An empty classroom has its desks spread out by at least 6 feet. Tape on the carpet marks where the desks should and shouldn’t be. An instructor prepares to face only half of her class — because this year she isn’t expected to just teach, she also has to mitigate a global pandemic.
Stancy Bond is an English comprehension instructor and writing center coordinator who, like the rest of the professors on Northwest's campus, had to rework the way she holds classes because of COVID-19.
After working at Missouri Western State University as an adjunct professor for one year, Bond began working at Northwest and has remained here for eight years.
“I feel good in our safety practices,” Bond said.
Bond said she anticipated the University would still try to hold in-person classes. She serves on the school board for the Savannah school district where her son attended school, which also aided her in anticipating how the University would handle this fall. She figured if other local school districts were holding in-person classes, so would the University.
Bond teaches a core composition class that every student who passes through the University must take — English Composition I. She said she is worried the lack of one-on-one contact with students because of coronavirus precautions will impact students’ skills.
Bond said the Language, Literature and Writing Department Chair Robin Gallaher has been incredible about helping the professors physically prepare their classrooms. Gallaher has rearranged rooms for social distancing and has even gone as far as to put tape on the floor where every desk should be placed.
“My department chair has really bent over backwards … so we don’t have to worry about any of that,” Bond said about Gallaher.
Many professors in the English department have decided to split their classes in half, which are typically about 25 students in a class. Bond plans to split her class so half of the class meets Mondays while the other half meets on Wednesdays. As for Fridays, Bond is debating on hosting a Zoom meeting on those days or some kind of instructional writing time.
“Students, this semester, are going to have to be a little bit more responsive to instruction,” Bond said.
She compared this fall semester to a summer class she teaches. She said with an online summer class, students have to be more responsible and reliable to take care of their own work with little face-to-face meetings with a professor.
Despite the circumstances the coronavirus has created, Bond is glad the University will be resuming classes in person this fall.
Professor of natural sciences Kurt Haberyan is also excited for the fall semester to begin. He said he is anxious for the semester and the new challenges that come with holding in-person classes during the coronavirus pandemic.
After working at Troy University in Troy, Alabama, for five years, Haberyan started working at Northwest and is now going on his 26th year with the University.
The only thing close to the problems COVID-19 has created in the 31 years he has been teaching was the rapid increase in technology usage over the years.
“That took 10 years to go full circle. This COVID thing is happening in just a matter of months,” Haberyan said while giving a little chuckle.
Haberyan said a typical lower level class, such as general biology, can run anywhere from 60 to 80 students. Most of Haberyan’s upper level classes usually hold about 20 to 25 students.
Many science professors have been asked to spray disinfectant between every class. Haberyan said there was talk of some of the professors in his department wearing face shields, but he hasn’t heard anything else about the idea since.
Haberyan, like many professors in his department and in the English department as mentioned by Bond, are splitting their classes in half and having half of the class come on one day of classes and the other half come the next day of classes. Haberyan also plans to record his lectures and post them online so students can watch the lectures that they don’t get to be in person for.
“It does balance the learning between the two groups at the same time that it is a reasonable compromise between normal teaching and completely sheltered teaching,” Haberyan said.
Faculty met Aug. 13 and 14, less than a week away from classes having their first session. Haberyan said faculty met with President John Jasinski who informed them of precautions and procedures to mitigate the coronavirus.
As far as the labs for science classes are concerned, Haberyan said professors are taking different approaches to conduct the labs and keep students safe on campus.
Haberyan teaches an ecology class that requires lab participation. He plans to separate the students into two groups. The first group would start at the original time, while the second group would start an hour and a half after the original start time.
Another professor, like Bond and Haberyan, will be splitting his classes to follow social distancing policies.
Devlin Scofield, an assistant professor of humanities and social sciences, will be splitting his larger core classes such as Western Civilization.
Scofield said his core classes run on average about 60 students per class. He said he has already gone through his classroom and numbered the desks to create a seating chart with the help of his wife, Stephanie Scofield, who works at Eugene Field Elementary.
“I’ve got my seating chart all ready to go, which is something I never thought I’d have to do at a University,” Scofield said with a hint of laughter from behind his navy blue mask.
Scofield plans to split his Western Civilization classes in half. The first block for this class will host half of the students who will sit in the even numbered desks while the other half of the class attends on Zoom. The second block comes in directly after the first block and will sit in the odd numbered desks, and the other half will also attend on Zoom.
This will allow Scofield to be able to spray down the even numbered desks with Bearcat Thunder, the sanitation spray the University has created and distributed all over campus.
Despite being nervous about holding in-person classes with the coronavirus, Scofield appeared excited to be in front of students and teaching in person.
“It is weird looking out and seeing a sea of masked faces, but at the same time it felt really good yesterday to be back in front of students again and to be talking with them,” Scofield said about his first University Seminar class of the fall 2020 semester.
Scofield feels it is necessary to hold in-person classes for as long as the University can, for the sake of student retention. He said it is important for students to still get the opportunity to have a college experience, even if it isn’t a normal situation.
Scofield said that just as professors have been asked by the University to remain flexible throughout the semester, he also asks students to be flexible as well.
“Ultimately, we are all in this together and we are going to get through it together,” Scofield said.