Why did AU go online?

As coronavirus sweeps college classes to online platforms across the nation, Augustana faculty and staff are working to do the same after an extended spring break.

On March 23, all classes will continue remotely until April 14, when classes are anticipated to resume in-person, according to a university email.

“The goal remains,” Colin Irvine, provost and executive vice president said. “When we get to the end of the semester, students [should]  know what they were slated to know and understand at the start of the semester.”

How did AU decide to go online?

Other South Dakota schools including South Dakota State University, University of South Dakota and South Dakota School of Mines and Technology also switched coursework to online modes temporarily. 

The same happened to more than 100 universities in the United States from Harvard to the University of Washington, according to National Public Radio.

Irvine said Augustana’s decision to move online  was informed by other universities, but ultimately came down to Augustana’s core values and mission.

“We are a liberal arts institution,” Irvine said. “We are a Christian institution. One of the things we do well is address and deal with unstructured problems, and we do this out of concern for others.”

With student safety through social distancing being the main concern, Irvine said the university also considered its academic standards. Moving online for three weeks helps faculty maintain depth in their curriculum by working in units.

How is each department approaching online courses?

Each department on campus — from chemistry to philosophy — moves through course objectives in unique ways. Some classes have discussion, lab, writing or project emphasis, and Irvine said faculty and staff are working together to meet those academic standards in the online format.

To execute this transition, Jay Kahl, assistant vice provost for assessment and academic excellence, said Sharon Gray, Lisa Brunick and Cheryl Swanson worked together to prepare the “Course Continuity Guide,” which explains different ways for faculty to move courses online.

“The key with this guide and making this move right now is that it is very much person-specific and discipline-specific,” Kahl said.

Irvine said staff from informational technology, academic affairs, library and academic leadership are assisting faculty in finding programs and applications specific to those course areas. Gray, Brunick, Swanson and some tech-savvy faculty are available one-on-one to help faculty with course-specific technology, according to Kahl.

“Although it was hurried, I cannot imagine a better transition with a group of faculty colleagues working collaboratively with each other,” Kahl said. 

Paul Egland, Augustana professor and natural science division chair, said students in lab classes learned vital lab skills in the classroom earlier in the semester, so online coursework can more easily build on those skills. To continue meeting lab course objectives, professors can generate and send data sets for the students to analyze. 

“Everybody’s pulling hard to do the best we can for the students,” Egland said.

Some of the technology methods the science department plans on using include Moodle, Google Hangout and Screencast, according to Egland.

How is online learning different?

Irvine said the most widely used tools for online learning are Screencast-O-Matic, Explain Everything, Poll Everywhere, Turnitin, Youtube Closed Captioning, Web Whiteboard, Socrative and Flipgrid for Video Feedback.

Irvine described the techniques as ranging from asynchronous to synchronous, discussion boards and virtual labs in physics or chemistry.

“We are not moving into a one-size-fits-all, because all our courses are different and all our disciplines are different,”Irvine said. “So we are going to try to account for those differences by availing ourselves of all the tools that are out there that help faculty teach in the virtual environment.”

Egland said most classes are likely to be held non-synchronously to address concerns about campus bandwidth and remote WiFi access for students, and virtual office hours can aid communication between students and professors.

Still, students’ presence on campus will be missed.

“The way I interact with my students is going to be very different,” Egland said. “I won’t be able to see them. I won’t have them together, so I won’t be able to interact with them in the same way.”

How is campus preparing for student safety?

As Augustana anticipates students back on campus, buildings will be specially sanitized and ready for their arrival.

“We deliver an education of excellence,” Director of Facility Services Andrea Miller said. “And while the faculty is finding multiple different ways to deliver that, my role is to ensure that when they need to use spaces, they are ready and available for them to use.”

The cleaning routine remains mostly the same with the addition of Hillyard’s Q.T. 3, which is a certified agent that kills novel viruses like COVID-19. Miller said staff always had procedures to frequently clean and disinfect for health concerns like the flu, but this addition helps better combat the specific threat.

Campus is open in necessary areas like the dining hall and computer labs, but Miller said empty classrooms will be fully disinfected and closed until students return. Meanwhile, she said staff will disinfect “every square inch” to ensure student safety.

Miller said study spaces and most academic buildings will most likely remain open for use of students who remain on campus. However, the definition of having an open campus fluctuates daily.

“We are very excited to get this place back up and running where everyone can feel comfortable and come back to campus,” Miller said.

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