Lake Superior College kicks off fall semester with more classes online
Classes began Monday at the Duluth college.
A chemistry instructor teaches before a class of socially distanced students while a few tune in virtually through a video call displayed on a screen at the front of the classroom.
One student from that class can be found participating on her laptop in a less-crowded hallway.
Students in an electrician course take turns touring the classroom with their instructor in groups of two to better maintain physical distancing.
A campus bookstore employee sits at the store's entrance taking book orders from students since customers currently aren't allowed inside.
These are scenes from Lake Superior College on Tuesday afternoon during its first week of the fall semester.
Auto body instructor Tim Brandon said that when it concerns sanitizing and physical distancing in the classroom, he tells his students he's going to keep them in check with reminders, and they should do the same for him.
"I tell them, 'If I just touched every hood, remind me to please go sanitize if I'm busy or to keep my hands off my face,'" Brandon said. "We're all in this together.
"They want to be here," he added. "The reason the majority of my students take this course is they don't want to be online."
As of the first week of class, 11% of courses at LSC are being offered on campus as usual, while 46% are offered using hybrid or HyFlex teaching methods. Hybrid means a mix of in-person and face-to-face instruction; HyFlex gives students the choice to meet in person or not. The remaining 43% of courses are all online.
All of the classes Jacob Kilby, 23, of Duluth, is taking this semester at LSC have some face-to-face component, but that doesn't mean he's not worried about COVID-19 exposure.
"I definitely self-distance myself. I think about it. ... It's definitely always right here," Kilby said, pointing to his head.
Christian Gunderson, 18, of Cloquet, considered taking a gap year after high school given the uncertainty the pandemic has created around education, but ultimately decided to get the ball rolling on her higher education.
"I chose my classes because they were online," said Gunderson, who was on campus this week getting her books for the semester.
The Minnesota State College and Universities System, which LSC is part of, is in the process of developing a dashboard that tracks cases of COVID-19, Doug Anderson, the system's director of communications and media, told the News Tribune in an email.
"This data is not yet available, but when it is, colleges and universities will share this information with their campus communities as appropriate," Anderson said.
The college has already notified the campus of one case in an employee who may or may not have been on campus when they were infected, said Daniel Fanning, LSC's vice president of institutional advancement and external relations. They plan to continue doing this in instances where the situation warrants it.
"We probably erred more on the side of caution just to be safe," Fanning said. "So far that's been really well-received."
While schools legally can't identify an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19, Fanning said they do have to let people know who, through contact tracing at the state level, has been found to be at risk of exposure to that individual, all without saying that person's name.
Throughout the summer, LSC has had about a couple hundred students in technical fields on campus due to an executive order in May from Gov. Tim Walz. The order allowed students in hands-on programs close to finishing their degrees to return to the classroom in order to complete their required hours. Fanning said that experience has given the campus an advantage.
"We got to practice some of these social distancing and mask ordinances and I think some of the other schools weren't able to do that," Fanning said. "We know what we're doing."
Since most of the classes being held face-to-face at LSC rely heavily on hands-on learning experiences, instructors aren't required to stand behind a taped line on the floor at the front of the classroom like they often are at other institutions.
Classes began Monday, and there currently isn't a plan for the campuses in the Minnesota State system to halt face-to-face instruction after the Thanksgiving break like the University of Minnesota system plans to do in order to avoid potential spread of COVID-19 following holiday traveling plans.
Still, Fanning said instructors are making an effort to load up the beginning of the semester with more of the hands-on work just in case.
With the recent news that three of the U of M campuses, including the Duluth campus, have postponed face-to-face instruction and move-in dates by at least two weeks , Fanning said the college's enrollment has increased in the last couple of days with students previously enrolled in the U of M system.
"Some students are just getting impatient and want to know what the heck's going on," Fanning said. "For better or worse, we're the first school in the area to start. We've laid out a plan. We've demonstrated that we can do it; we did over the summer."
Since Aug. 10, all students, employees and staff have been asked to complete an electronic symptom screening prior to entering a campus building. Signs hang on the door reminding people before entering.
Now, before a student can enter a classroom they must show their instructor that the screening has given them the green light to be on campus. For those who don't have the technology to complete an electronic screening, Fanning said an instructor will ask the questions themselves.
For Destiny Younge, 19, of Duluth, the biggest difference, and her biggest critique, in face-to-face classes is having to wear a mask the entire time and missing the exchange of facial expressions with those in the class. Still, she prefers being in person over learning online.
"I don't want it to get to the point where we're on lockdown again and have to be all online," Younge said.