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Emergency Preparedness

11 Considerations for Resuming In-Person Instruction in the COVID-19 Era

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A new set of guidelines from the American College Health Association (ACHA) has provided a run-down of key considerations for safely reopening institutions of higher education as the COVID-19 pandemic slows. The recommendations covered multiple areas, from teaching and learning to student health services, housing and athletics.

The guidelines acknowledged that while colleges and universities have moved to online learning for the short term, it will eventually be necessary to return to in-person instruction. "Preparing for COVID-19, almost all institutions of higher education transitioned to an online/virtual mode of instruction," the report noted. "While these efforts have allowed the teaching and learning missions of universities to continue, there are limitations to remote instruction. Planning should include strategies guided by public health considerations to resume in-person instruction."

To inform that planning, the guidelines set forth 11 considerations for instruction and learning environments: factors institutions should address in order to protect the health and safety of the campus community.

  1. "Prioritization of in-person instruction for courses with academic outcomes that cannot be measured or achieved virtually." In other words, performance, laboratory and clinical experiences should return to campus before courses that can effectively be delivered online.
  2. "Implementation of a hybrid mode of instruction for the foreseeable future." Institutions should make remote learning options available in case a resurgence of the virus necessitates another campus closure.
  3. "Limitation of the number of attendees for in-person courses/sections." The report recommended limiting these courses to fewer than 30 participants and creating multiple sections to help reduce the numbers.  
  4. "Implementation of close monitoring and tracking of in-person attendance and seating arrangements to facilitate contact tracing in the event of an exposure."
  5. "Development of a physical distancing plan for each course." Factors here include the number of students and faculty present; length of session; type of activities; the ability to check students and faculty for symptoms; public health practices (physical distancing, face coverings, hand washing, etc.); use of hand sanitizer and enhanced cleaning regimens; and availability of remote options.
  6. "Development of specialized plans for students who are at increased risk due to the occupational nature of their studies." For example, health professional students who are doing field work must be provided with adequate PPE, supervision and other protections.
  7. "Expansion of simulation experiences to create clinical scenarios for health professional students to practice technical, diagnostic, and exam skills."
  8. "Development of specialized plans for courses and instruction that do not permit physical distancing and/or involve activities of higher risk." For example, courses in dance, theater and performing arts will require special precautions.
  9. "Development of attendance and excuse policies that acknowledge and support students who become ill without creating barriers and without requiring unnecessary visits to health facilities for documentation of illness."
  10. Encouraging open lines of communication between faculty and students, in particular "regarding health status and any changes in their ability to complete coursework and academic responsibilities."
  11. "Identification of resources for students with learning disabilities or difficulties with remote learning platforms."

"At present, many institutions have tentative plans to reopen their campus as the pandemic abates, and their ultimate goal is keeping all members of the campus community healthy and safe. ACHA is providing this guidance to aid institutions in their decision-making and preparations," commented Jean Chin, chair of the ACHA COVID-19 Task Force. "We believe this new set of guidelines will help institutions determine the necessary steps and resources needed to safely welcome their students, faculty and staff back to campus."

The full report, "Considerations for Reopening Institutions of Higher Education in the COVID-19 Era," is available on the ACHA site.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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