WILMINGTON — The fall semester at UNCW started just over a month ago, and after the second week of classes in August saw more than 400 cases of Covid-19 confirmed, daily case counts are now low and the percentage of rapid tests coming back positive is miniscule, about 1%.
The precautions still continue: Unvaccinated students, faculty and staff have to be tested weekly; off-campus visitors aren’t allowed in residence halls; and outlets exist for professors seeking to move their classes online due to coronavirus concerns.
Earlier in the semester, university guidance circulated by administration gave professors a simple route to moving their courses online until Sept. 17. For approved reasons professors could opt to teach online for the first month of the semester. Eligible justifications included the need to quarantine, high levels of infection among students in the class, or the need to care for a family member — as well as a broad catch-all, “other COVID-related issues as identified by the faculty.”
Last week the policy was updated. Now if a professor wants to teach online they can get temporary permission for three reasons: faculty illness, course disruption due to student absences, or family care matters. Unlisted reasons for wanting to teach online require more in-depth review.
These shifts now last for 15 days. Every two weeks, the instructor needs to reapply again if they want to retain the altered modality.
Since the moves are only temporary, the classes in question will not have their updated teaching format reflected in Banner, the university’s internal program used to input info for its public-facing course registration system. If the changes did appear in Banner, students would be able to see which courses are subject to these temporary changes.
On a weekly Zoom call held Fridays, moderated by faculty senate president Nathan Grove, professors have a chance to pose questions to university leaders, like top health official Katrin Wesner-Harts and Provost Jamie Winebrake.
“Because these are temporary, and intended to be temporary, they aren’t being modified in Banner,” Winebrake said in response to a question about the course modality changes. “From a SACS perspective, if we were to move a course entirely online, then we would have to do some things with Banner, and discuss with SACS that situation.”
SACS refers to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which is the entity responsible for the “accreditation of degree-granting higher education institutions in the southern states,” according to its website.
Winebrake told professors that if they needed to move a face-to-face course online for a few weeks due to a disruption, “that’s fine, but there is the expectation that you would move back to face-to-face. And that’s why there’s not a Banner change and wouldn’t be a need to contact SACS.”
Reading the question to Winebrake, which was submitted by a UNCW faculty member, Grove said: “This person said in their question that having to do the repeat every 15 days is consuming, time-consuming for faculty, for department chairs.”
“As we talked about last hour, it can also be unnerving for students as they’re trying to figure out how is this course going to be taught in the next two weeks,” Grove continued. The question-asker, he later added, claimed students are blaming faculty for the course discrepancies when they sign up for an in-person class and come to realize it’s being taught online temporarily.
According to the SACS website, accredited universities can determine which courses to offer online or face-to-face: “During the COVID-19 crisis, institutions have flexibilities for offering courses online.”
Jeana Johnson, public relations and data specialist for the accreditation group, said member institutions must get approval to offer online classes in the first place. Once universities have that ability, the decision to move specific classes online is “an institutional matter,” Johnson said.
As of Sept. 8, according to numbers provided by the university, around 6% of the university’s face-to-face classes had been switched to online through Sept. 17. There are about 4,120 course sections taught each semester at UNCW.
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