Texas Tech’s plans for returning to campus are outlined on the Texas Tech Commitment website.
Like most universities across the U.S., Texas Tech University was forced to quickly devise alternative methods of instructional delivery for students when the campus was closed in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And while Texas Tech was able to complete a successful spring, the realization was quite evident that face-to-face academic learning between the student and the instructor is an important part of the student experience. The personable interaction, the one-on-one opportunities and the bonds formed between faculty and students are difficult to experience through a computer screen.
The intention to return to face-to-face instruction for students is the driving factor behind the Texas Tech Commitment plan regarding how the university will reopen in the fall, providing the educational experience students deserve in a safe environment. While things will not return completely to where they were when students left in March, Texas Tech's hope is to make it as easy as possible given the circumstances.
"The measures presented through Texas Tech Commitment are intended to equip our community with recommendations and procedures to deliver the safest educational environment possible," said Lawrence Schovanec, Texas Tech president. "I want to thank the COVID-19 Academic Re-entry Planning Group for their work in helping Texas Tech reopen for the fall as well as Provost Michael Galyean and the deans, chairs and faculty for their dedication to getting us to this point. We look forward to having our returning students back and welcoming the newest class of Red Raiders."
When students come back in the fall, not only will their living situations and on-campus experiences be different, so will the way they learn and attend classes. Texas Tech is dedicated to maintaining social distancing, deeply sanitizing campus facilities and ensuring student safety as much as possible.
That includes making changes in the classroom, a full list of which can be found at the Texas Tech Commitment academic instruction website.
The first thing students will notice when sitting down in a classroom is there will be a great deal more space between them and their peers. In order to prioritize student and faculty health and safety, face-to-face classroom capacity will be reduced. In some cases, this will mean utilizing larger, non-traditional classroom spaces for the larger courses but should not affect class attendance or performing work in a laboratory or studio.
"We are committed to using all available and appropriate auxiliary spaces necessary," said Genevieve Durham DeCesaro, vice provost for academic affairs. "We are looking at scheduling some of the more unique-needs courses, such as performance-based courses and very large lecture courses, in those spaces and will have more details available as plans are finalized."
Durham DeCesaro said academic units were asked to consider which courses could be delivered online and which ones needed face-to-face instruction in order to achieve student learning objectives while maintaining safety measures. From that, Texas Tech determined the best course of action was to utilize a blend of in-person, hybrid (a combination of face-to-face instruction and online learning) and online instructional modalities. While student schedules were largely unaffected, their course modalities have been adjusted accordingly.
The closure of campus in the middle of the spring semester in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic not only altered plans for 36,000-plus students, forcing them to complete the semester remotely and denying graduates the traditional end to their college career, it also sent faculty searching for the most effective ways to deliver academic instruction.
To their credit, the Texas Tech faculty came through tremendously, providing the best possible outcome for students considering how quickly they all had to alter their plans to finish the semester. Along the way, many faculty members discovered the advantages of remote learning, and departments campus-wide are planning to expand online offerings, said Rob Stewart, senior vice provost.
Embracing the alternative instruction delivery by the faculty helped formulate Texas Tech's plans to provide online and hybrid modes of learning when students return to the campus for the fall semester.
"Many academic units chose to use a hybrid method of instruction, combining face-to-face and online class segments with an alternating attendance format, as in face-to-face one day, online another day," Durham DeCesaro said. "This approach still provides students with face-to-face instruction, but also ensures that students are meeting in smaller groups than the course's total enrollment."
Grading measures are expected to remain the same, Durham DeCesaro said.
Other universities in the U.S. have announced their intentions to alter their academic calendar in order to finish instruction and class attendance prior to the beginning of the winter months, which some experts speculate is when a second wave of the coronavirus could hit. Some colleges are planning to end in-class instruction by Thanksgiving.
Texas Tech, however, plans a normally scheduled fall to begin on Aug. 24 with the last day of classes on Dec. 2 and final exams Dec. 4-9. Commencement, which was held virtually in the spring, is scheduled for Dec. 11-12. That schedule remains flexible dependent on future circumstances.
Durham-DeCesaro said most of the schools that are planning an early end to the fall semester also have an extended fall break prior to Thanksgiving, which Texas Tech does not.
"Altering the academic calendar is significant in that it raises the potential for reducing the instructional hours provided to our students," Durham DeCesaro said. "Additionally, changes in academic calendars may also affect the availability and provision of student resources from various academic and campus support units. Importantly, there is no evidence to indicate that ending face-to-face classes in mid-November will have any health-related benefit. At present, our ongoing efforts to prioritize the health and safety of each member of our Texas Tech community gives us confidence that we do not need to adjust our academic calendar."
Durham DeCesaro added that all academic units have been requested to ensure that faculty who are teaching face-to-face courses can quickly and seamlessly switch back to online-only courses should it become necessary to close campus again.
As far as academic requirements such as tutorials or group projects are concerned, changes would depend on the specific academic unit, the instructor and the course modality. However, in those situations, social distancing and hygiene standards, including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), will be strongly emphasized.
Safety and sanitization
Texas Tech is committed to adhering to the safety recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That includes everything from wearing face masks and social distancing, to cleaning and sanitizing high-traffic areas.
Students will be required to wear a mask or face covering while attending in-person classes and when inside any on-campus building. While in the classroom, faculty who are leading instruction will not be required to wear a face mask or covering so all students can clearly understand the instruction being given.
Each classroom, studio and laboratory will have an established social-distancing barrier implemented in order to protect faculty members.
Print and digital media throughout campus will provide reminders to the campus community.
"We are currently discussing whether, where and to what extent to require the use of PPE," Durham DeCesaro said. "Given the size and scope of Texas Tech, it should be expected that PPE will be required in some facilities or during certain academic activities, as they currently are in many research laboratories. Students would be notified of such requirements through in-class or other communication."
The Texas Tech custodial staff will wipe highly touched surfaces, including handrails, push/pull door handles, elevators and other horizontal surfaces, over the course of each day to provide a safer environment. All restrooms and common areas are cleaned and disinfected on a daily basis. The disinfectants that are used are proven to kill viruses like COVID-19, as well as others.
The custodial department also uses an electrostatic application of disinfectants to complement the regular cleaning process. This process allows the team to disinfect areas that traditional cleaning methods may miss by applying an electrostatic charge to liquid disinfectants on all surfaces.
A complete list of sanitization measures can be found at the Texas Tech Commitment website.