Professors prepare to move UT-Austin classes online

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Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

University administration sent an email to all faculty on Sunday to prepare them for the possibility of switching to online classes after spring break due to the coronavirus pandemic, UT President Gregory Fenves said.

On Wednesday, UT-San Antonio was the first school in the UT System to extend spring break and move to online classes. UT-Tyler also announced Wednesday they would be extending their spring break until March 20.

Fenves said in an email to the student body Wednesday that the University will extend spring break by one week and practice social distancing after the break. Social distancing is defined as avoiding group settings and mass gatherings, according to the email.

Transitioning to online classes would be fairly easy for many classes that already provide material online, Fenves said. Online classes would likely use Zoom, a website that allows students and professors to log in to a web conferencing system at a prescheduled time, according to Zoom’s website. 

Astrophysics professor Karl Gebhardt said he has already started using Zoom as an alternative for students who do not want to go to class due to coronavirus concerns. He said 30 or 40 students out of the 200-person class chose to use Zoom instead of attending class in person.

“We’re getting much more accustomed to online interactions,” Gebhardt said. “The students are significantly more willing to type in a question into a chat as opposed to raising their hand in class and asking a question. At least for a big class … if you do it right, (it) might actually accentuate the class as opposed to being a significant issue.”

Christian McDonald, journalism assistant professor of practice, said he has also begun testing Zoom in his classes and believes it would be the best solution if classes needed to move online. 

“I wanted to give myself practice and students practice on being able to do that,” McDonald said. “We’re just going to have to get creative. Not every class is going to be able to work, but I bet we’ll find some kinds of solutions.”

McDonald said Zoom is free to use for student participants but requires payment from instructors. McDonald said he paid for Zoom personally, but he hopes the University will help provide access so all classes can take advantage of the service.

Gebhardt said he is surveying his students for feedback on how they think Zoom is working for their class. He said if classes move online, he will record lectures in his office and allow students to send questions in the chat.

Luisa Fandino, textiles and apparel assistant professor, said faculty has online tools such as Instapoll that will make the transition to online easier. 

“The responsibility of taking care of ourselves is on all of us, including students and faculty,” Fandino said. “It’s within all of us to keep moving and … avoid the infectors to vulnerable communities, like the elders and those with weak immune systems.”

Management information systems sophomore Ben Tung said switching to online classes would make it difficult for on-campus organizations to meet. He said he is part of Ignite Texas and the organization revolves around weekly meetings.

“If everyone stays home, then as a student, it’s hard to adjust to that because we don’t have the resources teachers do,” Tung said.