Dee Redsteer is a self-proclaimed “Zoom hater.”
For her, Monday was a long time coming – the first day of in-person classes at Fort Lewis College since mid-November, when spiking COVID-19 transmissions in La Plata County forced classes to move online.
“You can’t always hear on Zoom. The audio cuts in and out, and it can be non-engaging at times. It’s easy to multitask, and eventually you get distracted,” said Redsteer, a senior exercise major from Kayenta, Arizona, while sitting outside Reed Library.
Associate professor of biology Caroline Kulesza was just as happy as Redsteer to have students back on campus.
“I can’t teach microbiology without a lab. Well, I can, but it would be awful,” she said.
The saving grace of the fall semester was that her microbiology classes had more than two months of in-person laboratories before going remote.
Professors across campus worked hard in fall to adjust labs at FLC to accommodate social distancing and other COVID-19 requirements.
The number of science lab sessions increased so fewer students were in each session, part of protocols a committee, on which Kulesza sat, devised to accommodate social distancing.
Kulesza said, “It took a lot of creativity and then also just adjusting the curriculum,” to devise labs that met COVID-19 public health rules.
One big adjustment was the move to more individual lab work rather than the time-honored practice of working with lab partners.
Lab assignments were reconfigured so they could be done individually, and when partner work was required, FLC faculty discovered ways to do that while still meeting the requirements for social distancing, Kulesza said.
When labs went remote, assignments changed with less experimental work and more analysis of data and other uses of literature, a good fill-in, but something Kulesza said you don’t want to rely on in teaching science.
“I think we were fortunate in that we didn’t have to use all online learning for labs for an entire semester. That would have been a real challenge,” she said. “In the experiential disciplines, we really tried to make something happen for in-person labs.”
Jeff Dupont, associate vice president for student affairs, said some COVID-19 protocols have changed for spring semester – with the school generally erring on the side of more testing for the coronavirus.
Everyone on campus must be tested for COVID-19 before joining campus life in spring – an increase in testing from fall when only students living on campus were required to be tested.
“We saw some positive outcomes from more testing,” Dupont said of a review of the fall semester. “We want to get out front of any potential outbreaks.”
As of Saturday, Dupont said 2,160 students had been tested, 2,007 tests processed and the school recorded 11 positive cases. Of the positive cases, five have recovered and the school currently has six active positives.
In addition to the on-campus testing, FLC is allowing students to be tested in their hometowns before arriving on campus. So far, about 700 students have been tested in their hometowns, Dupont said.
The school has 15 rooms set aside to quarantine students who test positive and a contract with a Durango hotel for 25 additional rooms for quarantines if needed.
The campus is also using the FLC App to track daily symptoms as another line of defense against COVID-19.
Employees and students receive a daily Green Health Pass using the FLC App – giving them the ability to circulate on campus.
One other line of defense against the virus will be random sampling of the campus population.
Random sampling will begin immediately this semester, while in the fall, the random sampling didn’t begin until four weeks in.
Every week, 10% of the FLC community will be chosen for random samples to give the school a clearer picture of transmission rates on campus, Dupont said.
Still, the virus is making its impact felt. For the spring semester, classes remain offered in a variety of ways – in-person, all online and a combination of both, called hybrid classes.
Whatever the inconveniences required to deal with the coronavirus, the price is worth paying to keep in-person learning an option for Nils Aberg and Maddie Gerritsen, two FLC sophomores who were chatting Monday in front of Reed Library.
“I enjoy just sitting in the lecture hall with people who are all there for the same reason. There’s an energy you don’t get online and you appreciate it more,” said Gerritsen, a business major.
Aberg said he chose to attend FLC in Durango, not to get his lessons online back home in Evergreen.
“It’s a beautiful campus, and it’s nice to be out of the house for the first time in a while,” he said.