Uncertainty in the Fall: What a Bloomsburg semester may look like
A task force led by Dr. Diana Rogers-Adkinson, Bloomsburg University Provost, has been evaluating possible scenarios for a return to campus in the fall. With many options on the table, the biggest takeaway is uncertainty, and BU is getting ready for anything to happen.
“We are looking at lots of plans, lots of ideas. We haven’t landed on anything yet,” says Dr. Rogers-Adkinson, “but we want to be back and we want our students to be back.”
The scenarios are grouped into three main color-coded categories, red, yellow and green, following the governor’s model for re-opening. Since BU is located in Columbia County, the action plan will be aligned with its color phase.
Red, Yellow, Green: What do they mean?
Red means faculty and students must remain working and learning remotely, similar to the online portion of the spring 2020 semester. Additionally, if at any point a yellow or green phase reverts back to red, instruction will return remote with the rest of the red restrictions in place.
A yellow status means students continue their courses remotely, but key faculty may be permitted access to campus spaces that “can help them improve their instruction and have access to their labs,” or teach from their classrooms synchronously, according to Dr. Rogers-Adkinson.
“It gives the professors a little bit more flexibility for how they design their instruction,” Dr. Rogers-Adkinson explains, “but the governor would require…that students remain remote under yellow status.”
The only exception to students learning remotely is nursing. Gov. Wolf has said that nursing education may resume face-to-face instruction under a yellow phase. The task force is working on some special scenarios for nursing students to go into their clinicals safely, says Dr. Rogers-Adkinson.
Green is needed to grant a full return to campus, but not without restrictions. Students and faculty will be allowed to meet face-to-face with social distancing measures in place. A lot of other protocols will be enforced, including a facial mask requirement.
Currently, the task force is exploring a number of different scenarios to find what will best satisfy students and keep faculty safe. It may include venturing away from the traditional 15-week semester.
There are several options, which include two 7-week sessions or three 5-week sessions, among others. Many students reported feeling overwhelmed trying to do a full-load exclusively online during the spring, according to Dr. Rogers-Adkinson. Shorter courses would allow students to focus on a few courses at a time, thus making them more manageable if conditions return to a red phase.
Changing the timespan a class runs won’t work for every course, so there also could be some courses that run the whole semester, while others might span 12 weeks or 6 weeks, for example. This is similar to how the summer sessions already work and have worked for years (BU offers 12-week, 6-week and 4-week courses during the summer semester).
“A lot of other universities are looking at that just because students felt that [taking] 15, 17 credits online all at once was just crazy,” says Dr. Rogers-Adkinson.
There is also a possibility of ending the semester before Thanksgiving break, so students don’t travel for the holiday and bring illness back to campus.
Assuming Columbia County is green and the BU community can return to campus, a lot will have changed from the previous norm.
“We are going to have everybody wearing masks on campus,” Dr. Rogers-Adkinson states. “Go to class, wear a mask.”
For everyone’s safety, the wearing of masks will be strictly enforced. The provost said the code of conduct can and will be enforced for students choosing not to wear a mask.
A dramatic change will potentially be seen in university housing. The task force is evaluating scenarios with one student per residence hall room, as opposed to what was once double-, or at times triple-, occupancy rooms. There are a variety of different ideas on how to best decide who gets to have those rooms. A student who is able to commute safely may be encouraged to do so instead of opting for on-campus housing.
Limiting rooms in such a way allows for better social distancing, but there is a challenge in how to navigate shared bathrooms. It could mean scheduled shower times and assigned showers. For instance, a group of five students may only use a particular shower and be assigned a certain time to use it.
It is important to note, however, that these scenarios aren’t set in stone.
“These are just ideas. Nothing has a final decision yet. More guidance is coming out,” says Dr. Rogers-Adkinson.
Blended instruction, which combines traditional face-to-face teaching methods with technology such as online learning, is also on the table. Parts of the class may alternate between coming to class and learning remotely. A minimum of 55 classrooms known as “Zoom rooms” will be adapted to accommodate such a style.
Dr. Rogers-Adkinson explains doing so will “allow the classroom to be more flexible for the students who don’t feel safe coming to campus.”
Utilizing blended instruction ultimately gives students more options. Say a student has health issues and wishes not to return to campus. Then that student can Zoom into class.
It also helps please the most amount of people while still staying safe. The provost commented she receives emails from parents asking the university to continue remote instruction and emails from students pleading for a return to campus.
Facilities is still doing analyses to determine how class sizes will need to be adjusted for the rooms that are available. Other safety measures will be in place to prevent unnecessary interaction, such as staggering classrooms and class times, as well as potentially closing some of the stalls in bathrooms in academic buildings.
Working out the details
At this time, the governor is allowing individual institutions to make their own decisions based on their county’s re-opening phase. PASSHE is also allowing each of its 14 schools to formulate their own plans.
“The western counties are in a completely different situation than the eastern counties,” says Tom McGuire, the director of media relations and content strategy at BU.
Therefore, PASSHE schools in areas with fewer cases, such as Clarion, will have much different plans than a school like West Chester, which is housed in a county currently still in the red.
Dr. Rogers-Adkinson added that while schools across the system are talking and sharing information, “we also know we are going to have local solutions.”
There is a lot to consider when bringing students back to campus, such as how dining spaces will be. Locations such as the Scranton Commons may be able to accommodate spaced out seating, but will also probably need to implement staggered mealtimes. More students may be encouraged to eat at Monty’s on upper campus.
Changes to how food is served might include the death of the salad bar as we know it. However, analyses are continuing to be conducted on food service.
Sports present another challenge. Recently, the NCAA released a plan allowing student-athletes to begin training at team facilities. BU will have to wait until the PSAC makes a similar announcement. There is talk of reducing the number of sporting events a team participates in during the season in order to keep athletes safe.
Bloomsburg is trying its best to create a safe environment that will help its students meet their educational goals. Dr. Rogers-Adkinson called it “a big puzzle.”
“We want students to have a successful experience.”—Dr. Rogers-Adkinson
The task force is meeting on almost a weekly basis to work out a multitude of plans.