BOONE — More than 60 Appalachian State University faculty members joined in an online video-chat meeting on March 23 and discussed the ways that the university is still grappling with all of the changes brought forth by COVID-19.
The university announced on March 11 that it would be extending spring break by one week and then transitioning to online courses on March 23. According to Interim Provost Heather Norris, the university had transitioned approximately 1,409 courses with 2,599 separate sections from face-to-face to online learning in two weeks’ time.
Norris and other university administrators attended the March 23 Zoom meeting of the university’s Faculty Senate. Chancellor Sheri Everts connected to the online meeting and said she wanted to express her gratitude to the university’s faculty for their work during the quickly changing situation.
“Your hard work to ensure students’ learning continues is frankly impressive,” Everts said. “You are handling it with grace, intelligence and kindness. Please know that we will get through this together.”
Tom Van Gilder, the director of learning technology services for the Center for Academic Excellence at App State, said his team helped to create a website for faculty and staff that provided tips and resources to help “get them up to speed” technologically. Additionally, his staff conducted 54 workshops — which included 550 to 600 faculty members — throughout the previous week to provide guidance.
To amplify its AsULearn — the university’s online learning platform — infrastructure, Van Gilder said staff doubled the database’s capacity. When he had checked the server that afternoon, he said more than 1,300 users were simultaneously using AsULearn — which is about double what it normally would host on a Monday afternoon. Additionally, about 280 Zoom meetings were taking place when he checked the university’s activity around 2 p.m. that day.
Faculty Senator Laura Gambrel, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Psychological Counseling, asked Van Gilder if faculty should be prepared to also have online summer classes. Van Gilder responded by saying that faculty should plan ahead as it was “looking that way.”
Jason Marshburn — the university’s director of environmental, health, safety and emergency management — said nailing down a date of when activities can return to campus as normal was a “moving target.” Marshburn said the campus emergency management task force meets regularly to monitor the situation with COVID-19.
“We know this is a quickly evolving and dynamic situation,” Marshburn said. “We’ve been working very quickly to adapt and adjust plans accordingly as things change.”
Marshburn said a core campus team started discussions in late January to start planning efforts for the university with focus on providing support for students that were studying abroad as well as students and faculty internationally traveling. As the situation started to evolve, the group started to look at local planning needs and came together to evaluate campus needs and looking ahead.
By late February, Marshburn said the group had activated campus emergency plans and was meeting regularly at the beginning of March. As the university continues to plan for the unknown, Marshburn said the group is also trying to organize how the campus will return back to normal “even as we’re still trying to pin down when that date will be.”
Norris said she has watched as the greater community responds to the situation by helping those with food needs and supporting local businesses in an unprecedented time.
“I’m reminded that as difficult as it’s been to face the challenges put before us, we’re extremely fortunate to be at Appalachian,” Norris said. “I continue to be impressed with the ways we have risen to the major logistical challenges before us.”
Faculty Senator Scott Marshall, a professor in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, said that he is thankful that the university is about to ensure continued employment to faculty and that they are still able to provide content to students via the web. But he said the sudden shift has provided many challenges, especially when it comes to keeping a balance between work and family.
Marshall shared his personal story of how he and his wife both work for the university and now have their young, school-aged children at home since public schools are closed through May 15 and students are remotely learning at home. He said he knows his story is not unique, and that many faculty are struggling to work from home while continuing to provide for their family.
“We have seen our work loads double and our child care disappear,” Marshall said. “I’m essentially struggling to homeschool my own children while teaching my ASU students. My children are simply too young to remote learn by themselves. I want to provide my ASU students with the high quality experience, but right now the best my wife and I can do is to alternate working days. That means we have about half the time to do twice as much work as we’ve had in the past.”
Marshall added that he understands that the university provided information on paid administrative leave due to COVID-19, but that it seems impractical for faculty to do so if the university are migrating courses and creating new online content.
“If faculty take paid administrative leave, who is left to teach these classes?” Marshall asked.
Norris said she wants faculty to know that her support and understanding are with them, as she also has a school-aged child.
Faculty Senator Lakshmi Iyer, a professor in the Department of Computer Information Systems, asked how the shift will impact grading policies. Norris said she understands the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill went with a pass/fail option and N.C. State recently decided on a satisfactory/not satisfactory grading scale.
According to Norris, App State officials are weighing their options, and has heard that there is not a lot of support for pass/fail. She added that some students had also advocated against pass/fail as some were in professional programs or wanted to apply for graduate school where it is necessary for upper level classes to have letter grades. As it stands, Norris said she has asked deans and others to be looking into the satisfactory/not satisfactory option.
To monitor Appalachian State University’s activity concerning COVID-19, visit www.appstate.edu/go/coronavirus.