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‘Glad to be back’

Tech students, faculty weigh in on fall reopening
Wednesday, September 16, 2020
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Leader photos by CALEB DANIEL

John Dogbey, an assistant professor of economics at Louisiana Tech, gives a lecture Tuesday from behind a barrier in a College of Business classroom while students are masked and spread throughout the room. Tech began fall quarter classes Thursday.

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Students in the first-floor auditorium of Tech’s College of Business Building sit spread out and masked during a lecture Tuesday. The class is one of many this quarter running on an “AB” format, in which two groups of students alternate between in-person and virtual sessions.

Today is the fifth day of classes for Louisiana Tech University’s fall quarter, its first full quarter with students on campus and in-person classes being offered since the university moved online at the outset of the novel coronavirus pandemic in March.

Reopening measures include mandatory mask-wearing in all buildings, classroom occupancy limits and screens hanging between teachers and students in many classrooms, as well as mandatory self-isolation for anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

Class formats are a mix of in-person, fully virtual, and several different kinds of hybrid combinations, depending on how many students are in a class and how many can be spread out in the classroom at a given time. Despite the differences from

Despite the differences from a normal school year, students and instructors who spoke with the Leader this week largely report excitement at being back on campus after most classes have been online-only for six months.

“I think everyone’s just glad to be back,” Owen Belknap, a senior, said. “Nothing’s much different as far as the flow of the classroom — it’s just that you’re wearing a mask. The social aspect is different, and there are a few little inconveniences, but the flow of learning in class is all the same.”

In order to better distance students, some hybrid formats include something similar to the “AB” system adopted by the parish K-12 district, with two groups of students alternating between in-person and online sessions.

In this format, the online classes are often synchronous, meaning the instructor will teach a group on campus and simultaneously stream the lesson via the video conferencing app Zoom to another group at home. Others are asynchronous, with instructors recording their lectures on platforms like MediaSite for students at home to watch on demand. Fully online classes are also split between synchronous and asynchronous.

Some classes were offered in-person during Tech’s second summer session, but the fall quarter reopening was on a much larger scale.

“We are all very excited to have some face-to-face experiences, even though classes are altered,” said Sherry Peveto, an assistant professor of nursing. “There are challenges, like I can’t wander around and discuss, because I have to stay in camera view. But we are so excited to be face-to-face again.”

University officials said Tech is working on an online dashboard to report total positive cases of COVID-19 among students, faculty and staff, which as of this writing had yet to launch. The Bulldog football team last week reported 36 new positive cases among players since Hurricane Laura’s strike in late August, causing it to cancel its first game of the season.

Some students said the virus did not personally concern them, while others said it did because of those in their lives to whom they could spread it.

“We might not get sick and die, but we have grandparents, parents, older professors on campus who could easily get sick and might have something bad happen to them,” sophomore Avery Anderson said. “So I do think it’s a big deal, and people should take precautions.”

Students and faculty largely reported that the measures put in place have been followed and enforced consistently.

“Seeing everybody participating, wearing the masks and being spaced out in classes makes me feel a lot better, just to know that we’re following the guidelines,” Anderson said. “So I don’t feel uncomfortable on campus.”

Sophomore Hayden Phillips said he thought the university has been flexible with a student body experiencing varying levels of comfort with returning to campus.

“They do a good job of accommodating students with different viewpoints on it,” he said. “I’m fine, but someone who’s extremely concerned about it, they can make adjustments for a Zoom class or however they want to do it.”

Some students did say they noticed exceptions to the rulefollowing at times.

“Everyone wants that college experience, especially during a pandemic, so they might not always follow it as they should,” sophomore Alondra Tapia said. “It was really packed on Thursday, especially in (Tolliver Hall, a food court and student study space). It looked like there wasn’t anything going on in the world.”

Each student and instructor who spoke with the Leader said they preferred the format of the fall quarter to the fully online spring quarter in the early days of the pandemic.

“Up until last spring, I’d only ever dropped one class in my three years,” Belknap said. “I dropped three classes that quarter. I hated it. I didn’t learn anything.”

Peveto said it was tough for faculty when Tech had to make the sudden transition to fully online instruction, but the university has been “very supportive” in getting teachers up to speed in the months since.

“We turned on a dime to go online in the spring, and they have gone above and beyond to help the faculty learn how to do it with excellence,” she said.

“It wasn’t easy, but we’ve done it now, and it is much easier this fall. Now we have a road map. We have the plans in place.”

Free COVID-19 testing offered by Tech and the Louisiana National Guard continues each weekday until Sept. 25 in the Joe Aillet Stadium parking lot near the Argent Pavilion.

Tech President Les Guice reported Tuesday that some 200 people were tested on the first day.

Guice said the university’s contact tracing efforts with those who have confirmed positive cases have indicated that one of the most significant causes of virus spread among the campus community is casual interactions with formal and informal social groups.

He encouraged students to continue wearing their masks and social distancing even in these group gatherings off campus.

Rebecca Clark, an assistant professor of nursing, said Guice and the university administration have communicated effectively with faculty since the pandemic began.

“All summer long we had emails every day from President Guice guiding us, so when we came back we knew what to expect,” Clark said.

When asked for their opinion on Tech’s coronavirus policies and rules, students without exception said they thought they were reasonable.

“Nobody wants to have campus shut down, so I think Tech is doing a great job,” Anderson said. “Nobody wants to go back home.”