UHV helps students cope with sudden changes
As universities across the nation search for ways to continue offering classes, University of Houston-Victoria faculty and staff quickly moved classes online and shifted their focus to how best to help students succeed despite the current circumstances.
“UHV is in a unique position because the school’s history of offering online programs since 1999,” said Chance Glenn, UHV provost and vice president for academic affairs. “That made the transition to offering all our courses completely online much less complicated. However, there are some major differences between the structure of online and face-to-face classes, and our faculty and staff have stepped up to help students weather that transition.”
UHV administrators previously announced that all spring semester courses would be offered online beginning March 25 through the end of the spring semester after smoke and fire damage in UHV University West, the main academic building on campus, made the building unusable after a March 12 fire. University officials also postponed or delayed all university events through the end of the spring semester because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and on Friday, it was announced that online-only course offerings would be extended through the first summer session, which starts June 1.
One of the major things that faculty members are working to do is maintain connections with students. Many faculty members are using online video calling and conference tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams to set up virtual office hours when students can contact them with questions.
In the UHV School of Arts & Sciences, a group of faculty members hosted an open Zoom meeting for faculty and students to share teaching tips and encourage students. The faculty are considering making that meeting a regular event, said Craig Goodman, a UHV associate professor of political science.
“The message of the call was simply that we are going to be OK,” Goodman said. “None of us chose to be in this situation, and we know that so much of what is happening is out of our control and our students’ control. But we can control how we respond and how we support our students despite the circumstances.”
Goodman has taken several steps to help his students transition to online learning. In addition to using the university’s online Blackboard system to upload recordings of his lectures, he has made himself available for video chat sessions and even created a Twitter account in order to stay connected with his students and point out current events that are relevant to his lessons. This is similar to what he would do when he had daily classroom discussions.
Communication is a big part of helping students and faculty continue successfully, said Yuan Wang, a UHV assistant professor of supply chain management. In addition to Zoom lectures on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and online tools such as Blackboard, Wang gave her students her personal cellphone number in case they have emergency needs.
“The faculty has been encouraging all students to stay in communication,” she said. “We’ve let them know that we’re here to help them get through this. All they have to do is ask, and we’ll be ready to help.”
Wang and her fellow faculty members in the UHV School of Business Administration also have been emailing each other online tools and teaching tips. In addition, the university’s Information Technology staff and Beverly Hoerig, UHV senior instructional designer, has offered training for faculty and staff in online communication tools and programs.
Students also have access to the university’s Student Success Center, which is offering tutoring services and personalized assistance for students through video chats, phone calls, email and other online tools. Students are able to work with Success Coaches to develop specific learning methods. The center also offers a Student Support Help Desk to offer assistance for any technology issues students may be experiencing.
For Tiarah Figueroa, a San Antonio sophomore majoring in political science, the change to online classes has been an adjustment. Originally, all of her spring classes were face to face. Now that all her classes are online, she’s had to set a new routine and work with her professors to stay connected.
“We’re all going through something strange, and the professors have been so encouraging,” she said. “They’re not just teaching. They check up on us and ask us how we’re doing and how our families are. A lot of my friends say the same.”
In addition to support from her professors, Figueroa appreciates the regular messages from UHV President Bob Glenn and other university leadership with updates about UHV and tips to stay safe.
“It’s comforting to know that the president is thinking about us and wants us to know what’s going on,” she said. “We’re in such an uncertain situation. It’s nice to know that we aren’t being left in the dark.”
Figueroa is one of the students who chose to remain in UHV’s residence halls, and she has seen firsthand how the university’s staff members have worked to make sure students are OK. She has picked up meals in Jaguar Hall Dining and was impressed with staff members’ positive and encouraging words. She’s also been able to use the JP’s Market student food pantry to get food and basic necessities such as hygiene products.
For Karen Camargo, a UHV clinical assistant professor of nursing, the changes to her program have focused mainly on staying personally connected with and checking in on students. Although UHV’s nursing program already was offered completely online with a few courses including a practice component, the changing circumstances have caused a lot of stress for students, she said. For example, students who usually would be working with clinical partners for their practical hours are being told to stay home.
UHV’s nursing students are Registered Nurses who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, Camargo said. The stress is especially difficult because working as a nurse and studying for a bachelor’s degree also are complicated with stay-at-home orders that mean their children are home instead of at school, and their spouses may be out of work as well.
“This specific situation has never happened before, and we are working with our students to help them find ways to deal with it,” she said. “We’re trying to be as proactive as possible so we can support each other and plan for the future.”
Looking back, one of the things that set the tone for UHV’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was Hurricane Harvey, Camargo said. During and after the hurricane, UHV’s administration, faculty and staff worked together to help students, and that has continued today.
“The faculty and UHV are working hard to meet students where they are in terms of needs,” Goodman said. “The last thing we want is for students to get frustrated and drop out or let their circumstances keep them from finishing this semester. We don’t want them to get sidetracked and never finish their degrees. Everyone at UHV, from faculty to the support staff in the schools and the dorms, has been working so hard to make sure our students can keep moving forward.”
The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.