Katy universities, colleges face challenges transitioning classes online to slow coronavirus outbreak

University of Houston System instruction site in Katy
The University of Houston System instruction site in Katy hosts both the University of Houston at Katy and the University of Houston-Victoria at Katy. (Courtesy University of Houston)

The University of Houston System instruction site in Katy hosts both the University of Houston at Katy and the University of Houston-Victoria at Katy. (Courtesy University of Houston)

As local colleges and universities extend spring breaks and plan for longer-term campus closures in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, administrators and faculty have prepared to move all classes online.

“The overarching goal is to ensure that all of our students are able to successfully complete their studies this semester in a safe environment and also ensuring that they have the necessary resources,” said Mike Rosen, the University of Houston's associate vice chancellor and associate vice president for strategic communications.

Rosen said all of the schools in the University of Houston system, which includes the University of Houston at Katy, have responded similarly to concerns about the coronavirus.

Following a two-week spring break from March 9-20, UH at Katy began online classes March 23 and has suspended in-person classes through April 3.

Rosen said the transition to online learning was made easier because all classes currently taught at the university already had a presence on Blackboard, an online platform for instructional material. He added about 70% of UH facility had an online presence already, so administration was able to focus on getting the remaining 30% up to speed.


“Over the last couple of weeks, there has been a bit of a rush just to make sure that we are able to successfully transition all of those classes to an online setting, making sure that faculty are proficient with technology and making sure that students are familiar with using it on the receiving end,” Rosen said.

University of Houston-Victoria at Katy closed its campus March 25-April 3, according to a March 24 press release. Online-only instruction began March 25, and will remain in place for the rest of the spring semester.

“We think it is in the best interests of our students, faculty and staff to close the building,” the March 24 release states. “Since faculty members are providing online instruction starting Wednesday [March 25], this should not affect the delivery of classes.”

UHV started its spring break at noon March 12—four days before the scheduled spring break from March 16-21—per a March 12 press release. On March 26, UHV President Bob Glenn announced the spring commencement has been postponed.

“I know that the decision to go to online classes was one that many of you are rightfully annoyed/upset/distraught/distressed/disappointed (you pick the best adjective to describe your feelings) about,” Glenn said in a March 26 letter to students.

He continued: “We must each do our part now to flatten the curve and reduce the spread of the virus. That is why we have moved to online classes. But, if your preference is face-to-face instruction, then please take comfort in the knowledge that normalcy is around the corner in the not-too-distant future.”

Students taking classes at Houston Community College, which has a campus in the Katy area, will begin online classes March 30.

Faculty and staff began working remotely March 23 following an extended spring break. During the week of March 23, Kurt Ewen, the vice chancellor for strategy, planning and institutional effectiveness at HCC, said faculty are being trained on online resources and transitioning all coursework to an online delivery.

Ewen estimated about 50% of HCC’s students have never taken a class online and said a large number of faculty have not taught online either.

“At a community college, a large chunk of our enrollment is in workforce and technical programs, which by their very nature ... is all hands-on learning,” Ewen said. “So, they are really scrambling to figure out, 'How do we do as much of this in an online environment to get students as much of their material covered online as possible?'”

HCC officials have not yet announced when they hope to resume in-person classes.

“Our hope is that this is not going to last for forever, and students will be able to get back into those labs and that they'll be able to complete their course,” Ewen said.

All three institutions stressed the importance of flexibility as situations are changing on a daily and even hourly basis and working to accommodate student needs moving forward.

“[HCC is] committed to open access for educational opportunities for our students,” Ewen said. “We believe that this is the best way to help a person find a path to a better life, economically. So, we're committed to that, and we're going to be here for them for as long as they need us.”

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