UTEP President Dr. Heather Wilson | Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre/UTEP Communications
Tuesday afternoon, University of Texas at El Paso President Heather Wilson released a letter, outlining the guidelines and strategies that the college will follow for the 2020 Fall Semester.
“The face-to-face sections on campus will be much smaller to allow for social distancing. We have also adjusted the course schedules throughout the day so that fewer students will be on campus at any one time,” Wilson shared.
According to the letter, the university has increased the number of online classes, as well as hybrid classes and will continue to have a small segment of classes that will require face to face interaction, albeit with social distancing guidelines in place.
President Wilson’s complete letter is below:
As we prepare for the fall semester, we have three objectives:
- Protect the health of faculty, staff, students and visitors to the campus,
- Provide high-quality teaching and maintain the progress of students toward their degrees, and
- Continue to advance discovery of public value.
Making it Safe to Learn
We have to expect that COVID-19 will still be present in our community during the fall semester. Until a vaccine is developed, there is no one action that will protect us. There are four strategies that drive our decisions about the fall.
We will allow people to work and study remotely when they can. The ability to use technology and create virtual classrooms not only gives students more flexibility when coping with disruption of work and family life, it creates natural protection from disease transmitted person-to-person. That said, we know that, for some subjects and for some people, physical presence is an important aspect of learning. By doing things remotely when we can, we reduce the concentration of people on campus at any one time, keeping everyone safer.
We will build a collective UTEP commitment to use best health practices all the time. Getting the basics right is the most important thing each of us can do to protect ourselves and each other. If we are sick, we stay home. We cover our faces. We stay 6 feet apart. We wash our hands frequently. We remind each other when we forget so that best practices become a habit. We want Miners to lead the way, be positive role models for others, and help establish a culture in our community.
We will make the campus a very safe place to be for those who cannot work or study remotely. Getting the basics right as individuals will be reinforced by actions we take as a University. We have arranged for enhanced cleaning of every building every day, and sometimes several times a day. Classrooms have been reconfigured to allow for physical distancing with fewer students in each room. Dormitories will only house one person in each room. It will be easy to wash your hands frequently on campus, and every classroom will have wipes to clean down your desk before class starts.
We will have a proactive UTEP COVID-19 testing program. We will use some of our federal funds for widespread voluntary free COVID-19 testing for students, faculty and staff. Supported by our faculty and staff in biology, data science, epidemiology and information technology, we are setting up a system to test a large number of people on campus every day in a way that is fast and convenient so people who are sick will know to stay home even if they don’t exhibit symptoms.
Changing the Course Schedule
These strategies have caused us to review how we plan to deliver our courses in the fall semester. At noon today, the updated fall 2020 course schedule will be available to you through Goldmine by visiting my.utep.edu.
In late May and early June, we surveyed students on how they wanted to learn this fall. We also asked faculty how they wanted to teach. Even before the most recent increase in COVID-19 cases in El Paso, a majority of students who reported their learning preference wanted to learn completely or primarily online.
We normally teach some 3,800 different sections in the fall semester. Only 12% of those courses were offered in an online format before the pandemic.
Our campus task force on reopening worked with faculty course by course throughout June to determine if the course could be taught effectively online or if it required some face-to-face interactions or hands-on experiences that could be done safely in a classroom, lab or studio. We used some of our federal CARES Act funds to hire course designers this summer to help faculty members redesign our largest courses so that they are high-quality online courses. We also evaluated every classroom, lab and studio for its capacity to allow for social distancing.
When you go to Goldmine to see the revised course schedule, you will find a lot more online sections to choose from – almost 2,500 options. There will also be more “hybrid” courses that will be as much as 50% online and 50% face-to-face, while others will only have students meet on campus a few times during the semester. While very few of our classes – a little more than 100 – will be full-time, in-person traditional classes, we will keep waiting lists in Goldmine to track the demand for hybrid and in-person classes and expand offerings if there is demand and space to do so safely.
The face-to-face sections on campus will be much smaller to allow for social distancing. We have also adjusted the course schedules throughout the day so that fewer students will be on campus at any one time.
For the more than 1,400 international students affected by yesterday’s decision from the Department of Homeland Security to modify the regulations related to online courses permitted by the Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP), having hybrid options is important. We will work with each of you individually so your course schedule meets federal requirements for your F-1 visa.
We know from the student survey that the top concerns of students with online education are technology and internet access. For that reason, we have used federal and local funds, some provided by generous private UTEP donors, to make thousands of grants to students for laptop computers and online service. We have increased technology lending programs through our Technology Support office, kept computer and printing facilities open on campus with enhanced cleaning and social distance, and are working to enhance UTEP’s wireless network to provide better access in outdoor spaces on campus. Additional financial aid for technology needs will be available to students in the fall semester. If you need help with technology, we will work to help you.
You should review the new course schedule as soon as you can after noon today. If you want to make changes to your schedule, you can do so through Goldmine. Your adviser is also ready to discuss questions and help you get registered for what you need.
We know there are a lot of questions you may have, so we have posted the answers to some of them here.
I also know you appreciate how much work went into this effort to pull apart a 3,800-piece jigsaw puzzle and put it back together over the past six weeks to make this work. The task force and faculty and staff have been working nonstop to make these changes. If you find some glitches, please let us know. We’ll fix them. And, if you are inclined, I know a quick email of thanks to your favorite faculty or staff member would be appreciated. Their commitment to you as students is remarkable and a word of encouragement from a student always goes a long way.