As Loras College prepares for students to return to campus for the 2020-2021 academic year, the campus has undergone alterations to accommodate them with an eye on safety measures amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Loras unveiled its Loras Flex plan over the summer to allow students to learn in the manner they are most comfortable, be it online on in a classroom. To accommodate this approach, courses will be taught in a hybrid format, with some students attending online and others in class during class times on a rotating basis.
As a result, classrooms have limited capacities to ensure a minimum separation of six feet between all desks. Since students will be learning through a combination of in-person and online instruction, they will be linked together virtually as they learn.
“All students will be connected using either Zoom or Microsoft Teams, depending on instructor preference, to allow them to participate in the same experiences at the same time,” Robert Adams, director of the Center for Teaching & Learning, explained. “Students not in the classroom will attend at the same time as those in the classroom. Instructors can display Zoom or Teams using the classroom projector for those attending in person, while those at a distance will use their computers to interact with those in the classroom.
Classrooms now boast additional equipment, including central microphones and speakers to ensure that everyone can hear and interact as needed, either in a large group or in small group activities. The use of headphones helps to facilitate small group discussion between and among in-person and remote students. In addition, faculty were provided with tablets and document cameras to further help support teaching and learning in a hybrid format.
“To select the technical equipment we are using to support hybrid learning, we sought input from faculty, particularly those most familiar with audio/visual equipment and online teaching and learning,” Donna Heald, vice president of academic affairs, said. “The IT staff, Bob Adams, and Craig Schaefer (’89) contributed many hours this summer to testing the equipment that was eventually selected for use this semester. Their assistance was absolutely invaluable to work required to prepare classrooms and faculty for the fall.”
Loras staff spent the summer taking steps to provide the best learning experience possible for all students whether they are attending in person or at a distance on any given day. Faculty have access to tablets and document cameras to present on digital whiteboards, to annotate, to demonstrate, or to display materials to the class. Special attention was also provided to consider how students can best interact with the instructor and each other both during class sessions and outside of the class meetings.
To prepare faculty for the changes, workshop sessions and drop-in sessions were offered to help them prepare for the semester.
“This is new territory and it has caused our faculty to consider how they can best structure their classes and their teaching so students learn effectively in this new environment,” Adams explained. “As always they are very concerned with providing the best learning opportunities for their students and are working very hard to make that happen.”
The updated classrooms are the result of numerous faculty and staff members who worked tirelessly throughout the summer to allow the College to welcome students back to campus.
“I am deeply grateful to the many staff members—physical plant staff, custodians, Information Technology staff and the Registrar’s Office—who worked throughout the summer to make modifications to classrooms and other learning spaces across the campus to help prepare for the fall semester,” Heald said. “Their combined effort has helped us to welcome students back to campus under a new set of guidelines during these unprecedented times.”