University of Houston-Clear Lake has been working on plans for the upcoming school year since the spring, officials said.
“The challenge is really that no one size fits all in the solution of what works best for our students, our staff and our faculty,” said Mark Denney, vice president of administration and finance for the university.
The university is offering on-campus and hybrid options for the upcoming school year. UHCL has devised a three-ring system to keep on-campus students and staff safe, Denney said.
The first ring requires that people stay home if they do not need to be on campus. The second requires that individuals on campus must wear masks, social distance and sanitize their hands often. The third ring requires action on the university’s part—UHCL will sanitize classrooms frequently and implement a new air conditioning system with a better filter.
“We are preparing for the fall semester and the spring semester as a worst-case scenario,” Denney said. “People cannot put their lives on hold. We will keep doing this so people can pursue their dreams without risking their health."
The university has had a lot of students ask to come back to campus, said Steven Berberich, UHCL senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.
For those opting for online schooling, the university will have two types of courses: synchronous, live remote classes with an instructor; and asynchronous, classwork without an instructor present.
“The focus is on creating a safe learning and working environment for staff and faculty,” Berberich said.
The university’s plan for the upcoming year has forced UHCL to dip into its reserves, Denney said. However, that will only sustain the university’s new systems for the upcoming year if the pandemic continues, he said.
“Long term, we will be challenged if there isn’t another stimulus bill,” Denney said.
Preparing instructors for the fall has been a learning curve through the summer, Berberich said. Many teachers had worked with remote teaching before and were happy to help those who had not, he said.
One of the challenges teachers face is not only learning how to teach on technology, it is also helping to engage students in a remote setting, Berberich said. However, this lesson will help strengthen teaching at the university even past the pandemic, he said.
“It is an exercise on a scale I have never seen in my 27 years of higher education,” Berberich said. “Challenges are also opportunities, and this is really going to have an impact on how we deliver higher education.”