As the University of Oklahoma continues to plan for a return to in-person campus life this fall, Provost Kyle Harper has released the beginnings of a plan that will guide instruction and move some traditionally in-person classes online.
According to a Sunday evening email from Provost Kyle Harper to OU deans, chairs and directors, the university is planning on taking its larger classes online to more easily accommodate social distancing efforts in the fall. The move is just one part of a plan Harper called the “Safe and Resilient Instructional Plan,” some of which he shared in the email.
OU has already started releasing some details of its phased reopening plan — which started bringing some staff and researchers back to campus last week — but before Harper's email, had not communicated many specifics about what the academic aspects of a return to campus will look like.
Harper’s Sunday email notes that OU will move courses with more than 40 students — approximately 14% of OU’s classes — online this fall.
In addition to the online migration, OU will be creating smaller in-person sections for some of its 1000 level undergraduate classes, some of which can involve upward of 100 to 200 students in a typical school year.
According to Harper, moving some large classes online and utilizing smaller in-person sections will achieve a number of purposes.
"It gives us time to provide support for instructional design,” Harper’s email reads. "It eliminates, in the near term, the courses that pose the greatest challenge to social distancing. It makes us more resilient in the event there is a serious resurgence of the virus that requires moving fully online again. And, finally, it opens space in large classrooms that can be used to socially distance smaller classes.”
In an effort to further foster social distancing on campus, OU is also planning to space out its class schedule and leave 30 minutes between class meeting times, and will be moving in-person courses in larger classrooms to physically spread out students and instructors. OU will aim for 50-75% occupancy of classroom spaces, Harper wrote, and should be done relocating classes in the next three weeks.
“It is important to emphasize that these measures are not designed, nor are they able, to eliminate all interaction, but they can mitigate the risks of transmission by reducing close contact,” Harper wrote.
According to Harper, OU may continue to reevaluate what courses will need to be hosted online. At the most recent OU Faculty Senate meeting, Harper heard from multiple faculty members concerned with the possibility of returning to campus while they or their loved ones are considered at high risk of contracting COVID-19.
"As the summer proceeds, we will continue to evaluate the health situation,” the provost wrote Sunday. "It may be necessary to move some additional courses – such as those that connect otherwise disparate networks of individuals, or those taught by instructors who fall into CDC high-risk categories – to an online format.”
Right now, OU is working to support the migration of some of these courses from in-person meetings to online instruction, according to Harper. The provost pointed to OU’s digital learning resources, online course design guide and materials on Teach Anywhere as helpful starting points for switching to online instruction.
Harper’s email also asks that deans and department heads help instructors make their in-person courses more flexible for the fall. The provost and other administrators have stressed that flexible course design will be key for the fall, when instructors and students might have to rely more on online resources and connection.
Follow me @emma_ckeith