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Diving Into How UNR May Operate In The Fall With COVID-19

An old building with blue sky.
Ed Bierman
Flickr Creative Commons

There’s a lot of uncertainty about what classrooms are going to look like in the fall, if students are going to be in classrooms at all. The University of Nevada, Reno recently sent in its fall plans to the state’s Department of Education to be finalized.

KUNR’s Bree Zender spoke with UNR Executive Vice President and Provost Kevin Carman to talk about these plans for the university.

Zender: I know schools are taking many different kinds of approaches for the fall. What will classrooms at UNR look like?

Carman: [If] we're in phase two in the fall, [we] have a plan for that. The key element of the phase two, some people get a little confused because [there are] gatherings of 50 or less and six-foot distancing. But in terms of our classroom experience, the six-foot distancing is really the key element. And we've done an analysis of all of our classrooms on campus and determined that in order to achieve the six-foot distancing, we would need to have classes that are have enrollments of 35 or more be taught purely online. And those that are taught [that] have 34 or fewer students, could be taught in person using a mixed modality or 'Hyflex' approaches as we've been describing it, where no more than half of the students would be in class on any given day while the others participate remotely. So that's the basic structure now. What does that look like in terms of numbers of classes? We plan to teach approximately 4,500 lecture classes in the fall. About 1,100 of those have enrollments of 35 or more. So [roughly] 1,100 classes would be taught online, and the remaining classes, about 3,400 or so, would be still taught in person.

Zender: You know, some students may have reservations about going into in-person classes for various kinds of reasons. Will there be options for those students as well?

Carman: Yes, we very much are making plans to maximize our ability to provide online remote options for students who may wish to continue their education remotely for any of a number of reasons, whether it be health reasons, or their inability to return to Reno for whatever reasons. So with the way our classes are going to be structured, those that are offered entirely online will of course be available to students participating remotely. But for the courses that will be taught in person, we have installed technology in all of our classrooms. We are in the process of completing the installation, whereby faculty will have the ability to not only give their lecture in person but be able to deliver it remotely to those who wish to participate remotely. We call it "Everybody Knows About Zoom These Days," and it's a Zoom technology that provides a video broadcast, as well as an audio broadcast, and students can participate remotely. They can see everything that would be on the document camera or the PowerPoint. They would have access to all of that. And so we're trying to maximize the number of courses that students can participate in remotely while other students are actually in the classroom.

Zender: I'm curious about the other side of the question. Some students just learn better with in-person classes rather than online. I know I certainly did in my undergrad days. Some students have disabilities that can affect their ability to learn online as well. Are there going to be any additional resources for those students in the fall?

Carman: Well, our disability resource center [has] really been doing a good job of gearing up to help students who do have learning disabilities, but as you point out, there are some students that just inherently have difficulty learning in a remote delivery in an online environment. One of the good things about this Hyflex, or mixed modality approach, where some students are learning in class and others are participating remotely, is that we'll have more flexibility. And so if a student really learns better in class, we'll have that option for them for most, not all of our classes, but for most of them. But for those who are taking purely online classes and have some sort of learning disability that makes it more challenging for them, we will have resources available to support them.

In response to UNR’s reopening plan, more than 200 UNR faculty members have signed a statement asking the university to reconsider this model, saying it has a “limited pedagogical evidence base.” They say the faculty themselves should determine the best way to teach their classes.

KUNR recently interviewed a representative of the Nevada Faculty Alliance about their concerns. You’ll find that interview here.

As a note of disclosure, the Nevada System of Higher Education owns the license to KUNR, and the station is housed on the UNR campus.

Bree Zender is a former host and reporter at KUNR Public Radio.
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