In an email sent to students on Tuesday, May 12, Western’s President Sabah Randhawa announced the expectation of a hybrid learning approach to the fall 2020 quarter. The quarter will be a mix of online and in-person classes, the email said. Many questions and concerns centered around the fall quarter were answered in a live Q&A discussion on Wednesday, May 27.
As plans are still underway for the 2020-21 school year, the university has been working with its Incident Command System (ICS) team to reach effective decisions. According to the FEMA website, the ICS is a system designed to support non-governmental organizations in times of urgent issues and conditions.
Western’s communications director Paul Cocke said that the university’s ICS team is working on issues such as space utilization and plans for employees coming back to work. The team of about 60 people will eventually scale down as the university transitions into normal operations.
Vice President Melynda Huskey said the ICS team is focusing on the gradual return of staff and students to campus. She said that looks like rearranging classrooms and offices, and redesigning the fall schedule to be in line with health and safety standards set by state and federal experts. The university is looking at documents and guidelines issued by the governor as well as the American College Health Association, and consulting with environmental health and safety experts at Western to shape its planning procedure, Huskey said.
During the live Q&A meeting, Randhawa mentioned that the 1,500 courses offered in the fall will need to be delivered with social distancing and cleaning protocols in place. Classes that are difficult to teach online will be under creative scheduling so that students can learn face-to-face.
“Our planning processes have focused on identifying courses with smaller class sizes that could be delivered safely and effectively in person,” Randhawa said in the meeting.
Cocke said the hybrid approach will have flexibility. He said the health state of Whatcom County will be taken into consideration, determined by which of the four phases issued by Gov. Jay Inslee the county is in.
Other universities statewide such as Washington State University and the University of Washington have also made the decision to take a hybrid approach in teaching courses in the fall.
Provost and vice president of Academic Affairs Brent Carbajal said in the live meeting that in-person class sizes most likely will not exceed 25 students. The university’s limited large lecture halls may be used for smaller class sizes to meet in-person for socially-distant learning. There are 17 total classrooms with over 100 seats, two of those are larger lecture halls with over 300 seats.
Carbajal also said that students needing accommodations due to discomfort in attending in-person classes will be worked out individually with support given to faculty members teaching those classes.
Models of creative scheduling are being considered for splitting class sections into cohorts and having classes spread throughout the day. The delayed start of registration allows for faculty and academic affairs to plan for the approach to the fall quarter. Randhawa mentioned that the university is hoping to have scheduling plans figured out before the end of the spring quarter on June 12. Cocke said that more information and updates will be sent out to students soon.