Exploring COVID-19 classroom at Virginia Tech
BLACKSBURG, Va. — COVID-19 is changing the look of classrooms.
And with in-person and virtual classes set to begin Aug. 24 at Virginia Tech, the university is working to redesign all classrooms and lab spaces to adhere to public health and safety guidelines set by the Virginia Department of Health.
The Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences has named Dr. Dan Eversole and Dr. Cindy Wood co-directors of its Undergraduate Teaching Program to lead its reconfiguration.
Eversole said when the university closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it sent as many students home as could go and finished the spring semester online.
The work is now underway to re-open safely and begin the fall semester.
One change that will reach beyond the university and affect the cattle industry is cancelation of the Hokie Harvest Class, the department’s merchandizing class.
This means the end result of this class, the Hokie Harvest Sale, will be held online this year without student participation.
“Things are changing on a daily basis,” Eversole said after outlining what is being considered.
Eversole and Wood’s new duties require them to oversee all the courses being taught, looking at the information to be sure it is what is need and being sure the needed facilities are available within guidelines that must be followed.
They are drawing on lessons learned during spring semester about online learning.
One problem encountered was poor access to the Internet. He noted that faculty who taught in the spring are coming back with knowledge of how things work while those who did not and are entering the fall without this experience are facing challenges.
In efforts to meet CDC requirements, university officials went to every classroom in the university and measured it to see how the six-foot social distancing rule can be followed.
He noted that most classrooms are relatively small.
The number of people in any classroom is limited to 50, including student, professors and assistants.
Any class larger than 50 people must be taught online, Eversole stressed. He used his Beef and Sheep Class as an example. There are 53 students in the class so he has to teach it online.
At mid-July the university had developed four options for holding classes: face-to-face; hybrid of classroom and online instruction; synchronously online and asynchronously online.
The synchronously online courses must be done on a regularly schedule with students online at a specific time.
The asynchronously taught classes are prerecorded and can be watched at the student’s convenience. Eversole said he is teaching his beef and sheep class this way and was working on developing an online orientation session for new students.
“This is still a work in progress,” Eversole said, noting faculty members are still working on how to proceed and making changes. He reported that current figures showed 80 to 90 percent of classes being taught on-line.
Labs are even harder to arrange, he added.
Due to limited space in the Beef Center where his labs meet he cannot social distance the groups properly. That led to canceling all first-year labs.
For his other students he is dividing them into groups of 27 each that meet for an hour each. The labs are normally two hours long.
These will then be split again to insure proper social distancing.
He said canceling the Hokie Harvest Class was a hard decision.
It means the second-year agriculture technology students and the senior bachelors of science students will not have the experience of helping develop and put on a livestock auction.
“There were a lot of broken hearts,” he said. “I hated to do that part for seniors and two-year students.”
Asked about work at Kentland Farm and the university’s other farms, Eversole said it is business as usual. Most work is outside and solitary or with very few people.
On campus students will be required to wear masks to class and faculty will teach behind face shields.
Those who do not have them can be dismissed from the class, he said.
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