Gas station without pumps

2020 April 12

How UCSC is coping

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:40
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UCSC moved to remote-only courses at the end of Winter quarter—classroom and labs are closed and faculty have been asked not to come to campus.  Research labs have been allowed to designate one or two people to do essential work in the labs (maintaining animals and cell lines, keeping liquid nitrogen in machines that would be seriously damaged if they warmed up, …), but all routine lab work has stopped.  Exceptions have been made for people working on SARS-CoV-2.
UCSC has done a fair job of handling the transition to emergency remote instruction.  There were some zoombombing incidents the first week of Spring quarter, but security was tightened (requiring accounts to log in) and the zoombombing seems to have stopped.  From what I’ve heard from students, the remote instruction is not generally as good as in-person, and some students are struggling with staying motivated, but it has not been a total disaster.
In-person labs were all cancelled, but various work-arounds have been implemented (simulations, videos of labs, at-home labs).  Personally, I think that only the at-home labs have any pedagogic value—students learn no lab skills from simulations or watching other people do lab work.  Very few of the lab classes could move to at-home work though—mainly electronics labs for which low-cost equipment could be shipped to the students (and computer programming, of course, which has been done on student-owned equipment for the past 10 years).
Students were encouraged to go home and refunds for dorm and meal-plan fees have been issued, but those who had no place safer to go were allowed to stay, though the campus is shutting down many of the dorm buildings and moving the students left in them to single rooms in other dorms.  Everyone is getting single rooms, but being billed as if they were in triples, so the campus is losing a lot of income (by state law, on-campus housing has to be self-supporting, with no state subsidy, so I don’t know how the finances are going to work).  Only a few dining halls are open, and they have switched to take-out only.
UCSC’s June graduation ceremonies have been cancelled and a committee (staff and student) has been set up to figure out what to do instead—I think they’ll probably opt for a virtual ceremony in June with the graduands being allowed to join the June 2021 ceremony, but they are polling the students about several options.
Our online-only restriction has been extended through the summer term, which disrupted a number of plans to take lab courses then that had been cancelled for Spring.  Our Fall quarter starts quite late (instruction starts 23 Sept), so the administration is taking a wait-and-see attitude.  The decision about summer only came out this week, so I don’t expect a decision about fall until June.
The biggest problems at UCSC have been communication ones—a lot of the decisions that matter have been left to the individual departments, and some departments have been slow both to make the decisions and to pass on the information to the students or to other departments.  Higher-level administration has also been rather slow to adapt, wanting to go through the usual bureaucratic processes for things like approving last-minute additions of courses to compensate for missing lab courses.  They probably think that they have been blindingly fast, taking only a week for processes that normally take 6 months, but which should have only taken a day in the emergency.
Our department has been better at communicating with students than most, because I’ve been spending a lot of my time doing undergraduate-director stuff, even though I’m technically on sabbatical leave this quarter. I’ve already sent 16 e-mail messages to our students in April (after 32 messages in March) and updated the department web page with the temporary policy changes to handle the Fall and Winter grad student strike and the Spring cancellation of lab courses. I’ve also been holding the Friday bread-and-tea as a Zoom meeting (see Scone recipe for bread and tea and Bread-machine bread without the bread machine).
Being undergrad director on sabbatical is taking up much more time than I expected. I spent a lot of time in past week putting finishing touches on a proposal for a new BA degree from our department (I thought it was done a couple of weeks ago, but higher administration wanted a bunch of extra stuff). I was frustrated for a while, because I had gone to a lot of effort to get the proposal into the somewhat unfriendly database format needed for review by the Academic Senate committee and for getting the program into the catalog, but staff wanted me to reformat everything into a single PDF file for review by the dean (why the dean and the CEP committee can’t use the same format is one of those bureaucratic mysteries that is making me look forward to retirement).  Luckily, a staff member agreed to do the reformatting, so I only had to provide text for missing content.
Next week I’ll be reading a lot of student theses that were submitted for the Dean’s and Chancellor’s Awards.  Of the 26 submissions for the Baskin School of Engineering, 21 are from students in our major, though our students make up less than 9% of the school. The 21 submissions are about 25% of the campus-wide submissions, though our students are only about 2% of the campus.  By either measure, our students are about 10 times as likely as other students to submit to the awards. Furthermore, our faculty are supervising 3 of 10 submissions in the Physical and Biological Sciences division.
My document camera is supposed to arrive on Tuesday, so I’ll be practicing using it next week also.  When I get a few rough tutorials for my electronics course up on YouTube, I’ll post links here.
I don’t know when we’ll get back to “normal”. Our county has had some of the slowest growth in COVID-19 cases in California (and California has had relatively slow growth overall).  Our first case was detected March 5, and we’re still only up to 84 confirmed cases, 15 hospitalizations, and 1 death (for a county with about 273,000 people). The shelter-at-home orders seem to be working to slow transmission way down, but it is not clear when we’ll be able to get back to business.  Because the Santa Cruz economy relies heavily on tourism, the necessary public-health measures are hitting our local businesses particularly hard.

2020 March 17

My wife’s new blog

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:34
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My wife’s school has been closed (as all schools have been locally), and has moved to remote education.  My wife is trying to replace as much of the library time as she can with a new blog: Spring Hill Library. If you have preK–6th graders at home, you can safely point them to her blog.

I helped her produce her first video yesterday (using iMovie, because Premiere Elements seemed too complicated for the simple task needed), and I helped her set up her first blog tonight. She plans to do a video a day and several blog posts a day for as long as the school is closed (which probably means the rest of the school year).

I may start blogging more often again myself, as I won’t be teaching the second half of my electronics course until Fall. The logistics for running the lab remotely were a bit too daunting for the BELS staff and me, so the lab was delayed until Fall quarter (and I’m swapping sabbatical quarters, taking sabbatical at home this Spring instead of next Fall). If we are still forced to be doing remote education in the fall, at least there will be time to figure out the logistics far enough ahead to be prepared.

Today I should have been grading, but I spent most of my time doing tasks as undergraduate adviser: faculty meeting, updating proposal for our new major, informing students of cancelled lab courses and increased capacity in other courses, trying to get additional courses scheduled to start on March 30, getting approval for our plans to let students substitute other courses for the cancelled lab courses (if they are graduating in Spring 2020), approving student petitions for substitutions, trying to get independent-study forms to not require wet signatures, …

Despite being on sabbatical for Spring, I’ll continue with my administrative tasks as undergraduate director and as a member of the Committee on Courses of Instruction.

I do have to get back to grading tomorrow, as I still have 24.5 design reports still to grade in the next week, and they are taking me about 2 hours each to grade. My wife and I will probably be taking turns on the big-screen iMac, though, as neither the video creation nor the grading work well on the 11.5″-screen laptop.

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