Local educators informed the Rotary Club about their experiences in navigating a COVID-19 world during Thursday’s Zoom conference. Hamilton County superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson, Chattanooga State president Dr. Rebecca Ashford, and UT-Chattanooga’s Chancellor Dr. Steven Angle shared the virtual stage.
Dr. Johnson gave a brief explanation about Hamilton County’s plan to deal with COVID-19, which includes avenues for dealing with COVID cases if they begin to pop up in schools. Dr. Angle spoke about the importance and prevalence of online classes during the upcoming fall semester, which starts on Aug. 17.
"Sixty two percent of our courses are completely online, so we have decreased the density of students on campus.” Dr. Angle said. “Last fall, we only had 15 percent in online courses, so that’s a big increase for us. We have a number of other courses in order to decrease the number of students in a classroom.”
Dr. Ashford said students who come onto campus will only enter through one place, and they will have to fill out an online questionnaire before they are allowed on campus. Chattanooga State will make mask-wearing mandatory while on campus.
“We have three different instruction models, and the first is virtual, meaning it is online but you log in at a certain time,” Dr. Ashford said in regard to one of the three kinds of classes offered. “You’ll be interacting in Zoom or WebX meetings with other students or a teacher.”
The trio all agreed that the pandemic has put people’s focus on the invaluable nature of having Internet access for a quality education. Dr. Angle said UTC sent out multiple electronic devices and hotspots to students who did not have access to Internet or devices at home. Hamilton County, through EPB and other partners, recently started a program that will provide free Internet to thousands of students and their families.
“I think this unprecedented time has created an unprecedented opportunity for us,” said Dr. Johnson. “We’re excited for what this will do transformationally for our community, and I think this can help parents who can log on and take a course at UTC or Chatt State and get a technical certification or a degree. So there’s just a lot of potential and opportunity that exists because of this partnership.”
Dr. Angle said UTC has two priorities, which are the health of the campus and quality of the education. He said that, while not ideal, the difficult circumstances could actually prepare students for the workplace.
“They’re going to go out into the workforce and be just as prepared as anyone else,” Dr. Angle said. “I think they’ve learned flexibility, and they’ve seen people dealing with unexpected circumstances and businesses encountering things. But that’s just part of life, and we’re helping them learn. I think they’ve seen us work as a team too.”
Dr. Angle also congratulated his staff and faculty for coming up with a fully-online model for the university in a week, when he said the school would normally take two years to plan out such an undertaking. Dr. Ashford said that education may change permanently as more and more teachers become acclimated with online teaching.
“I think now, because faculty across the nation are going to be comfortable in this environment, we’re going to have more options,” said Dr. Ashford. “These students coming from high schools will be more comfortable with it, and so will adults who come back to school, especially if any have been working from home. I think it’s only going to grow and improve after this.”