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UH-Hilo faculty given option to use hybrid model

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald From left, Ellie Hairston, Sadie Mather and Acacia Quance eat lunch while talking outside the dorms at the University of Hawaii at Hilo on Tuesday.

Faculty at the University of Hawaii at Hilo last month were given the option to temporarily move from in-person classes to a hybrid model due to the surge of COVID-19 cases.

Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Kris Roney said faculty were invited to move to a hybrid format, which includes both face-to-face and online instruction, for September.

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The university will evaluate with faculty whether and when to return to full face-to-face instruction by the end of the month and throughout the semester, she said.

“Faculty who have health or other concerns can let us know they are moving online for the remainder of the semester, as well,” Roney said in a statement to the Tribune-Herald on Wednesday. “We’ve only had a few such changes as of today.”

In an Aug. 29 memo to faculty, Roney said the “campus bubble is holding up very well,” but community positivity rates — at that point 9% — continue to worsen.

“None of us want for us to be faced with or forced into full pivot again, nor for changes to be a matter of requests coming only through word-of-mouth,” Roney wrote. “Given the positivity rate this weekend and with the coming (Labor Day) holiday, we invite you to move temporarily to a hybrid modality from fully face-to-face … as part of protecting the bubble by reducing the number of people on campus in the post-holiday period.

“This is not a required change, and you are free to evaluate the class-by-class needs,” she continued.

Roney said faculty should include students when creating a plan. Changes should be sent to students in writing.

“Perhaps together, classes can devise other ways to define hybrid that works best for the individuals course,” she said in the memo.

Roney also said that Zoom portions must be held at synchronously at the established class time.

“Please do not move to an asynchronous environment, as that is not at all what students in your course are expecting.”

Faculty members who want instruction to remain in-person are welcome to do so.

“We’ll keep monitoring, and hopefully things will improve so anyone who opts to use hybrid now can move back to what you originally designed, which was part of a schedule that clearly drew people in … ,” Roney wrote.

According to the vice chancellor, only one class moved completely online in August, four changed to a hybrid format, “and all are committed to retaining some face-to-face.”

The class that did switch to online only — a graduate cohort whose other classes were built as hybrid already — was informed and on board, she said.

However, only approximately 40% of classes this semester had some face-to-face component.

“We never had a huge number of fully face-t0-face (classes) to begin with,” Roney said in a followup statement to the Tribune-Herald. “The faculty are using many flexible modalities in addition that are inclusive of some face-to-face.”

COVID on campus

Interim Vice Chancellor of Administrative Affairs Kalei Rapoza said students who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 must receive proof of a negative coronavirus test from a UH-recognized testing facility before entering a university facility.

“Yes, there have been positive cases on campus,” Rapoza said in a statement emailed to the Tribune-Herald Wednesday. “Since the start of school on Aug. 23, we have had four positive cases.”

The campus’ COVID team conducts follow-ups with each positive case to check symptoms and status, then coordinates release and clearance back to campus and off-campus work sites, he said.

UH announced in May that, contingent on full FDA approval of at least one vaccine, students must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to return to campuses in the fall.

In July, however, the university, citing high vaccination rates, said because full FDA approval had not yet occurred, enforcement of the requirement to attend in-person class would only take place after a vaccine was fully approved.

UH President David Lassner later said there would be, at minimum, a mandatory weekly testing protocol for any unvaccinated students on campus.

The Pfizer vaccine received full approval last month. Students will be required to have a vaccine or a medical or religious exemption to be on campus in the spring.

It was not immediately clear how many students have opted to test.

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“The semester has started strong at UH-Hilo,” Chancellor Bonnie Irwin said in a statement to the Tribune-Herald. “We have more students on campus than last year, but our vaccination rates are high and our COVID positivity rates are low. I am proud of how our students are acting responsibly, and eager to be in class, both online and in person.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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