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SOU switches to remote learning plans

Southern Oregon University leaders have decided to pivot to mostly remote instruction for fall term, President Linda Schott informed students and staff this past Friday afternoon.

“I want our students to continue their studies in safety,” Schott said. “I want SOU employees to continue serving our students without putting their health in jeopardy. And I want our neighbors and community members to recognize that we are moving ahead with appropriate caution.”

It’s not yet clear which courses will be delivered remotely and which will be held in person, but Associate Provost Jody Waters said that the team working on the campus’s reopening plan hopes to have information ready in the coming weeks.

“We are going to try and move fairly quickly,” she said.

Students will need to know which of their courses will be offered in person and which will be online before they can make decisions about returning to campus.

Jennah Diaz, who will be a senior this year, called that waiting period “stressful.”

“I also am nervous to have another term remote because online learning was difficult for me,” she said. “It felt less engaging. Sitting in front of a computer was lonesome.”

SOU officials pointed to Jackson County’s more rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in June and July as the reason to move to online learning. The shift likely will mean that a significant number of students will not return to campus, which impacts the university’s revenue. Faculty, meanwhile, are engaged in training to prepare for another term of remote instruction.

“I think everybody’s feeling much more prepared and organized ... learning from each other what worked, what didn’t work,” said SOU spokesman Joe Mosley.

Emmy Rawley, also heading into her senior year, said she had already planned not to go back to Ashland for fall term out of caution.

“I don’t think it would be the safest,” she said.

Previously, the university had aimed to offer in-person classes until Thanksgiving break. After that, the term would have finished remotely so that students wouldn’t have to return after potentially traveling home.

The courses that Rawley registered for were originally planned to take place on campus. For now, she’ll have to wait to see which, if not all of them, will switch to online.

The university has been making public any cases of COVID-19 that surfaces among the campus community. The most recent was reported July 26, the case of an employee who had not been on campus for 19 days, but had tested positive.

Another SOU employee and two students tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in July and in April.

To prepare faculty for another term of remote delivery of instruction, the university’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning has been making different activities available on its website.

A workshop on “Tools for Student Success in Blended Learning” is currently being offered. Other webinars focus on topics including “creating community and engagement in online courses” and “preparing for flexible course delivery,” according to the website.

Waters said that once class formats are posted, conversations can begin about how to protect students whose course may have been listed on campus, who are or live with people who are at increased risk from COVID-19 infection.

“Certainly we’re going to do everything we can to accommodate students’ needs,” Waters said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

file photoA student returns to campus after picking up lunch in between Shasta Hall and McLoughlin Hall at SOU.