With the fall semester quickly approaching, students and faculty are preparing for a semester unlike any other amid the historic Covid-19 pandemic. With much planning still in the works to reopen Cabrini while maintaining CDC regulations and social distancing guidelines, many in the community have various thoughts ranging from excitement to concern during these trying times of uncertainty.
The pandemic brings unique challenges as students and professors are navigating uncharted territory and trying to find solutions that will fulfill their needs to be safe while learning and teaching.
“I have mixed feelings about the circumstances brought to us by COVID-19,” Dr. Amber Gentile, an education professor, wrote via email. “On the one hand, I want to be on campus if the students are on campus. I teach many freshmen and I feel face to face is the best approach for them for my particular courses. On the other hand, I am concerned about teaching because I do not want to bring anything home that could infect my loved ones.”
Gentile explained that it has not been established what her own children’s schooling will be like in the fall and that these could present possible personal challenges for her in regards to scheduling as well. Although she has mixed feelings, Gentile is staying positive and believes that although these are challenging times that Cabrini will get through it as a community.
The Cabrini faculty has been emailed a list of guidelines from President Donald Taylor for returning to campus with information and protocols to follow.
One of the protocols includes phased staffing with “essential employees returning first” while following in accordance to Governor Tom Wolf’s July 15 update which recommends that employees should work remotely if possible. The update mandates that those who can not conduct business via telework must follow the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s mitigation orders concerning the building safety order, worker safety order and the masking order.
The guidelines also explain that everyone on campus will be required to wear a mask and must have it worn properly covering the mouth and nose in all public areas. To help enforce this rule the university will be providing “one adjustable, reusable, washable cloth face mask” to all students, faculty and staff. More face masks will be sold in the Cabrini store as well as online.
Professors will also be required to wear clear face shields when they are teaching in-person class lectures in order to “address audibility and accessibility concerns as well as audio quality concerns for the live-streamed counterpart to class attendance in the hyflex” according to the guidelines sent out by Taylor.
One of the many changes involves a mixture of limited in-person classes, online classes, and hyflex classes, which will be a combination of in-person and online classes where the class will be split into smaller groups that will rotate between in-person attendance and synchronous virtual attendance via livestream on specific days.
Classes consisting of 24 or more students will be conducted in hyflex and online modalities.
Noelle Dutka, a rising junior education major, has many mixed feelings about returning to campus in the fall.
“I want to go back and have the college experience of living on campus and being with my friends and be able to have a hands-on education,” Dutka said. “With doing online learning in the spring I felt that I was basically teaching myself out of the book so being back on campus and having a teacher actually teach me makes me hopeful and excited to possibly go back.”
While Dutka is excited about returning back to campus and seeing her friends this semester, she does have some concerns and wants to remain cautious. She acknowledges that this semester will not be traditional and not the same as usual but this also raises unease on many issues.
“On the other side I’m nervous to go back because Cabrini is right by the highly populated area of King of Prussia so compared to where I live in New Jersey the number of positive cases is way different,” Dutka said.
“One fear is definitely getting the virus because you don’t know how it would affect people because everyone’s symptoms are different,” she added.
Dutka also expressed that despite these reservations about returning to campus another concern involves not being on campus. She went on to explain that she is concerned about having online classes and feels that she would miss out on a big part of learning and “connecting ideas with other students and getting the proper help to succeed more in school.”
At the same time, if classes are mostly online she feels that it would be a waste of money to stay on campus when she could take her classes at home and “save a ton of money.”
This is a decision that many in the Cabrini community are facing as many students have concerns regarding staying on campus and if campus were to close again among other personal reasons.
The CDC identifies residence halls, laboratory facilities and lecture rooms as potential settings for spread of infection and that residence halls at full capacity, along with communal and shared spaces, such as kitchens, are at the highest risk.
According to an email sent out by President Donald Taylor to all students on June 30, residence halls will be open to standard occupancy but will have a restriction of two students per room. The email also explained that roommates will “function like a family unit with regard to social distancing” and “face masks do not need to be worn within your residence hall room, but must be worn in hallways and common spaces.”
The guidelines also explain that classrooms will be “thoroughly disinfected” at the beginning of the day and cleaning supplies will be distributed for “sanitizing throughout the day and between uses.”
In an email sent out by Housing on Thursday, July 23, regarding move-in information, Residence Life had advised all students to pack lightly and coordinate a time to switch out clothes and restock supplies. They also noted that if Cabrini is “forced to close for an extended period of time, students will be required to move their items out of the residence halls.”
Cabrini has not announced what requirements would constitute for a campus-wide or residential shut down but states in their returning to campus guidelines that “elements are subject to change as the situation evolves and more information becomes available.”
Meanwhile, Amanda Lynn, a rising senior early special education major, is looking forward to returning to campus but also shares similar concerns as Dutka.
“I am looking forward to going back to campus but at the same time I am interested to see how these opening plans will work out and hoping we do not get kicked off campus again,” Lynn said.
Many of her concerns revolve around the unknown and wanting information from Cabrini in order to make plans to prepare for the semester.
Lynn explained that she is supposed to be pre-student teaching, as well as working as a second-year resident assistant and is a part of the swim team this year. While she has heard some updates from res life and athletics there is still a lot of missing information in other areas regarding plans.
On July 22, an announcement was made that fall sports have been postponed by the Atlantic East Conference Board of Presidents.
As of now, the fall schedule is still being finalized but Cabrini will be offering several different class modalities to accommodate different student needs. These sections include hybrid classes, hyflex classes, labs, lectures, seminars and studios.
According to a recent email from Provost Chioma Ugochukwu sent out to all students on Tuesday, July 21, approximately 272 classes have moved to online instruction and 57 classes have moved to hyflex instruction.
While many plans are still a work in progress at Cabrini, an email announcement was sent out on Monday, July 20, with some information regarding moving in.
“I’m glad they are starting to tell us about reopening and giving us updates,” Lynn said.
Dr. Dawn Francis, the chair of the communication department, explained a breakdown of how the communication department will be operating with plans for mitigation measures for the upcoming semester.
Like most departments, the communication department will have a mix of class modalities offered and consist of many hyflex, lecture, and online classes.
Francis explained that certain classes, such as labs, are given priority for hyflex courses and that those classrooms will have cameras so that half the class can attend online and the other half in-person.
This allows for “students that are remote to still feel part of the class” while having fewer students in a classroom.
All departments have unique circumstances and obstacles to work around. In the case of the communication department, one of the biggest obstacles involves lending equipment to students and using lab rooms outside of class time for school work.
While plans are continuing to be discussed and are a work in progress, one proposal has been to have equipment taken out on Tuesdays and returned on Fridays so the items can sit over the weekend and be cleaned on Monday before going out again on Tuesday.
The other discussion involved classrooms 264 and 265 in Founder’s Hall as they are considered “lab rooms” for students to use the desktop computers and editing software to complete assignments. One alternative that is currently being looked into is to use the inventory app, Cheqroom, to sign up for two hour time slots in order to have a limited number of people in those rooms.
Francis explained that she also has some reservations about going back to campus, which were very similar to Gentile’s. She has also had students reach out and tell her that they will not be returning to campus in-person and will be conducting classes online.
This has led to further discussions about students who don’t feel comfortable returning to campus. Francis is designing her course to be based more online and there have been discussions for students to buy their own equipment.
For example, Francis will be teaching a senior convergence course, which will be offered in a hyflex format, while the same class will be offered online at another time for those who do not wish to come to campus.