Webinar focuses on UCSB, SB Unified resuming instruction, remotely and in person
While there continues to be uncertainty whether local schools and colleges will reconvene this fall to resume schooling, one thing is certain.
Technology figures to play a large role.
During a webinar hosted by the UCSB Economic Forecast Project last week, Santa Barbara Unified School District President Laura Capps and UCSB Executive Vice Chancellor David Marshall discussed some of the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as how operations may be conducted moving forward.
Dr. Marshall said it was “miraculous” that the university was able to pivot to online learning as quickly as it did. But he acknowledged that it’s been an ongoing challenge to provide a UC-quality education via remote learning.
“I think we’ve done a really good job at doing it, but we are concerned about reaching all of our students,” he said. “We have 40% of our students who are first-generation college students, and we made an effort before students left to make sure they had Chromebooks and were able to connect, but people have different challenges in terms of whether they’re able to connect technologically, and it’s so important that they also are able to connect socially and educationally and to have that experience of a UC education.”
Dr. Marshall said there are ongoing conversations with the other UC presidents and state officials regarding fully reopening the campus, but said the university is “answerable to the county officials.”
“We’re aware that in order to be able to move forward that there are a whole series of criteria and conditions that we need to establish,” he said.
There will need to be robust testing available, contact tracing capabilities, mandatory face coverings and physical distancing, while addressing the capacity of classrooms and an update to the cleaning protocols.
“Even if we are able to bring students and faculty and staff back on campus, we know that it’s going to be with some kind of reduced density to reduce the number of contacts,” he said.
UCSB has contacted all incoming freshmen, including international students who may have trouble obtaining a visa to get to campus when classes resume in October. The university will provide remote instruction to those who cannot get back to campus.
“We’re really just trying to figure out what’s the balance we can have, to what extent we can have a sort of hybrid approach where a course could have some online lectures and some in-person components,” Dr. Marshall said. “There also will be some students, as there will be with faculty and staff, who don’t feel that it would be safe to go into the classroom because of age or some pre-existing medical condition, so we’re really trying to plan for all the different contingencies,”
Roughly 23% of the UCSB professors are 65 or older, as well as about 11% of the university lecturers.
For K-12 education, Ms. Capps praised the school district for being able to continue to provide instruction during the pandemic. She added that the district has continued to provide meals to students and has distributed roughly 32,000 meals in recent months..
“All in all, things have gone as well as can be, if I had to say. But now we have a bit of a break with summer to really do even better for the future,” Ms. Capps said.
Initially, as many as 10% of students weren’t logging in to attend classes remotely. That improved as the school year finished, though Ms. Capps is vowing to provide free Wi-Fi to low-income students and families. Each district student is provided with an iPad, though the internet connection will be “critical moving forward,” she said.
“That outmoded model of a teacher standing in front of a row of desks sort of teaching to the middle, we’re now learning much faster than we had to before how to do personalized learning using technology,” she said. ”
“Wi-Fi is the key piece, so I’m really hoping that our community can do even more to make sure that kids who have free and reduced lunch, and low income kids, in addition to getting the food from the schools, we also have to have Wi-Fi connection,” Ms. Capps said. “It’s just that critical.”
Last week, the state Department of Public Health announced that school campuses could begin reopening by Friday, though the final decision will be made by the county Public Health Department.
Both Dr. Marshall and Ms. Capps also mentioned the strain that educators with children have faced, having to lead a lecture while also ensuring their children are continuing with their education.
“All of our faculty and staff have kids in the school system, so… we depend on the great public schools in Santa Barbara to prepare future University of California students, but really right now we’re definitely dependent on them right now to provide that education,” Dr. Marshall said.
The SBUSD recently issued a survey to parents regarding where they stand resuming on-campus learning in the fall. The board is expected to discuss the results of the survey during Tuesday’s meeting.
The UC system could be facing more than $1 billion in losses from the state budget, which Dr. Marshall said “is very concerning.”
“People want certainty and want to know what’s going to happen, and here we are trying to make plans, whether it’s for three weeks from now or three months from now, where we don’t know what the facts on the ground are going to be,” he said. “We’re in the exact same position with the budget that we are with COVID-19, where we just don’t know whether things will be better or worse.”
In addition, the university is expecting a loss in revenue in the residence halls and the auxiliary units and could receive less in tuition because of questions regarding enrollment.
The SBUSD could face up to a 10% cut in state funding, which could result in the district “being required to do more with less,” Ms. Capps said.
She called on the local community to support local schools and support education.
“We know how important education is in the state of California and we know that’s what made the state what it is,” said Dr. Marshall. “I really sense that the recovery that we’re all hoping will happen quickly depends on this investment in public education.
“And for the public research university, there are some obvious areas where medicine and science and technology are going to be key to our surviving this. But all the other areas too — how we’re going to renew our social contracts, how we’re going to understand the public policy issues, the ethical questions that we’ve had to deal with.
“We really need public education and the research that we contribute.”