Posted: 4/15/20

Challenge of COVID-19 Sees Resilient TAMIU Faculty Forge Ahead with Innovation


Dr. Tom Mitchell
Dr. Tom Mitchell, TAMIU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs  

The impact of COVID-19 is measured daily in new, frightening and sometimes empowering ways.  At Texas A&M International University (TAMIU), its impact has driven a resilient TAMIU faculty to forge ahead with innovation, connecting anew with students in rich and relevant ways.

It’s a daunting task…a few short weeks before the end of this Spring semester, TAMIU faculty had to transition traditional, face-to-face classes to a virtual, online environment in the space of a single week. TAMIU faculty and staff worked on the transition while face to face classes were suspended for a week after Spring Break. 

TAMIU provost and vice president for Academic Affairs Dr. Tom Mitchell said that two critical factors helped the University to transition successfully.

“One, and this a given: we have a committed, passionate faculty that really cares about our students’ succeeding and their leading role in our mission. Secondly, we have infrastructure and tech systems in place, including an absolutely awesome IT team that can undergird a seismic shift of this nature.  This empowers faculty to be innovative in their outreach to and connection with students.  We are fortunate that our leadership anticipated those needs and built that system and continue to support it wholeheartedly,” Dr. Mitchell said.

He noted a broad range of online virtual classroom scenarios possible at TAMIU.

“To start off, we’re able to deliver classes as originally scheduled in live lectures (synchronous) or record and deliver on demand (asynchronous)…and sometimes both in combination.  There are capture Echo 360 programs, virtual classroom meetings and more that our powered by our Blackboard eLearning platform. Students can ask questions online, virtually “raising” their hand during a discussion, for example.  There is online student and faculty support within the platform, including a live chat…and we have a whole range of online mentoring and tutoring programs now available in University College,” he said.

He said faculty are also boldly creating or redefining student classroom experiences, especially in disciplines like the arts that traditionally include live creation or performance. 

“Our Jessie Shaw, assistant professor of Art, is combining video demonstrations and creative project assignments that can transcend the studio experience, enabling students to create projects in mediums manageable at home.  He’s even taking the Spring semester’s senior art show online and sharing selections on social media to help drive interest and participation.

“Music faculty members Dr. Abby Lloyd, assistant professor of Music and Dr. Mark Boseman, assistant professor of Music, have repurposed their instrument-focused studio classes into Zoom meetings with students.  That’s brought the added benefit of inviting other music professionals to join in and present masterclasses on Zoom, including percussion, clarinet and saxophone,” Mitchell noted.

He said online flexibility can enable faculty to dynamically match the needs of various disciplines. 

“Our College of Nursing and Health Sciences clinical assistant professors, Martha Salinas and San Juanita Hernandez, are utilizing unfolding case studies and head-to-toe assessments in the virtual environment. Students don’t have access to clinicals at hospitals at this time, so unfolding case scenarios are presented virtually. Students must demonstrate their critical thinking skills by presenting how they would resolve the case scenario through voice thread, discussion boards, and live discussions with students in Blackboard Collaborate,” Dr. Mitchell.  

Dr. Brett Nickerson, assistant professor of Kinesiology in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, noted using the extensive features found on Blackboard Collaborate helped his transition to an online learning environment. He indicated these features have increased class participation opportunities through the use of chat and polling questionnaires. Additionally, Nickerson is meeting weekly with a group of undergraduate research students. Together, via WebEx and Google Docs, they are compiling several manuscripts they hope to publish by the summer. 

"What I find is that students are communicating more online and that oftentimes they're more willing to post on chat than they are face-to-face," Nickerson observed. 

In the College of Education, faculty encouraged students to take on virtual learning with an eye to how their future teachers would prepare for their own place in the virtual classroom, Mitchell said.

“And what they came up with is student-created virtual learning environments which we’ve been sharing with parents homeschooling during the pandemic. We’re so impressed that we’ve made it available to all on a College of Education website:  https://www.tamiu.edu/coedu/student-created-virtual-learning.shtml

“In our University College, Dr. Hayley Kazen, assistant professional, has deployed an online debate tool that has students take a pro or con approach to the topic, and Flipgrid, an engagement tool.  Gaby Medina, instructor, holds virtual live exercise and meditation classes for her Signature course entitled ‘Growth, Grit, and Grace,’ ” he noted.

Mitchell said the University can’t rest on its laurels, digital or otherwise. 

“We realize that this is a change that was forced on all of us.  And it is not an easy change…but we are seeking feedback from students online to better determine what they feel works and what they’d like us to do better.  We’re confident that we have been able to deliver a modified Spring semester in a real season of challenge…but we want to be able to continue to refine and better this experience moving forward.  We know that our delivery in the virtual classroom will continue for both our Maymester and Summer sessions, so our need to be flexible and responsive continues,” he concluded.

Registration for Maymester, Summer and Fall semesters is currently underway online through Uconnect. For additional information on registration, contact the Office of the Registrar via phone at 956.326.2250, email registrar@tamiu.edu or visit their website at https://www.tamiu.edu/registrar/

As part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, TAMIU’s campus is closed to the general public. Online and virtual services at the University continue, practicing all CDC Guidelines on gathering, masking and social distancing and with most staff working remotely.  Office hours are subject to change and it is recommended that phone or email contact be made first to determine the office’s schedule of operation. Entry to campus is only open to students, faculty, staff and those having legitimate reasons to be on campus.  An online directory is here.

The University’s dedicated COVID-19 website is updated daily and includes information on office schedules and services, an expansive FAQ, quick links, student resources, official information links and much more.