covid on campus

Most Fall College Classes Will Be Online. What About the Courses That Can't Be?

Auto tech, physical therapy and art studio work are just some courses that will still have an in-person component on changing college campuses.

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You can't give each auto student an engine to bring home for tinkering. Art students are used to working in the studio.

But the coronavirus pandemic is changing college classes across the board, including how they're taught, how many people can enroll, and whether some courses can even be offered.

Universities and colleges pivoted online suddenly when the pandemic shut the world down - and some still plan to offer 100% of courses online this fall. But a few scattered and disparate fields of study still plan to meet in person at colleges and universities. That will necessitate in-person contact during a pandemic that has infected more than 4.3 million Americans.

It leaves the schools to figure out how to do it safely, trying to maintain quality instruction while balancing concerns about the virus and contact between people.

“If you want to be a physical therapist, a leg is attached to a person. There’s no way around that,” said Greg Lupinski, director of environmental health and radiation safety at Temple University. Students in that situation will be given augmented personal protective equipment - more than just a mask - on par with what one would see in a hospital.

He, like his counterparts at other universities who spoke to NBC10 this week, is focused on spreading out the flows of people on campus. There will be social distancing signs everywhere, floor-markings, one-way paths, hand sanitizer stations galore. Parts of a recreation building, performing arts center and former library were all converted to classroom space to spread out students more.

In South Jersey, Stockton University shared several images of a campus blanketed in 2,000 social distancing signs, with more on the way. "As Stockton prepares to welcome back staff, faculty and students, steps are also being taken to make clear that COVID-19 is definitely not welcome on campus," a news release says.

At Temple, the density of crowds will decrease. “You’re going to see less people, you’re going to see less congregation...more people moving,” Lupinski said.

Fewer people heading to class, too, will help with social distancing.

In the video above, NBC10's Lauren Mayk reports on a group of Temple faculty voting on how to react to the university's reopening plan. Many staff want all-online instruction this fall.

What classes need to be in-person?

Cecelia Fitzgibbon, President of the Moore College of Art & Design, said students will have a choice whether to complete studio work on- or off-campus.

The sliding barn doors that separate studios will stay open and students in painting, as an example, will sit at easels spread out. At the same time, the class will be filmed and livestreamed, she told NBC10.

Someone participating in a studio class online, "they're using a paintbrush, a canvas and they're getting instruction from a faculty member" who can offer feedback, she said. The other part of coursework, liberal arts, will be mostly online but not entirely.

"What we know about this generation is that these people are self-directed learners, they’ve had access to the internet since they were babies," she said. "They are inclined to do research. What college does is it teaches you how to focus and frame your research."

Because so much of the learning will be done online, professors are coming back to campus 15 days before students to film instructional videos on everything from the color wheel to operation instructions for the college's CNC router, a computer-aided cutting machine that students can use for their designs. And students will have constant access to those videos.

Those large machines, like the CNC, or the embroidery and knitting machines for fashion students, would not be accessible at home, and the college isn't expecting students to have those. But it did ship sewing machines to fashion students who will be learning remotely this semester, Fitzgibbon said.

Students also get hands-on education in technical programs, and the pandemic has the automotive education sector rethinking its approach.

At Rowan College of South Jersey, which offers an associate's degree in automotive technology in partnership with the Ford Motors ASSET program, the current plan is to still offer those hands-on courses, but things could change.

The rules of 6-foot social distancing, mask-wearing and frequent hand-washing are governing decisionmaking, said Dominick Burzichelli, the school's vice president and COO. When it comes to automotive instruction, “you’re in close quarters, you’re under the hood of a car.”

About 90% of classes at the commuter college will be online. The only hybrid courses - meaning a mix in-person and online - will be labs needed for a degree. Think nursing, radiography, anything else where the lessons get hands-on or in a lab, in a way that can't be made online.

Some students might have to take certain in-person classes at a safer time in the future if they're not offered online.

“You have to change your paradigm, you have to change your shifting on how you teach that class," Burzichelli said. "You may have to put up the white flag and say ‘we can’t even offer it this semester,’ we have to see if conditions warrant having it in the spring.”

Even the Automotive Service Excellence Education Foundation, which accredits automotive programs across the country, including RCSJ's, is rethinking its approach. ASE may even change its accreditation standards to account for distance learning, according to its website. And its upcoming instructor conference will address how to teach the typically hands-on subject online.

"The key is just to keep everybody engaged as much as we can through online tutoring, online education," Burzichelli said. "We are really going down to what we did in March except we’re going to be providing it better. I think we have a better gameplan going into the fall."

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