Thursday, May 7, 2020
  Faculty Focus

By Maria Elena Hernandez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – Music courses may not seem easy to transition fully online. But with a DSLR camera and speakers mounted on the wall next to his computer, multiple screens surrounding him, and an iPad sharing annotations to students in real-time, UTRGV School of Music lecturer Hector Rodriguez switched smoothly to the new teaching environment.

"I can be writing at the same time when I'm talking to them," the guitar ensemble lecturer said. "I can zoom in. For example, we're going to work on this part here and I show them. You can see on my left hand the fingering." 

Rodriguez set up his home workstation prior to UTRGV's change to online courses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. He already was teaching an online course with more than 100 students. 

"Since I have so many students, I need multiple screens," he said.

But the guitar lecturer is always fine-tuning his online teaching approach.

"I didn't know how to incorporate many elements," he said, "but now I'm more confident."

In March, he discovered how to share his multiple screens during classes with Ecamm Live.  He also uses an online tool called Flipgrid.

"It's working really well," he said.

Rodriguez said his students have given positive feedback on the experience. For a few who don’t have access to a reliable internet connection to attend classes live, Rodriguez set up a Google Drive account, where they can upload their recordings.

"I listen to the recordings and I share an annotated PDF, so they can know what to fix," he said.

Rodriguez said one positive from fully online courses may be students practicing more.

"I think since they have to record themselves more, they're aware of more things," he said.

Student recordings also play another important role in class – guitar ensemble.

"We have to be together, playing together," Rodriguez said. "The idea is to ask them to record the individual parts, and I'm going to edit a video with Final Cut (Pro software) with all these screens together."

(Watch the completed video at

Hector Rodriguez
UTRGV faculty varied on their experience teaching courses online. UTRGV School of Music lecturer Hector Rodriguez had a workstation ready to lead classes during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy Photo)


While Rodriguez makes adjustments to a mostly established workstation, other UTRGV faculty started their online courses from scratch.

"I'm still trying to get used to all this technology," said UTRGV civil engineering lecturer Jorge Vidal, as he reached for his Bluetooth headphones.

But Vidal approaches the change enthusiastically, and he says his students have, as well.

"I am really very nicely surprised, particularly to see the reaction of the students. They have just been amazing, very responsive, very attentive,” he said.

"Of course, it all depends on how we, the faculty, are taking to the change and the technology. But I think that, for the most part, we have been able to take a big problem and turn it into an opportunity," he said.

And for anyone in engineering, that sounds like engineering itself.

"That's exactly what I told the students. I said, this issue right now is a big problem, but the world depends not only on doctors. It depends on engineers to try to figure out and engineer a solution, a viable solution, to what could be a very long period of time under this situation," Vidal said.

He points to the use of email and video conferencing.

"All the technology that we're using right now is there thanks to computer engineers, civil engineers and all sorts of engineers," Vidal said.

That includes the green screen technology he's been using during online classes to take students to construction sites virtually.

"In an online construction site, I can still wear my hard hat," Vidal joked as he placed a hard hat on his head. "It's a great experience and we're having a little bit of fun."

He credited UTRGV assistant professor of civil engineering Dr. Abdoul Oubeidillah with the idea.

"As teachers, we are also colleagues and we are learning from each other, so Dr. Oubeidillah, who is one of our researchers, actually is quite versed in teaching online," he said.

While focusing on the positives of online courses, Vidal said, one element missing: reading body language when students may be struggling with a lesson. One student told him, "When you're in class and we're not understanding, you usually notice that right away."

Vidal said this may be a particular issue for instructors whose aren't native English speakers. So for his classes, he is recording all the presentations and plans to add captions.

"That allows them to not only review my lecture again later on, but also empowers those students that will not able to access it live," Vidal said.


Dr. Bin Wang, a UTRGV professor and associate dean for Administration, Graduate Studies and Research in the Robert C. Vackar College of Business & Entrepreneurship, said the college had plenty of material ready for online delivery.

The master's degree in business administration has been offered online for several years, and an accelerated online master's program in business analytics launched last fall.

"Most of our faculty members have taught online," Wang said.

When a traditional course taught by a doctoral student for the first time this semester went fully online, course material was quickly available.

"I recorded all my lecture videos and my exercise videos already,” Want said. “The doctoral student asked if she could use my videos, and I said sure. I shared them all with her, that way she can share them with her students – and that helped her in transitioning her class to online."

The UTRGV professor said the changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic were sudden for everyone.

"I think we all understand the situation, and it's inconvenient for everybody," Wang said.

Overall, though, the change is going better than she expected.

"I would say that our students, our faculty and our staff are doing amazingly well in handling this situation," Wang said.

For information on how UTRGV is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, including changes to university operations and testing sites, visit


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.