MTU Flex for Academics Update for the Week of June 15

by Office of the Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

In an effort to provide continued communication from the MTU Flex for Academics group, the following is a recap of the topics discussed by the group during the week of June 15.

After determining that instructors will wear a face shield while teaching and a mask to and from the classroom, Michigan Tech’s 3D printing group, headed by Joshua Pearce (MSE/ECE) and David Holden (Van Pelt and Opie Library), will test a third face shield prototype that they designed specifically for instructors. The design is intended to promote safety in the classroom while making it easy for students to see instructors’ faces. Will Cantrell’s (Physics) research group will test the shields in the coming weeks to learn more about how aerosols are dispersed away from the wearer. The group’s agreement that shields can be used in the classroom is made under the assumption that all students in the class will be wearing some sort of face covering — typically cloth masks.

The CTL has been working diligently with IT to determine classroom technology needs, and these are in the final stages of review and recommendation to University leadership. Once approved, guides for using the technology will be created so that instructors who need to do a particular task will know which hardware and software tools they should use. The group knows faculty need time to practice using new tools and strategies before the fall, and the goal is to have all rooms open and ready as soon as possible.

Much of the discussion centered around students and courses. The group has reviewed the classroom occupancy limits imposed under the assumption of six-foot physical distancing. The registrar is working with deans and chairs to determine which, if any, courses should be moved to a fully online or remote format for pedagogical reasons. Once these decisions are made, particularly for large lecture-based courses, some classrooms may be freed up for use by other courses. Strategies for prioritizing the use of available spaces will be discussed in the future. It is now understood that there are many innovative approaches being considered across campus to serve students in the same course who are attending face-to-face or remotely.

The group made suggestions to other teams on topics such as what they would like to see communicated to students about the fall and how the campus community as a whole would benefit from having more information about topics such as testing, contact tracing, plans for isolation/quarantining, clearing people to return to work/school, etc. Faculty, student, and staff representatives on the group agreed that communication is valued by everyone. The group understands that such communications can only take place after policies, procedures, and protocols have been finalized.

Lastly, the group would like to reiterate that while we all want to come back together for face-to-face experiences in the fall, this will only be possible if we all do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19. A recent article in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences (Zhang et al., 2020) summed up the authors’ findings as: “We conclude that wearing of face masks in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent interhuman transmission, and this inexpensive practice, in conjunction with extensive testing, quarantine, and contact tracking, poses the most probable fighting opportunity to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, prior to the development of a vaccine.”

We all have a role to play in protecting the campus and local community from a large outbreak of COVID-19 because relatively simple and low/no-cost actions such as washing hands, wearing masks, cleaning shared surfaces frequently, and physically distancing from others limit the spread of disease. If we all commit to doing these things—both on campus and in the community—we have a very good chance at having a very successful fall semester.