BREAKING: AU to hold hybrid classes for fall semester, limit dorm occupancy

On-campus housing will be offered to freshmen and some sophomores

BREAKING: AU to hold hybrid classes for fall semester, limit dorm occupancy

Fall semester classes will proceed in a hybrid format, encompassing both online and in-person instruction, with on-campus housing offered only to freshmen and some sophomores, American University announced in a post about the fall plan on its website. 

To mitigate the risk of the coronavirus, undergraduate students who return to AU in the fall will engage in both in-person and online classes from the start of the semester on Aug. 24 through Thanksgiving break, after which the remainder of the semester will be completed online. Students are encouraged not to travel home for fall break. 

“The health, safety, and well-being of our students, faculty, and staff is our priority and at the center of our decision-making,” the plan reads. “Based on current and anticipated conditions related to COVID-19 and the need for safety protocols, Fall 2020 will be different than a typical semester. It will feature as much face-to-face engagement as safely possible.”

Health and safety protocols will be compliant with the Centers for Disease Control, D.C. Department of Health and American College Health Association guidelines. The AU community will participate in mandatory health and safety training, with physical distancing and face covering requirements, according to the plan.

The Student Health Center will provide coronavirus testing for students, and an isolation building is designated for students on campus who test positive for the virus. 

Cleaning of on-campus spaces will be enhanced, as well, with frequent cleaning and disinfection of highly occupied spaces. 

Freshmen and sophomores will occupy single rooms, totalling 2,305 beds in residence halls across campus. Upperclassmen and other sophomores will be offered assistance in securing off-campus housing. AU has secured additional off-campus options and will work with local apartments to expand students’ options, the plan states. 

Dining will change significantly as well, with pre-packaged and takeout options available. Seating at TDR will be limited and based on a table reservation system, and deep-cleaning procedures will limit student and staff exposure. 

Even though the price of online instruction was discounted for summer classes, tuition will not be discounted for the fall.

Classes will be taught on a spectrum, varying from in-person classes with augmented online instruction to fully virtual education, with options provided for students who are not on campus. 

George Washington University is planning to have in-person classes in the fall, but will move online after Thanksgiving. On Monday, GW submitted a plan with D.C. city officials for approval of these actions.

D.C.’s phased reopening solution, which dictates gathering sizes, social distancing and more, has been used by many D.C.-area universities. Although a recent spike in reported community spread of the coronavirus has set the clock back slightly, the city is expected to enter Phase Two in the next few days.

Howard University stated in an update in May that, while the university is planning for in-person instruction, they will make adjustments if District rules require it. The statement said that they will update the community again in June. 

Across the country, universities are releasing their fall semester plans, many limited by restrictions due to the pandemic. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, however, almost two-thirds of the universities that have announced their decision, or set a deadline to do so, are planning to hold in-person classes

In an email to the AU community on Tuesday, President Sylvia Burwell said that the University will share more information about the fall in the coming weeks.

“It is impossible to overstate the intensity or complexity of the challenges we have faced these past few months,” Burwell wrote. “But as changemakers, you rose to the occasion to help shape our changing world for the better.”

Dorms

In an interview with The Eagle, members of the University’s Recovery and Renewal task forces reiterated their priorities as centering on health and safety. Plans allow for administrators and faculty to work with students wherever they are, the team said, regardless of whether they’re on campus or back home. 

The administration also plans to implement programs to help sophomores and upperclassmen find off-campus housing, and has been in touch with a few apartment buildings in the area, according to Fanta Aw, vice president of campus life and inclusive excellence. It is also extending master leases for off-campus housing, she said, and the administration is working towards a system that will allow students to get leases through their network. 

Safety

AU Forward, the University’s official framework for the fall, explains that by discouraging students from leaving campus over fall break, along with concluding on-campus instruction at Thanksgiving, the risk of COVID-19 and a potential outbreak will be minimized. 

In a press release sent to The Eagle, Burwell said that the plan is designed to “safeguard our community’s health and safety, and advance our education and research mission.”

“While the fall semester will look different, we are working to safely welcome our community back to campus and deliver the innovative educational experience that is the hallmark of American University,” Burwell said.

When on-campus learning resumes, the AU community will be required to wear face coverings and engage in physical distancing, according to the press release, and AU buildings will also have enhanced cleaning protocols. Daniel Nichols, the assistant vice president of risk, safety and transportation, said that additional staff will be hired to ensure that all of the spaces on campus are cleaned effectively. 

Large gatherings, including those for club meetings and at parties, are heavily restricted by D.C.’s health guidelines, Aw wrote in an email to The Eagle. 

“Clubs will have the ability to have some meetings and will need to work out modalities in partnership with the Center for Student Involvement,” she wrote.

Bennett Thompson, an incoming freshman in the School of Public Affairs, was conflicted about the University’s announcement. 

"Even though I'm happy about this, I don't think it's a good public health choice,” they said. “I think colleges are going to lead to a lot of COVID-19 spread, and the healthiest thing to do would probably have been to cancel class."

Shelly Pevchin, a rising senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, said that she has concerns about AU opening campus for the fall semester.

“I live in D.C., but I don’t feel comfortable stepping on campus or out of my home,” Pevchin said. “I don’t understand how they’re going to enforce these rules and prevent people from seeing each other and spreading COVID.”

Hybrid classes

Lab classes, for example, are given priority for in-person instruction, while more traditional lectures will have a hybrid curriculum of livestreams, in-person classes, and online work. Classes larger than 40 students will likely be taught online. 

Jessica Waters, dean of undergraduate education, said that professors are hoping to be able to include more guest speakers for short stints as well, as the flexible nature of online classes means they don’t need to dedicate much time for travel. 

Wendy Boland, interim dean of graduate studies, said that classes will also be taught on a spectrum from synchronous to asynchronous — online classes at specific times and online classes in accordance with one’s own schedule, respectively — with different content available for students who prefer one kind of system to another. The faculty and administration are also working closely with instructional designers to plan these classes, hoping to set up simulcasting of live lectures as well. 

Santiago O’Neil, an incoming freshman in the School of International Service, questioned tuition prices as the University moves toward a wide variety of class structures. Three lawsuits have been filed against AU in the last two months, seeking tuition refunds for the shortened in-person spring semester. 

"From what I've seen with other schools' plans, American's seems pretty solid. Hybrid classes were inevitable, and while certainly not ideal, the dining hall and dorms were going to have to be limited to some degree. All of these changes, personally, have to come with the implication that we're going to see some major price reduction. People don't just pay for classes, but the college experience."

Professors and the administration learned a lot from the spring semester, Boland said, and are adapting strategies to better accommodate the difficulties that come with online learning. Classes may be divided up into shorter, easier to consume blocks, where students can watch short recordings, answer a few questions or a quiz, and then return for the next chunk. 

Aw said that she’s optimistic that conditions will improve even more in the fall. 

University resources like academic support, tutoring and the writing center will remain available, said Karen Baehler, the scholar in residence at the Department of Public Administration and Policy. 

The Washington College of Law is starting classes on time on Aug. 21. 

Contingency plan

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease doctor, the United States should expect a resurgence of COVID-19 this fall. Nichols said that AU is aware of this possibility and has a plan to quickly and effectively adapt in the case of an outbreak on campus. 

Nichols hopes that in the fall, the University will be able to adopt the modified operations plan of hybrid learning, but he recognizes the importance of having the “agility” to quickly return to the remote mode in case of an outbreak. 

Aw added that if the situation in the fall warrants a shift back to the remote mode, it is important to ensure that the shift does not contribute to a spread of the virus. Rather, she said, the key is being able to “shift the modalities of teaching” so that students’ learning will not be disrupted.

Baehler added that students seem to appreciate how well this new approach to school is preparing them for the real world, with remote learning and multifaceted strategies. 

“This is unlikely to be the last pandemic that we see, if we believe Bill Gates and Anthony Fauci,” she said. “It’s likely that we’ll be moving our students into a different kind of world in the future. Based on the students I’ve been talking to, they’re really looking forward to getting better and better at that through their experience at AU.”

This story has been updated with details from a press release, interviews with AU administrators and an email from Sylvia Burwell. This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

Isabelle Kravis contributed reporting to this article. 

asheffey@theeagleonline.com, dpapscun@theeagleonline.com 

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