UAB Provost: Summer session online, Fall semester to be determined

When will students return to campus?

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Chairs are stacked inside the Hill Student Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and there’s a sign on the door that says, “This facility is CLOSED until further notice.”

The only bicycles left on the rack have flat tires and rusted chains. The crosswalk still signals it’s safe to go, but there’s no one waiting to get across University Avenue.

“It’s eerie,” said Pam Benoit, Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost, UAB.

Provost Benoit helped make the decision to transition the spring semester and summer sessions online. With 22,000 students, it was clear onsite learning was not possible when social distancing is required.

“There is an incredible amount of interconnectedness that happens on a university campus that is a very good breeding ground for this kind of pandemic,” said Provost Benoit.

The decision might have been clear to make the transition, but execution has been a creative challenge.

“Virtual reality has been used, simulation has been used, so we are trying to figure out a wide variety of different techniques to try to accomplish the learning objective that are key to those courses,” said Provost Benoit.

Provost Benoit said there’s been no decision made about whether students will return to campus for the Fall semester, but said it’s something she considers daily.

“We have daily monitoring of where we are in terms of number of cases, but there are also issues around what is our capacity for testing? What is our capacity for tracing? What kind of therapeutics are there out there? So all that so all that goes into deciding are you going to go back in a face-to-face way, but is there a phase in that you might want to do in order that it continues to be safe?” said Provost Benoit.

She added, “I also anticipate the way in which we deliver instruction will never be the way it was before. We now have all kinds of tools, we’ve been incredibly creative about offering things in different ways, in different experiences so I think you’ll see a lot more hybrid, a lot more interconnectedness between using technology and face-to-face together as we go forward.”

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