helping our students get set up on that network and if they're near another university, even if they're not near UCI – looking to partner in those spaces. Laptops I think are the biggest challenge cause they're the hardest to get in students hands, but one thing we’ve learnt is almost all of our students have an initial laptop and financial aid does a good job of covering laptops, for the students who have a laptop break or fail, its getting them replacements that really is – from my experience a bigger challenge, but there we’ve ramped up our laptop loan program, we’ve made it more visible and we just have more resources available in that space. So, I would say those are the main ones.
Thom: With regard to surveillance testing to ensure that there aren’t any outbreaks or hotspots within the student body, did you have any experience – we had a question from Rick Inside Higher Ed earlier about any delays in processing tests – did you experience any problems like that over the course of the summer with any testing and what are you looking ahead to for your plan for surveillance testing once the next quarter starts in October?
Micheal Dennin: Yeah so in the summer we did not have surveillance testing even though we had students on campus we weren’t up at that capacity of one per bedroom so we were relying more on the symptom checks and the contact tracing and if they were symptomatic testing. Ironically – I checked the date – today is our first date of starting our surveillance testing with the incoming – the students are moving into housing now – again I mentioned we don’t start October 1st so we haven’t actually experienced any problems cause we haven’t started it yet, but we’ve actually had a really nice ramp up time, we’ve been able to watch what other campuses have done, as George mentioned, we’re in a similar position. We have the whole medical school health system, college of health science, hospital, as well as our research labs that can be converted to processing testing. So, a lot of the surveillance testing we’ll be able to do the execution of the testing all within our own facilities and so we’ve done a lot of prep work to make sure that that’s going to be able to handle the capacity and we’ll just have to see as we go forward but we expect it will.
Thom: How are you also engaging with students as they prepare to return for the October start date? How are you ensuring that they are following the guidelines in their lives off campus?
Micheal Dennin: You know that I think is everybody’s biggest challenge right -we’re all people and I think the best thing I heard was a student affairs person say – you know, this is not actually new territory to us, in housing we have alcohol policies and we have students who break them and we handle that, and they went through a whole list of other policies. Obviously, there's certain things at stake with the Covid policies but again it’s a space that student affairs teams have navigated and I hate to say – we’re just leveraging our late start in this regard. There is an advantage to the fact that students do learn from other students and things that are happening at other campuses, and so our students by the time they're moving in, will have seen the impact of this in so many other places – we’re building on that experience and that messaging to leverage a lot of – kind of draw on the positive elements of the students behavior and really frame this as positive traces that they can make and they can see the consequences of what’s happened elsewhere.
Thom: How else are you engaging with the student body to create – obviously with the right protocols in place – activities as well as enrolling students in helping out with contact tracing.
Micheal Dennin: Right, so there's a couple of things we’ve done that are – specifically in the dorms we have our Zot Pods, I think everybody has their own name, we are the anteaters and our cry is zot! Zot! Zot! So, everything’s a Zot! And these are the groups of students to socialize together and have that contact. We’ve really, really ramped up the online engagement and online connection with students – we’re in the middle of the second week of outreach through videos and emails to students about how to get engaged. We’ve kind of done this in two steps. Week one was what we are a university are doing and providing and creating as resources for students, and this week has been student to student messaging. What creative ideas have students come up with to be engaged with each other in a virtual world?
We’ve also leveraged our school of public health and partnerships with Orange County – we have trained and are having certified a few hundred graduate students who received contact tracing fellowships to become certified contact tracers to work both at the university specifically and in the community so that we really have the human capital to do the contact tracing efficiently and quickly.
Thom: If anyone has any questions for Dean Dennin from UC Irvine, please do chat those to us. I'm also going to share the contact for the PIO there Tom Vasic who will help you get in touch with Dean Dennin for any other follow ups. I believe also another PIO from UC Irvine is in the call, Sherry if you’re there and if you want to chat your own email for any of the media on the call, please feel free.
Dean Dennin – any other aspects of this whole process that you feel might be something of a silver lining? Something that could be transformative in a positive way for how we do education moving forward?
Micheal Dennin: definitely, I think the number one thing and George alluded to this and I think everyone’s talking about it – its been an unprecedented time for faculty to just think about their teaching and reflect on all aspects of it. This summer we’ve had hundreds of faculty go through various different types of training, we’ve trained 300 grad students as what we’re called DTEI – that’s a division of teaching excellence and invention grad fellows, and they're out supporting our faculty in the development of remote teaching and when you think about practices in remote teaching, they’re the same as best practices in in person teaching to a large degree. There are differences, the two are different and there's some things you think about, but the principles are the same. George mentioned this – its about engaging students, its about students engaging with faculty or experts and its about students engaging with each other in a very meaningful way and its about thinking about how to structure that engagement and to provide that support to students. And just thinking about that in the remote space is only going to enhance your in person teaching and also is exposing faculty to a ton of technology that is amazing even when you’re teaching mostly in person to leverage and utilize – lets face it, we’re busy people like everybody else in the world and we just haven’t had the time to engage with and see how we can use it. So there really is this massive moment of reflection on teaching that I think is going to transform what universities look like as we come out the other side.
Thom: Thank you very much Dean Dennin, that’s all the time we have with Dean Dennin, if you have any questions please note the PIO contact info that we shared in the chat. Thank you so much Dean Dennin, have a great rest of the day.
Next, we have Dr. Latanya Love – she’s Dean of Education at the McGovern Medical School at UT Health in Houston. Dr. Love thank you so much for joining us.
Tell us a little bit about your plan for reopening the med school for the fall under the conditions of the Covid pandemic, how is that working out?
Dr. Love: So far so good its working out for us, so as a medical school we have students that are learning by actually taking care of patients, they're on rotations on different clinical sites and different hospitals, those are our third and fourth years and then we have pre-clinical students our first and second years who are learning the basic sciences, and so we’ve had to kind of approach each of these students differently. So for our pre-clinical students what we are doing is kind of a hybrid model which a lot of medical schools are doing and we are doing a lot of virtual learning and a lot of lectures online which is not unusual for us, because we always gave our students the option to string lectures even before Covid and then we had them come on campus for things that they really need hands on experience – so for example our students take things like Growth Anatomy where they're learning dissections and they're learning anatomy and we really do feel its important that they still have the opportunity to come on campus to do that, but of course doing it safely. So, we do have students to come back on for some things that we just really can not replicate doing it virtually. And then for our clinical students, they have been rotating still on clinical rotations since the end of June and we’ve had to make adjustments of course as we want to make sure that we’re adhering to social distance because they're taking care of patients we want to make sure they have the necessary PPE, we don’t allow our students to take care of patients that are presumed Covid positive or known Covid positive because obviously as you can imagine, safety always comes first and foremost for all of our medical students.
Thom: There were reports of pretty high case numbers in your area over the summer, I wonder if you can tell us at all about how that has impacted how you’ve kept the academic side of things functioning along with delivering healthcare to patients from the community and what other ways are you partnering with local community for public health resources as you go forward?
Dr. Love: Sure, so we have some scary numbers especially in July and we are constantly monitoring our numbers in our city here in Houston. We’re knocking on wood here but we’ve been fortunate that we’re starting to see a down trend in the number of cases and especially in the number of hospitalisations and that is something that we hope to continue to see decline but we have to definitely balance our student’s education – educational needs with obviously keeping them safe. So, we make adjustments as needed and as I think I've heard other panellists says – flexibility is the key in all aspects of education this year. We ask that our students be flexible with us, our faculty be flexible as administrators we have to be flexible and really take it one week at a time and see where we are. We are extremely fortunate that we have an amazing school of public health here on our campus at UTHealth here in Houston, and so we work with our leaders from our school of public health – all the time they advise us of trends and keep us up to date with data, so we’re very fortunate just to have such expertise on our campus.
Thom: What are you doing to incentivise students to continue following these guidelines in their lives off campus? I’d hate to make the assumption that as med students they’d be maybe more careful than other students, but anybody in their early 20’s could be tempted to go to social gatherings or do other things, what are you doing to partner with your students to make sure they hold up their part of the deal?
Dr. Love: Sure as you said -our students are human so of course a large amount are in their early 20’s and I do think that a large amount of them take their role as medical students and taking care of patients very seriously, but we do have to remind them periodically about the importance of good public health measures when they are not on campus. So making sure that they're social distancing, making sure that they're not in large group gatherings, that they're wearing masks even outside of our campus and I would say that for the most part they're doing a really good job of it, our student numbers are very low in terms of the number of students who have been positive for Covid and so I think it’s just that kind of constant reminding them, because just like all of us they get cabin fever from time to time so we have to kind of do reminders and then the other thing that we do since we are in the healthcare arena is that we – they're exposed to hearing about some of the cases of patients that are in the same demographics, in the same age as they are and not necessarily having the best outcomes, so we have to just remind everybody, even in our community that Covid does not discriminate in terms of age – we’re seeing – in the beginning people didn’t think younger adults could get it but that is absolutely not true and so we’ve seen some young adults who’ve been extremely sick and they’ve had no core morbidities or underlying medical conditions. So, I think that is really important to get that messaging out there – to make it a little bit –
Thom: You mentioned that the Covid disease doesn’t discriminate and even someone relatively young and healthy could certainly get it and have adverse outcomes – with that in mind there are a lot of socio-economic disparities and racial disparities in the impact of the pandemic. Has that impacted the student body at all and is there anything that UTHealth is doing to help facilitate any resources for those students?
Dr. Love: Sure, I think one thing that Covid really has brought to light is the huge disparities that we have in certain diseases versus different socio-economic classes and different racial groups. So, one of the things we think that is very important as a health institution, an academic health center, is to really educate our students and making sure that everybody is aware of these disparities. We do a lot of unconscious bias training here on our campus because we really want to make sure – I'm a pediatrician and I think its very important that I recognize my own biases, and here’s the deal – we all have biases. So, we do a lot of different workshops at different levels – workshops for our students as well as for our faculty to try to make us aware as health care providers of what our biases are and then that way when you’re aware of it you can just be more conscious of that when you are taking care of patients and hoping that we’re not contributing to the disparities. And I will say – here in Houston we are one of the most diverse cities in the country and we treat patients from all different walks of life and we have a lot of our clinical sites are in underserved areas and I think its very important that as we’re training our future doctors out here, that they're exposed to a diverse group of patients and a diverse disease process and we definitely are here in Houston exposed to that.
Thom: If any of the media on the call have questions for Dr. Love – please do chat those to us. Are there any silver linings that you see in all this? Any ways that this experience has forced us in the way that we’ve adapted and evolved education that you see some take-aways of some real positive change of how we do higher education, and in particular medical school education?
Dr. Love: Yeah, I mean I think that’s a really good point. I think that we’re learning that maybe there are some things that we deliver that are actually better doing it kind of via Zoom or doing it virtually. Its always about being efficient in what we’re doing. I think even in healthcare we’re learning that some patients love doing telemedicine, other patients don’t like doing that, they really want to see the doctors in person, so I think what we’re seeing is how to leverage the technology that we have today to deliver education – specially to meet the learners today. I think as the years go by we are getting more and more technologically savvy students – I mean when I need help with my computer I go to my high schooler- my teenagers can help me with everything – so we have to really start to adapt our learning to the next generation and I think the silver lining is we’re learning what things we can do a little more efficiently and still deliver quality education to our learners.
Thom: Last question – can you tell us a little bit about the status with testing capacity as well as PPE resources – these are both big questions that have been on the minds of a lot of people and to understand a little bit about how that works inside of a major health system in a big city like Houston would be really insightful.
Dr. Love: Sure, so we have really thank goodness been able to expand our testing capacity and we’re able to accommodate the testing burden that we have now and we are currently not experiencing a shortage in PPE. We have really great procurement teams that are able to make sure that our providers have the protection that they need and so I think we are in a much better position than we were a couple of months ago. We are ready to take care of patients, we have the testing capacity now to test our huge population we have here in Houston and we have an adequate amount of PPE currently.
Thom: Wonderful, thank you so much for your time Dr. Love. If anyone has follow up questions for Dr. Love please contact Janette Sanchez at UTHealth, I've put her info into the chat. Thank you so much Dr. Love. Dr. Love is the Dean of education at the McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston.
Next, we have from University at Albany, we have Stephen Conard. Stephen is the emergency management coordinator at the University at Albany. Thank you so much for joining us, Stephen.
Stephen Conard: Thank you very much for having me.
Thom: We had a question earlier from Rick Seltzer from Inside Higher Ed about testing capacity and any questions about universities encountering delays and getting those tests processed. Can you tell us about your process for administering and analysing those tests there at Albany?
Stephen Conard: Sure, absolutely. We have a couple different testing options currently. Through our Student Health Centre, we're conducting diagnostic PCR follow-up. So, we have an individual provider that is supporting that with roughly a two to three-day turnaround for results on the diagnostic. We have a surveillance program that's doing a saliva pooled process, and we're getting those results turned back for a presumptive positive pool. So, that's grouping of individuals that might have a positive within that, within a day; so, then that gives us the ability to follow up with all of those individuals. Our pool size is four so that it helps us to also isolate those individuals pending the follow up from their diagnostics. So roughly we're talking about a one to three-day turnaround for those.
Thom: Those pool tests – are those focused around dormitories or classrooms or what?
Stephen Conard: So, what we've done with our surveillance program is we have on campus, off campus as well as faculty and staff. So those are our three main groups we're testing out.
Thom: And pooling them in groups of four is just an efficiency situation.
Stephen Conard: Its efficiency as well as from resources. So, as the emergency manager, I have to coordinate, quarantine and isolation housing. So, if I got a pool back of 12 that might only have one individual, so a lot of resources are being tied up for a potential. So, we worked with our RNA Institute that's been phenomenal at developing this program to drive down that pool number so it will also not create an undue stress on the resources of the campus.
Thom: So, four turned out to be the ideal number for that, huh?
Stephen Conard: It did, yes.
Thom: Tell us about how the reopening is going generally and how the plan for how you're doing that was put in place, what factors were taken into consideration and what you'll do – as the situation undoubtedly will evolve, how you will adapt to that.
Stephen Conard: Absolutely. So, what I can tell you is just from this moment in time how well we've done to this point. Anything can change that this evening or moving forward. So, when we started are planning to not only respond in the spring semester, but over the summer, we developed an incident management team as well as a forward together a group that specifically developed a plan from all facets of our campus of how we would repopulate as well as reactivate in-person learning.
So, through that group, we've also started to look at how we would handle a pause. Here in New York State, the governor and the Chancellor have created a benchmark. So thankfully, that's helped us to create a ‘what do we do when’. For instance, if there are 100 cases or five percent positive rating for your population, we have to go on a two week pause ordered by the governor or the chancellor. So then what we would do is review the situation, make sure if we need to conduct and support, any follow up testing can be done and potentially reopen. We are still making plans though, however, for the unfortunate event if we do have to cancel in-person events for the rest of semester to include in-person classes. Thankfully, we shifted over 60% of our in-person classes to remote teaching for this semester. So, it's given us a little more flexibility on that. However, it will take some time for us to flip over. But our faculty has been great at building programmatic and ways to assist in that pause period. In the event we do have to look at a campus ending earlier than planned.
Thom: Do you have a target for how severe cases would need to be for a decision about cancelling for the remainder of the semester to go forward?
Stephen Conard: Well, as I had mentioned, the Governor and Chancellor Malatras from the SUNY system have provided that metric to us – of a 100. So, 100 positive cases and we have a lot more; so, for us the 5% positivity is not relevant as we would reach 100 first. So, it's 100 over a 14-day, which then also gives you the ability in those 14 days to address the issues that present, be at a party, be at an issue. This also is helping us determine the difference between a spike and a surge of cases on our campus and in our community at large.
Thom: And how are you enlisting contact tracers and other methods for determining the difference between a spike or a surge?
Stephen Conard: Absolutely. So, I actually started a great working relationship with our county department of health last fall, as an emergency manager, looking at planning for pandemics – who knew. So thankfully, we had a great relationship with them leading into this. We work directly with them as our county is the lead for contact tracing. However, we understand the need of financially classroom information, office info, so we developed a contact support team that has individuals that are trained as a baseline to the Johns Hopkins training as well as some specialty training from the University at Albany School of Public Health. We have individuals that have supported the contact tracing efforts being done in New York State. So, we utilize that to offset and augment an expedited outreach to those individuals, potentially close contacts as well as professors in classrooms. Now, this is a process that's being built pretty much as we go forth. But we do have a cadre of roughly 10 right now. We're adding on some students, so the cross and the exponential learning that students can gain through this pandemic, we're incorporating a student support team into that contact group to across students from our College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cyber Security, as well as the schools of public health and the School of Social Welfare to cover the psychosocial needs that these students might need through contact as well as quarantine and isolation.
Thom: How are you seeing the student body accept and adopt the guidelines in their lives off campus and what ways are you working with the student body to make sure that that goes as well as possible?
Stephen Conard: So definitely, off campus living has always been a difference from on campus living and colleges pre pandemic. So, we're definitely working with our dean of students’ office and our Off-Campus Ambassadors to go around door to door to areas to remind the students if they do have symptoms, or they question contacts to come get tested on campus. We're also working at reporting functions to really help drive it. Our university has taken more of a conformity stance than an enforcement role with a lot of these changes because truly the sheer number of individuals we have really line that in. In the worst of cases, of course, the Code of Conduct is the backfill for that but we want everybody to understand why mask wearing is required, why social distancing is overlaid. So, with off campus, you know, we have seen some parties as well as other entities, but we're seeing a good change from the students, especially this last weekend for Labour Day as compared to July 4th timeline for some schools, even the entry level. So, it's definitely an ongoing working directly with our Student Association as well and our Student Assembly to make sure that they all understand why but, to make sure we're giving them the information they're looking for from the student perspective.
Thom: The pandemic has affected different racial and socio-economic groups differently and these disparities are something that can be felt at all levels, all ages. How is the university addressing the potential vulnerabilities of exposure to COVID because of socio economic status or other concerns for those kinds of groups with access to things like technology or housing and food insecurity or anything else that might be impacted by the pandemic and the economic situation writ large?
Stephen Conard: So definitely, University of Albany has a student emergency funds that has come to the direct aid of our students that might have financial issues or impacts that have been unforeseen with this pandemic. Also, we've supported technological means to provide laptops as well as other computers on campus to their ability, as well as working with them if they're off campus. It's really been very – we take what the students bring up to us and very seriously, so if there is an issue, we address it, and that's why a lot of the way we're rolling our programmatic out - Especially some of our great signage that's been on campus truly hits the demographic of our folks. You don't just see little emojis that might not represent who you are. So, we've made sure that we heard that loud and clear, even from our signage perspective.
Thom: Very interesting. Thank you so much. If any of the media on the call have questions for Stephen Conard at University of Albany, please do let us know. We'll share the PIO contact information so that you can plan any follow ups. Stephen, are there any silver linings to this whole thing? It's been something that's been a bit of a theme as we've talked to experts from all over the world really. What have we learnt from this whole situation that we can carry forward into doing something better with managing a large institution like the university or delivering higher education? Any thoughts about silver lining?
Stephen Conard: Yeah, I'd say the silver lining truly is the human experience here. We will persevere through this. Part of it is as a unit together. A lot of folks you hear start talking about the new normal we're in. Well, actually this is a long and slow onset disaster. And it's not done yet. So, we're currently in the abnormal. And if folks start thinking of it as that, it'll help psychologically understand that things will change daily at times, hopefully not as frequently but we will be able to, through constant communication and collaboration, work through this issue. Pandemic will affect different parts of our lives but thankfully together the university has come strong. But again, as I mentioned, that is, at this moment in time, together we can make it through.
Thom: Thank you very much, Stephen. That's a very positive note. And I imagine as an Emergency Manager, that's a good mantra that we have to work together to get through it, because it's not going to just go away if we pretend it's not there.
Stephen Conard: Very true, Thom. Thank you very much.
Thom: Thank you. We're going to go next to Dr. Hank Lucas. I just want to remind any of the media on the call – the contact information for Mike Nolan at Albany is in the chat so that you can follow up for any further questions for Stephen.
But going to Dr. Lucas – I'll spotlight his video. Welcome Dr. Lucas, thank you so much for joining us. Dr. Lucas is at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. Dr. Lucas, you specialize in ensuring high quality of remote education and working with your colleagues to deliver the best experience with remote learning. How's that going there at Maryland's School of Business?
Dr. Hank Lucas: Well, we started a number of years ago with an online MBA program and we wanted to distinguish ourselves from some of the – for profit schools that have a mixed reputation in terms of remote learning. And so, we insisted on synchronous video for classes each week for each of the classes. And so that's a huge difference between having no contact with faculty and having some contact with faculty. And so, we've tried to learn from that experience. And the other thing we've done is over time, we've developed some expertise in online education. So, we were comfortable in moving into other programs aside from just the online MBA program.
Thom: That's great to have that foundation already in place to be able to move toward adapting to this pandemic. How are you incorporating new technology and new teaching methods to make these classes more effective?
Dr. Hank Lucas: Well, for everyone who has been involved in remote learning or online education, you know that it consists of a series of videos that faculty make, that then the students watch. In a situation with no pandemic, you can have something called a hybrid class in which the students watch videos and then in class, you actually discuss things rather than lectures, sometimes called a flipped classroom. I and some other faculty moved to that some years ago, in which all of the instructional video kinds of material was on video, and we interacted only in the classroom. Now, today that's a little bit harder because you have a whole range of educational levels. Now you've got literally K through almost graduate school involved in this. So, there are many different kinds of subjects being taught and ways to do that. The technology and use is pretty straightforward. I mean, it is videos. The belief today is that those videos should be relatively short. So, if I had a lecture that would go for an hour, I might have six videos of 10 minutes, something like that, within that time period. And actually, it takes a little bit less time because you're not interrupted cutting the lecture with questions and so on. So, an hour lecture might be fewer than six videos of 10 minutes. And then, I think the difficult thing is to mix that with the synchronous and to have the two coordinated in some way. So, the experience I have with K through 12 is with grandchildren. And in the spring, they were pretty unhappy with the remote instruction that they were receiving. They had limited or no contact with their teachers suddenly because they've been having them for the year. And then they had worksheets and other things that have been sort of hastily put together. As school is opened this fall for them, they're much happier because there are synchronous classes scheduled where they see their fellow students and they interact with their teachers. So, there's a learning curve that goes on here. And I think a lot of the criticism of remote education is unfair because we've been teaching the way we've been teaching for hundreds of years. And suddenly in March, someone said, “Oh, wait a minute; you're a fifth-grade teacher. You've got to do this remotely now, and you've got a week and a half of spring break to figure out how to do it.” So, I think it's understandable that this is going to get better and better over time.
Thom: That's great assessment. And as we have more time to prepare and assess the progress with remote education, the better than those techniques, can be developed. Shifting from in-person to virtual as an emergency in the spring versus planning for that now for the fall, how much time and what kind of discussions have gone into putting together these courses in a way like you described that sort of flipped classroom model when you do have the actual in-person lecture? Tell us about what some of the plans are and strategies for how to deliver that content fully remotely? What's that been like and what are your colleagues doing as they revisit their entire curriculum to adapt it to this?
Dr. Hank Lucas: Sure. When we first started, I mentioned that we really were concerned about having synchronous and having a more personal touch to it. A few years ago, edX, which is one of the MOOC providers of people are familiar with massive online open courses. EdX proposed what they call a micro master's program, in which students would take 10% of their courses as MOOCs. And if they pass the exams for those courses and applied to a program itself, a master's program, they get credit retroactively for the courses. So, we felt, after the experience we had at that point, comfortable in going to a full remote series of seven classes. Now, when you ask about technology, that's where things become a little bit more complicated because, as you might guess, people are always trying to do better, and they're always trying to compete with another institution. So, when I did my first videos, they were right where I'm sitting now with my program, my computer and a program that let me annotate PowerPoint slides, and a little picture of myself down in the corner. And to keep the thing a little bit lively, my teaching assistant was our miniature Dachshund to entertain the students while I was trying to create videos. As the things have progressed, if you look at the quality of some of the MOOCs now that are out there, a lot of production effort has gone into it. So, from my early model, which I refer to as el cheapo, okay, we went for the edX model of having faculty members, record lectures, having those lectures transcribed, having them turned into scripts, and in delivering the scripts in a studio where we were filmed in that process. So, the whole production effort took an order of magnitude, more time, effort and money to do it. So now we had a staff of people who were recording the lectures, editing them and adding titles, information. My PowerPoints went out the window, and now they were inserting comments along the side of the faculty member who was standing up and giving the video lecture. I don't know to what extent that's happening in K through 12 but certainly at the university level, I think there's a lot of pressure to have a more refined, more sophisticated product for people to look at.
Thom: It's very interesting to hear about how the progression of production value in these online lectures, you know, opens the door to making it even more engaging in different ways. What are you doing to ensure that your students experience the highest value for the tuition that they're paying to get that education?
Dr. Hank Lucas: That's a question we could discuss for a long, long time. I think that what we're doing is not cheap anymore, okay. It is, again, trying to create high quality, which involves some costs. And if you're hinting at the question of, why should I pay tuition to sit in my bedroom on a computer rather than be in the classroom on campus? That's a really good question because I don't think our costs are lower than actually be higher. So, the answer I have to that is, hopefully the pandemic is a limited duration event so that we're not talking necessarily about teaching this way forever. We're talking about it, maybe through the school year. Some people are saying, the beginning of 2021. I'm a little more conservative there – I think that it will be probably the fall before people can return to a normal school kind of schedule of in-person learning. But during this period, okay, we've learned a lot in all levels of education, and I think we'll see a mix in the future of more blended and mixed classes where there is still some video work done and there is still a synchronous video, and it's mixed in with physical interactions in the classroom.
Thom: As you've had that experience of these mixed and hybrid kinds of classes now doing the pandemic and looking ahead to the future, what, if any, silver linings and positive lessons do you feel like can be pulled out of this to make education and the experience more enriching perhaps by incorporating some of these tools that we've implemented as an emergency now but that actually could have a lot of value in the future?
Dr. Hank Lucas: I think everybody will be more comfortable with them – both the instructors creating the material and the students who are studying the material. I think that will help a great deal to create a richer environment. One of the reasons that we created an online MBA program was to broaden the group of students who could take an MBA degree. Many of these students could never come to campus. I spoke with a woman in the first class of dinner, and I said, “Why are you here?” She was hoping that again and she said, “I'm here because I have a two-month-old baby.” And that was the reason. We had people from California who were enrolled in the course, and so we have our synchronous sessions at different times during the day. So that kind of opening of education, a greater opportunity for people, I think will come out of this certainly at the college level.
Thom: That's quite an interesting prediction – more access and more flexibility certainly sounds like a good thing to me too. And I really appreciate your time and insights into all this, Professor Lucas. If anyone has further questions for Professor Lucas, please contact the PIO there at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. That's Greg Moravsky. I've added his info to the chat. Thank you very much for your time, Dr. Lucas.
Dr. Hank Lucas: Alright, thank you.
Thom: Thank you very much. With that, we will go ahead and conclude our Virtual Media Day. We've talked to experts and speakers and spokespersons from 10 different institutions. We will have all of this available on a video recording available on demand as well as getting a transcript and we will send that out to all of the media who registered. If you didn't register and you'd like to get a copy, please contact us and send us a quick email at [email protected] and we'll make sure to send that to you. Thank you very much everyone and stay safe, stay healthy and good luck.