NEW BRITAIN – From mask dispensing stations to larger lecture halls, Central Connecticut State University hopes to provide some semblance of a campus experience with plans for a hybrid model of in-person and online learning in the fall.
Because the university is a state institution, President Zulma Toro said they are guided by Gov. Ned Lamont’s goals and decisions. “He has made it clear that his goal is to open the economy, the state and higher education institutions. We are following those directions,” she said.
But the governor’s goals are not the only driving force. Another important reason to reopen is the mental and emotional component associated with the ongoing covid-19 pandemic, Toro said.
“There are some who tolerated better the isolation that we’ve had for over four months, while others not so much,” she said. “We’re trying to balance that.”
In the reopening plans released Thursday, the university is implementing a 35% on-ground and 65% online model. On-ground courses will be considered “HyFlex” offerings, which is a flexible hybrid model that would allow courses to be simultaneously delivered both in-person and online, using lecture capturing and broadcasting capabilities in the classrooms. With this system in place, the capacity for students in the physical classroom can be reduced while maintaining six-foot social distancing requirements. This roughly allows about 12 to 15 students in most rooms. The model will also let students watch the recorded lectures whenever they need to.
The university invested more than $1.2 million in the development of 34 classrooms, four large lecture spaces, and 29 labs and specialty spaces for HyFlex learning, according to the plan.
A significant amount of faculty volunteered to do the HyFlex model, Toro said.
“From that standpoint and the fact that the number of instructional faculty who are willing to go to campus and teach on a daily basis is significantly lower than what we traditionally have, the HyFlex model is a good way to meet those teaching and learning needs while adhering to state guidelines,” she said. “This is also needed in case there’s another outbreak and we have to shut down the campus again.”
In general, face masks are required in all campus buildings and outside locations where social distancing isn’t feasible. During the fall semester, five mask dispensing locations will be offered on campus and while the university has procured personal protective equipment, the campus community is strongly encouraged to purchase their own masks, according to the plan.
Hundreds of new physical and digital signs will be placed to remind the campus community to follow social distancing safety measures. Plexiglass and physical barriers will be installed in administrative offices, classrooms and service areas as an added layer of protection. Additional safety measures will include overhead signage, counter signage, floor spacing decals and a supply of cleaning products.
All disinfection and sanitation protocols are recommended by the state Department of Public Health and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
To eliminate hallway congestion, rooms adjacent to the HyFlex classrooms will be designated and prepared to serve as safe waiting areas where students, prior to class, can maintain social distancing. Academic buildings will be set up using a one-way travel plan in corridors and stairwells to help reduce contact with other students and faculty.
One area of major changes involves the university’s seven residence halls. Instead of the usual single “move-in weekend,” there will be a two-phase residence hall reopening plan designated to keep students and staff safe. Students must schedule an appointment with the residence life team to drop off their belongings in mid-August and return to campus just prior to the start of classes to move in.
Several health measures and safety restrictions are also in place for all residence halls, including the maximum size of any suite is capped at four students, shared kitchens will be closed, and no family or guests will be allowed in the halls but there will be special areas outside of the residences designated for visits.
Two residence halls were used by hospital officials and frontline workers during the earlier months of the pandemic, Toro said those halls have already been deep cleaned and state of the art technology was used to disinfect those rooms.
“Those rooms are all ready and safe for use,” she said.
Recognizing the university experience will look very different, Toro said while the planning process has been positive, some hard decisions had to be made because of the pandemic.
“This is a situation that makes a lot of people uncomfortable, which I completely understand,” she said. “My main guiding principle has been the safety and health of the students, faculty and staff. The next principle is providing our students a good education experience. They are expecting that and we’re going to provide it the best we can.”
Despite the pandemic challenges, Toro said the impact on the university’s fall enrollment didn’t drop as much as officials expected.
“Research was done nationwide, and it told us that the average drop for the fall was going to be around 15%. We ran several scenarios based on our historical numbers and expected our drop to be about 10%,” she said. “But I’m happy to report that as of this week, we’re actually doing a lot better than 10%. So I’m optimistic that we’re going to be doing relatively well despite the situation.”
The entire planning process has been a large undertaking through the coordination of several local universities, work groups, community members and the students, faculty and staff, said Toro.
“I’m looking forward to the reopening. I miss the campus and I miss seeing everyone,” she said. “But at the same time, it’s important to maintain safety and health restrictions and I intend to keep to that message.”
Contact Catherine Shen at firstname.lastname@example.org