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As classes make the transition online because of the threat of COVID-19, different departments at Texas Tech are working to ease this transition for students and faculty.

As the extended break comes to an end, Texas Tech students and faculty are getting ready for the start of online classes this Monday.

For those worried about the transition into a fully-digital learning format, the university continues to make resources accessible for those in need of assistance.

Justin Louder, associate vice provost & interim superintendent at Tech eLearning and Academic Partnerships, said faculty, staff and advisers are working together to provide students with the education they need.

"The great thing about Texas Tech is the majority of our campus already uses Blackboard, so it's not a huge stretch to then start asking people to use Blackboard now for full teaching," he said. 

During the fiscal year of 2020, Louder said there were around 9,500 individual courses. About 8,400 of these courses utilized Blackboard in some way.

"The transition to online is something that we're working through," he said. "We are recommending that faculty, you know, upload syllabi, of course, to Blackboard, upload lecture materials, powerpoints, very short videos."

Regardless, Louder said there has to be interaction between students and faculty, whether that be in discussion boards or chat rooms.

In addition to interaction in the course, some people may be concerned with certain aspects that may not be as effective online.

Labs are more difficult to translate to an online format, Louder said. But work is being done to see how to effectively complete labs online and to consider the different formats.

"It's going to have to take a little time working with the faculty members in particular," he said. "There are services that do virtual labs and things like that that we're looking at."

Regarding performance-based classes and classes that require hands-on design and construction, Louder said there are multiple tools, such as Skype for Business and Blackboard Collaborate that allow students to showcase performance. 

For those concern about managing and submitting large project files, Louder said the use of large file transfer systems may be beneficial for faculty and students.

"We will work with them to find solutions," he said. "It's not going to be the same because we're not going to be in-person, but we will find solutions to make sure classes are able to continue.

In addition to learning, Louder said students still can get advised.

"So, remote advising is available," he said, "and advisers will be using the tools they have available, like Skype for Business and Backboard Collaborate. Advisers are setting up some Blackboard shells."

Students will be able to enter their Blackboard account and access advising resources, Louder said. 

Sam Segran, chief information officer and vice president for IT at Tech, said the Tech IT Division was already working behind the scenes on tasks that would prepare the university for an all-online format.

"A lot of the information that we have been working on for the last few years was already towards moving the core pieces to cloud-based services," he said. "So, [Microsoft Office 365] was already on the cloud, Blackboard was already hosted on the cloud."

Adobe also was moved to the cloud, Segran said. The bandwidth to the university also was increased.

"But that actually is just a back-up to make sure that we're OK, so we have pretty large bandwidth available," he said.

As more applications are moved to the cloud and as people go online, Segran said the way data travels will change a little bit.

"The data is not traveling on the university's bandwidth," he said. "It is going directly from a person's home or their personal device straight to [Microsoft Office 365] or to another cloud-based for Blackboard and things like that."

Regardless, with multiple people using different online Tech resources, Segran said the systems should run smoothly.

"We've got pretty robust information systems," he said. 

The Tech IT Division will continue to help faculty members transition to an online format, Segran said. For IT services and assistance, one should call 806-742-4357.

In addition to reaching out for IT services, faculty may need instruction on how to conduct their courses.

Micah Logan, associate director of the Tech Teaching, Learning and Professional Development Center, said the center's staff is working remotely to provide guidance to faculty on teaching an online course effectively.

"For us, thinking about how are we providing that support," she said regarding the challenges people are facing with the transition to online classes. 

People have to rethink that way they do things, whether they be a student, professor or staffer. The TLPDC's main goal in the upcoming weeks is to listen to faculty and help them with their issues.

"This is a big shift," she said. "In some ways, it's been really inspirational for those faculty, as they've been thinking outside of the box and finding new ways at looking at content," she said. "But it has also been a really big challenge for people who have never thought about testing in a different way or discussing in a different way."

Every faculty member Logan has spoken to has been very busy trying to translate their classes to an online format, she said.

For those in need of assistance, Logan said one can visit the TLPDC website and contact a staff member or can visit a web page where faculty can get advice from the Teaching Academy.

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