Amid coronavirus outbreak, local colleges, universities face challenges transitioning classes online

UH at Sugar Land has suspended in-person classes through April 3. (Claire Shoop/Community Impact Newspaper)
UH at Sugar Land has suspended in-person classes through April 3. (Claire Shoop/Community Impact Newspaper)

UH at Sugar Land has suspended in-person classes through April 3. (Claire Shoop/Community Impact Newspaper)

As local colleges and universities extend spring breaks and plan for longer-term campus closures in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, administrators and faculty are preparing 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 Sugar Land, have responded similarly to concerns about the coronavirus. Following a two-week spring break from March 9-20, UH at Sugar Land began online classes March 23. UH at Sugar Land 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.


Students taking classes at Houston Community College, which has campuses in Missouri City and Stafford, 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.

Texas State Technical College, which has a campus in Rosenberg, also will begin online classes March 30. Bryan Bowling, the associate provost of TSTC Fort Bend County campus, said while it is easier to transfer some programs such as information technology and traditional academic classes online, heavy industrial trades such as diesel or welding require students to produce or use tangible equipment.

“For us, it is critical that our students know that their health and safety is our priority, and that we remain committed to their success,” Bowling said in an email. “Our goal is to place qualified, highly-skilled graduates into the workforce, even if this means modifying our traditional annual schedule of three semesters to meet the needs of our students.”

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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By Claire Shoop

Claire joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2019 as the reporter for the Sugar Land/Missouri City edition. She graduated from The University of Texas at Austin in May 2019 where she studied journalism, government and Arabic. While in school, Claire was a fellow for The Texas Tribune, worked for the student newspaper, The Daily Texan, and spent a semester in Washington, D.C. She enjoys playing cards with her family and listening to the Boss, Bruce Springsteen.


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