As the fall semester swiftly approaches, with no end to the pandemic in sight, University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty and students will be forced to delve into their own grit to manage the challenges of a classroom setting.
According to June Griffin, associate dean of undergraduate education for the College of Arts and Sciences, each college within the university is working to create a meticulous and comprehensive plan so students are able to succeed.
“I think it will be challenging for faculty to foster meaningful interactions among students, as many will be attending class in person on split schedules,” Griffin said. “The colleges at UNL and the areas within the College of Arts and Sciences are very different, so students will find that faculty across campus have developed approaches that best meet the learning objectives of their disciplines.”
According to an announcement from Chancellor Ronnie Green, classes across the university will align with federal social distancing regulations. Students and staff will also be required to wear face coverings at all times, and hand sanitation stations will be placed strategically throughout the entire campus. The semester will begin online one week early, and in-person classes will omit fall break and Labor Day to conclude with an early finals week right before Thanksgiving.
“We have all woken up to new ways of approaching absolutely everything we do in the classroom and in support of students,” Griffin said. “We have developed new ways of thinking about teaching, learning and problem solving. I think we have learned and will continue to learn new things this year that we will continue to use, refine and improve well beyond this moment.”
While the university has established general guidelines for students, social distancing regulations could vary for less conventional classes. Lectures and lab courses can conceivably fit within these guidelines, but more interactive classes, such as fine arts, could be difficult to carry out with the current administrative regulations.
Byron Anway, an assistant professor of practice in the School of Art, Art History and Design, said the biggest difference between class structures for studio art students and more traditional studies is the amount of work required outside of classes in shared studio spaces.
This contrast, he said, has influenced the plans professors are making to coincide with the pandemic precautions.
“We're doing a pretty good job of preparing for students to be able to use studio spaces, putting into place cleaning protocols and distancing measures,” Anway said. “We're going to spend the first week of school covering … how to safely use the space so that your peers and your faculty and yourself all can be as safe as possible.”
According to Anway, the overall plan for class structure this semester is to have half of a class present at a time to maintain social distancing guidelines. Every class period will have 20 minutes at the end dedicated to the sanitation of tools, materials and surfaces.
"I feel like we've just been working through the summer, trying to prepare the classrooms, to prepare the curriculum, to prepare the instructors and the staff for students coming back and having the most success possible,” Anway said.
Both Griffin and Anway agree that due to the challenges and anxiety surrounding the coming semester, instructors and staff have been working tirelessly over the summer to provide a safe and comprehensive semester for students.
Though the first-day-of-school jitters may be heightened, Anway is sure the semester will smooth out.
“Once people come back, I think that a lot of that anxiety can be replaced with optimism, hard work, good outcomes and new relationships.”