After Coronavirus Closures, North Texas Colleges Begin Online Classes

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Classrooms at colleges and universities across North Texas sat empty Monday as students returned from spring break and resumed their classes from home.

College campuses across Texas and nationwide are shut down, some for a few weeks and others through the end of the semester, in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Most universities extended their spring breaks in an effort to give faculty members more time to shift their in-person classes into an online format.

Colleges and universities across North Texas began online classes Monday.EXPAND
Colleges and universities across North Texas began online classes Monday.
iStock / TheaDesign

"I think it's working relatively well," said Ashley Nitsche, a senior at Baylor University.

Nitsche, a native of Round Rock, said the online versions of her classes consisted of video lectures and assignments that professors upload to Canvas, the university's online class management system. Students can watch those lectures in their own time, complete the assignments and submit them either through Canvas or by email. By early Monday afternoon, she'd made a schedule of all the assignments she had due for the rest of the semester, watched a few video lectures for her social movements class and put in some work on an English paper that's due next week.

Earlier this month, Baylor officials announced spring break would be extended and that, when students returned, their courses would be online only for at least a few weeks. Then, last week, the university announced classes would remain online only through the end of the semester.

Two Baylor professors and one student have tested positive for the disease. None of those three have returned to campus since contracting the disease, university officials said.

Nitsche said she thinks the university made the right decision by shutting down the campus. Still, she said, she's disappointed that she won't get to talk to her professors in person or see her friends in class again this semester.

"I really liked my professors this semester, and I was really excited for my classes," she said. "So I'm mostly frustrated that I don't get to participate as much as I would normally."

At Southern Methodist University, officials announced last week they were moving all classes online until the end of the semester. Although the university's dorms remained open, SMU President R. Gerald Turner encouraged "as many students as possible" to leave their residence halls until April 5.

Carly Rogers, a freshman acting major, is taking all her classes online from her home in Las Vegas. Her professors use the video conferencing platform Zoom to hold live classes. Because of the two-hour time difference between Las Vegas and Dallas, Rogers has to be up and ready for her 8 a.m. classes by 6 a.m. local time.

Some classes work better than others in an online format, Rogers said. Her dance class, for example, was held in a big, open dance studio before spring break. Now, the class takes place on Zoom. That's tricky for a number of reasons, Rogers said. Online classes in general present a roadblock for any student who doesn't have internet access at home, especially since coffee shops, public libraries and other public places with free Wi-Fi are all off limits. But it's also a problem for anyone who doesn't have enough room for dancing at home, she said.

Rogers' dance professor reworked the class so any of the dance routines the class covers can be done in about the space of a yoga mat. The professors who teach her performing arts classes — none of which lend themselves very well to an online format — are mostly focusing on checking in with students, making sure they're doing OK and doing whatever meaningful instruction they can to make sure students don't feel like they've had a wasted semester, she said.

At the University of North Texas, officials canceled classes last week and moved courses online beginning Monday. Dorms and dining halls at UNT remain open.

Frank Polk, a senior advertising major, took his first online class Monday evening. The class, "Ethics, Law and Diversity in Public Relations," meets for three hours every Monday evening. Usually, the 70-person class is heavy on discussion, with case studies, guest speakers and conversations about business ethics. That wasn't the case Monday night, Polk said.

"We had no discussions today," he said.

Instead, most of the class was taken up by background noise from other students who hadn't muted their microphones and other tech hiccups. He's hopeful that some of those issues may get worked out after two or three class sessions, but there's no way the professor can be as engaged with students in an online format as she could be in person, he said. And because the class only meets once a week, he has only a few more sessions before the end of the semester.

Most of Polk's other classes this semester are smaller and more focused on group projects rather than lecture, he said, so he expects they'll lend themselves better to an online format.

Polk, a Mesquite native, said he's also disappointed that UNT, like most other colleges, rescheduled its commencement ceremonies. UNT President Neal Smatresk announced that decision in a letter to students last week, saying the university would still hold commencement sometime later for any May 2020 graduates who want to participate.

Polk, who will graduate in May, said he understands why the university had to make that move, but it's disappointing all the same.

"It's just a bad situation altogether," he said.

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