Northern Michigan University is reconfiguring most classrooms to align with six-foot social distancing guidelines and installing plexiglass barriers in others to enhance student safety in advance of the fall semester.
“Capacities in most classrooms have been reduced by 50%, give or take, depending on the type of room,” said Jim Thams, director of facilities and campus planning. “In Jamrich Hall, a lot of the furniture is on wheels and portable. For those rooms, we’ve placed markers on the floor to indicate where the center of the tables should be placed and in-house carpenters are making barriers to install between the two seats at each trapezoid table in Jamrich.
“In the lecture-style classrooms with tiered seating and fixed tables, barriers are being affixed in front of each seat to provide separation between the rows. In fixed auditoriums, there’s not much you can do with barriers. We had to establish six-foot distancing. In the Jamrich auditorium, that means only every other row and every fourth seat in each row can be occupied. There will be markers for where students can and can’t sit. The capacity of that room is reduced from 500 to 130.”
Thams said the conversion process began more than a month ago. NMU Facilities first did an exercise in computer-aided design (CAD) to see what capacities would be, then went out into the field with a lower-tech tape measure and adjusted the numbers. Thams provided the capacities to the NMU Registrar’s Office to schedule classrooms based on the adjusted enrollment.
Rob Winn, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said the goal was to get as many classes as possible into rooms that would accommodate at least 50% of their enrollment
“That will allow faculty to teach a subset of their class face to face at each class session,” Winn added. “However, we are asking faculty to be creative in how they approach these modified on-campus classes. Some faculty will have students present in the room and at the same time use Zoom to reach the rest of the class in a synchronous fashion. We have invested in additional AV equipment such as new document cameras to facilitate these interactions.
“For others, the faculty will meet with part of their class while the rest of the students are working on assignments, watching recorded materials or other activities. In the next class session, the students’ roles will be reversed. Many faculty are planning to use the flipped classroom model. They will post lectures online and then have discussion and other learning activities with the students in person. We have asked our faculty to be creative in how they modify their on-campus courses and I am confident that they will be up to the challenge.”
The plan for labs depends on the discipline, Thams said, and whether the work can be done individually. Departments with labs that require collaboration are working through how to accommodate that with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
Signs are being placed at building entrances and outside each classroom reminding students of the requirement to wear masks. Additional signs at building entrances promote the importance of mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure.