Students Return, But Fall Semester Takes a New Look
In planning for the fall semester amid the coronavirus pandemic, a pair of mid-Michigan’s institutions of higher learning couldn’t have had better luck than to have health experts leading their respective campuses.
Both Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., a Harvard University Medical School alum and accomplished biomedical researcher, and Western Michigan University Cooley Law School President and Dean James McGrath, who holds a master’s degree in public health from Harvard, are bringing their experience to the forefront in balancing safety with scholarship for students and staff.
The pair understand that the most recent spike in COVID-19 cases could be related to gatherings with young adults, and both are accountable for protecting not only students, but faculty members and other staff.
Many students had been packed and cautiously optimistic about their return to college when word came from Stanley that undergrad students that planned to live in residence halls should stay home and continue their education remotely.
“Given the current status of the virus in our country — particularly what we are seeing at other institutions as they repopulate their campus communities — it has become evident to me that, despite our best efforts and strong planning, it is unlikely we can prevent widespread transmission of COVID-19 between students if our undergraduates return to campus,” Stanley said in a letter to students.
At MSU, most of its roughly 50,000 students had planned to physically return to the campus community, although the majority of classes were to be offered online or in a hybrid format with in-person and remote components.
“Please know that we are making choices based on reliable public health data, updates from local and state officials and our understanding of the science and research available to us on the novel coronavirus,” Stanley said.
There will be some exceptions for the colleges of law, human medicine, nursing, osteopathic medicine and veterinary medicine as well as all graduate programs. Off-campus students were also encouraged to stay in their home communities.
Meanwhile, Cooley is operating classes “100% online” this fall while opening up campus study areas, its library and other resource centers for in-person use by students who may lack remote learning resources and quiet study spaces at home, McGrath said.
“Safety is always the most important factor, and that is clearly the safest way to deliver education at this point in time,” McGrath said of the remote learning plan. “The other thing is letting students know what’s going to happen. We could try to bring classes in person in the fall, but if that second (coronavirus) wave hits, we’d have to send everybody home. This way, students know where they’re going to be for the fall semester, and I think their peace of mind is important.”
Lansing Community College is also offering a majority of its courses online, along with some in-person and hybrid classes, the latter of which teach theory online before applying theory in person, according to Provost Sally Welch. Many occupational education programs — including the heating, ventilation and air conditioning; welding; electrical; construction; line worker; and health care areas — will be hybrid, along with some science tracks.
“The biggest challenge we had to think through was the potential of a second wave coming to Michigan sometime this fall. We believe we have addressed this challenge by having a majority of our courses being offered online this fall,” Welch said. “The hybrid courses that have hands-on components have to create a safety plan with very strict guidelines including if a student or faculty member gets sick.”
Lansing Leans on Live Online Instruction
Public schools in the city of Lansing will blend the best of in-person learning and the safety of online education as the new school year starts entirely online.
The Lansing School District is working 100% remotely for the first marking period, which runs through the first week of November, leaning on live teacher-to-student online instruction rather than having students work through self-managed modules.
“Our goal is to safely get kids back into the classroom as soon as possible,” district Superintendent Sam Sincicropi said. “This screen-to-screen option is very different than an online education where students are basically on their own to learn. In Lansing, several different teachers are likely to be engaged directly with each student throughout the school day.”