Education, social events, and practically everything else has been turned upside down in 2020. Classes have been taking place online, seminars have been held under social distancing measures, and many social events are now virtual. For the education sector, it can be confusing to understand just what it will look like when students and staff return to school in the fall.
There’s no doubt that there will be a multitude of social distancing guidelines and restrictions in place as students and staff make their way back to campus. But what exactly are the recommendations and guidelines for what to do in the classroom specifically? Based on information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are a variety of steps that colleges all over the country are taking to ensure the safety of their students and staff members while in class.
Offer a Variety of Instructional Formats
Each school has their own plan which varies based on the severity of the conditions and cases in their area. Many schools are continuing to offer a variety of class formats including Hyflex and distance learning to accommodate in person and remote students. HyFlex courses are where students have the option to attend class in person, online, or both. Another option is online distance learning where technology, like video conferencing, is used to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor. Schools will also stagger course schedules and extend class times to make the best use of classroom space since there are some classes that can only be held face to face.
However, it’s inevitable that when people return to campus in the fall, we will see an increase in COVID-19 cases. Different instructional models are categorized by varying levels of risk by the CDC. The lowest risk category is where faculty and students engage in virtual-only learning options, activities, and events. In the mid-risk category there are small in-person classes, activities, and events where attendees or participants are six feet apart like hybrid or HyFlex classes and staggered schedules. Finally, in the highest risk category you have full-sized in-person classes, activities, and events with no social distancing where students share classroom materials or supplies, and socialize (without distancing) in between classes and activities. With schools offering a variety of instructional formats for students and faculty, they are able to return at their own pace instead of being required to return when they do not feel it is safe.
Creating New Classroom Layouts
Schools that are offering any in person classes or meetings are altering the classroom layout to keep enough physical distance between students and staff while in class. They are removing extra furniture and taping off seats in the room that will not be used will limit the class numbers and prevent groups of students from crowding together. Another way schools are adding an extra precaution is by creating directional walking patterns to avoid contact with others and establish a clear walkway between spaces.
Tables and desks are also being rearranged in a U-shape or in spread out rows to add more distance. Those with additional budgets are also investing in furniture, desks, and protective guards that are flexible, easy to clean, and can be adjusted to meet the changing needs and requirements of the classroom. By having furniture that is flexible, students are still able to participate in small group projects or small group discussions by moving or arranging their desks or chairs in a circle formation.
Updating Classroom Technology
Updating the technology in classrooms is crucial to ensuring a smooth return to class for teachers and students who are both in-person and remote. Outdated technology causes frustration for teachers and hinders their ability to teach in an efficient and uninhibited manner. Classrooms are being outfitted with technology that helps facilitate a variety of instructional formats that schools can offer. It is important to find technology that is easy to use, because teachers don’t need the added stress of complicated classroom technology. Schools are also looking for technology that is flexible and can continue to meet their needs even as they evolve. If you’re looking for some classroom layout design examples and a list of everything a classroom needs, make sure to check out this blog that covers everything you need to know about HyFlex classrooms. It will walk you through all the necessary hardware needed to get a room prepared for Hyflex, hybrid, and social distancing classrooms.
If you’re looking for some inspiration or design ideas for how colleges integrate updated technology for those distance learning or HyFlex courses you can always check out Stem Audio’s reference designs. There are a variety of designs from conference rooms to classrooms so you can see for yourself how to create a safe social distancing classroom environment.
Increased Cleaning Measures
Colleges are hiring additional janitorial staff members to help increase sanitation measures. Classrooms are wiped down in between class sessions and deep cleaned once a week to reduce the spread of germs especially in classrooms that have shared objects such as computer labs. Many higher education institutions are developing a schedule for routine cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces and open or communal areas like bathrooms, drinking fountains, etc. and limiting communal areas as much as possible.
Keeping a Close Eye Out
Lastly, staff and students on campuses are keeping a close eye out and monitor absenteeism of employees and students. Schools are being vigilant because if someone is exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms it is crucial to have them tested and quarantined to reduce the spread in a population dense college campus. They are also cross training staff members in the event that another instructor falls ill and a class needs to be covered.
Those are just a few of many ways that colleges and other higher education institutions are preparing their campuses, staff and students for a safe and healthy return to school. If you want to see the full list of considerations for higher education institutions from the CDC you can check them out here.
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