As hundreds of doses of COVID-19 vaccines arrive in clinics and drugstores around Northwest Arkansas, Chancellor Joe Steinmetz said he thinks continued reliance on remote learning will end by next semester.
Soon, remote learning at the UofA might become mere background support for a complete roster of face-to-face courses.
Steinmetz said he thinks all students and faculty will have the opportunity to get vaccinated by August. If 70-80% of the campus population receives a vaccination before the beginning of the fall 2021 semester, herd immunity will be strong enough to warrant the return to primarily in-person instruction, Steinmetz said.
“We are not an online university,” Steinmetz said. “And I’ve said this since the pandemic began. We don’t want to be.”
Fifty-five percent of all classes this semester were taught remotely, compared to the 59% of classes conducted remotely in Fall 2020, said John Thomas, manager of University Communications.
However, a shift back to face-to-face instruction does not mean the demise of remote learning, Steinmetz said. He said he hopes that all courses with multiple sections will have at least one remote option, which would allow students to earn additional credits as they pursue out-of-town internships and study abroad opportunities.
Departments and instructors will ultimately decide whether to keep some sections virtual, Steinmetz said.
“We really allow our faculty to determine, for the most part, how they teach,” Steinmetz said. “I can’t see us mandating to the faculty, ‘You must have a remote section and you must have a face-to-face.’”
The format of lectures is compatible with online learning, but certain classes, such as science labs and studio art, are not meant to be conducted from home, Steinmetz said. There is no substitute for hands-on experience.
Steinmetz does not think online instruction will remain a contingency for in-person learning in case of inclement weather, Steinmetz said. The electrical outages caused by the recent snowstorm hampered students’ abilities to attend classes remotely. In addition, instructors with children must care for them when schools and childcare close, he said.
As new faculty join the UofA and time passes from the eventual end of the pandemic, it is also less likely that instructors will have experience teaching remotely, Steinmetz said.
“And so maybe three years from now, if new faculty members come who never taught remotely,” Steinmetz said, “the question is, ‘is there a preparation that has to go forward for that particular faculty member to make sure they know how to use remote technology and how to make that switch?’”
University officials will determine how many students are vaccinated in August by emailing them surveys, tracking the national average of doses administered, and creating other data collection mechanisms, Steinmetz said.
While Steinmetz said he thinks a near-fully vaccinated campus population will not stop students and faculty from wearing masks, and cannot predict whether the novel coronavirus will remain for years, he is confident that campus life will return to normal upon the vaccine's widespread distribution.
“All of the things that make this a college campus, even tailgating, we had to suspend all that,” Steinmetz said. “I think we’ll be back and see it all again.”