The University of Oklahoma campus.

Robby Korth / StateImpact Oklahoma

How the University of Oklahoma moved its classes online

The university changed all of its in-person classes to online to fight the spread of COVID-19

  • Robby Korth

University of Oklahoma

Mark Morvant, University of Oklahoma Vice Provost for Instruction and Student Success.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has halted businesses, public events and K-12 schools, Oklahoma’s higher education institutions have turned to virtual schooling for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester.

The University of Oklahoma has moved almost 4,000 of its formerly in-person classes to the internet. 

On Monday, Interim President Joseph Harroz put out a video statement calling for students to be patient during the transition. He pointed toward pass/no pass options as one way for students and faculty to ease what could be a difficult transition.

“Let’s realize this week that we will invariably have bumps in how we instruct and how we learn, but also to the technology and to the capacity to handle it,” he said in the video. “We’ll all work hard every day together to make sure this happens.” 

Vice Provost for Instruction and Student Success Mark Morvant led the charge to move classes online in Norman. 

He talked with StateImpact’s Robby Korth over Zoom, the online platform many classes will utilize for their transition to the web, about how the university prepared for the major changes.

Robby Korth, StateImpact education reporter: How do you get ready to move an entire university online?

Mark Morvant, University of Oklahoma Vice Provost for Instruction and Student Success: Carefully and quickly. We’ve been moving more and more digital, I.T. is taking a mobile front approach, or mobile first approach, that’s really set us up in a decent place. If you look at our main learning management system and our video conferencing tool, we had those in place. So therefore, faculty students already had those. So it’s a small, small change for us. We do have mobile-first technology, which means that access for four students is going to be less of a problem. And that’s important for those students who live in rural areas where fast Internet may be an issue, but connectivity through cellular may be better. And then it is getting all your teams rowing in the same direction and moving forward. And the faculty have been very positive about it. They know why we’re doing it and they’re engaging well.

Robby Korth: So you had to move classes that are in like all kinds of different subjects. I mean, chemistry, classic literature. How are you able to make a move fit across a lot of different types of study?

Mark Morvant: You rely on the instructor and faculty’s creativity. Thinking about the essence of the class. What needs to be taught? Then thinking about how those essentials can be taught at a distance. There’s different models for different types of disciplines. Some of those are dynamic and really need the video. Some of those, you know, text-based and discussion boards that have been around for for decades and have been excellent online education work great. In one of the sessions we had with faculty, there was a costume designer and we’re just talking through potential ideas. And she came up to one where they could modify fabric. And, you know, that’s great. It’s something that they’re going to have to learn. So, you know, they’re learning a technique that’s going to be essential to them. It’s really every discipline has to think about what is the essence of the course I’m teaching. And what’s the best way to get that conveyed at a distance?

Robby Korth: It sounds like there’s no one size fits all solution. So classes are going to look very different.

Mark Morvant: They will. We’ve been trying to get the students, the faculty to really think about using our main tools as the primary tools. Canvas is our learning management system and Zoom is our video conferencing tool. That way the students aren’t going to have to deal with a multiple set of tools. And so we’re looking at other tools that we can bring online. In some cases we’ve allowed faculty to bring them on for their course, but haven’t brought them on for all courses. Sometimes they’re  niche tools or they really take care of one solution. But I think having everything in canvas and Zoom will limit the number of tools and engagements that the students have to have.

Robby Korth: How do you ensure that students are successful through this and that they don’t fall behind in their classes?

Mark Morvant: So the first thing to do is make sure that the faculty communicate. The second is that faculty communicate explicitly what their expectations are. And third is that the faculty communicate when dates and assignments are due. So really, it’s communication, communication, communication. Having to go to class is usually the nudge that a student has to read the book or get the paper done. You have to do that through electronic communication, through canvas. You know, other other methods that they can use to just remind them, set up reminders, breaking long assignments down into shorter assignments. So instead of reading these five chapters this week, sending a notice through a supposed to read the chapter this week, today, the next day and so forth. So it’s really communication and being very, very explicit about what the expectations are. When we work at home, whether that’s teaching or learning or working. You have to be cognizant of your time management. And so the faculty can help the students here by communicating often and making sure they’re explicit in their communications and expectations.