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Outdoor spaces and assigned seating: rearranging classrooms for a pandemic

This fall, Carleton is preparing new classroom spaces and layouts to anticipate the campus community’s changing needs during the pandemic. The Return to Campus Operations Team, Carleton College Associate Dean Gretchen Hofmeister and the Campus Committee—made up of faculty representatives and representatives from the Office of Facilities and Capital Planning, Academic Technology and the Registrar’s Office—have worked to create safer classroom arrangements.

According to Dean Hofmeister, size limits for in-person courses were determined based on recommendations from the American College Health Association Guidelines.

“The Academic Technologists and the Perlman Center for Learning and Teaching are sponsoring classroom simulations so that faculty can try out different approaches for teaching in these spaces,” Hofmeister noted. Hofmeister stated that Presentation, Events and Production Support (PEPS) will “tweak their technology set-ups as best as possible and create additional information for faculty as a result of these simulations.”

“The furniture in the classrooms is arranged generally the same for all types of classes, but most of them have movable tablet armchairs,” Hofmeister said, adding that custodial services staff will position the furniture in classrooms each day.

CSA Senator and Office of Health Promotion Liaison Maya Rogers ‘22 noted that Carleton “evaluated all of the academic buildings.” “I think they’re trying to get every class in the same space to really stick with the same layout,” Rogers added.

Students coming to campus in the fall are expected to help maintain consistency in classroom arrangements and abide by the Carleton Community Covenant. “One thing that is explicitly mentioned in the Covenant is students not rearranging spaces,” Rogers, a member of the working group that created the Covenant, said.

Hofmeister stated that Carleton will have two outdoor classrooms that will be tented and have a chalkboard, portable sound system, folding chairs and lap desks. Carleton will also be using the Larson Meeting Room, Weitz Cinema and Kracum Auditorium, all in the Weitz Center for Creativity, as classroom spaces. 

“Many music ensemble practices will be held in outdoor tents located at the Weitz Center for Creativity,” Hofmeister noted. “There will also be a tent at Boliou, to increase the space for studio art classes and to support working outdoors.”

Chemistry Professor Steven Drew will be teaching a hybrid chemistry course in the fall with a lab component.  The lab portion will take place in person once a week. “We’re operating our lab spaces at 50% capacity,” Drew stated, adding that, in a normal term, “we have 24 students in a space we’ve set up for labs, plus a couple of faculty members and student TAs.” 

“The way we’re compensating for that is that we have two lab spaces sort of adjacent to each other, so I’ll still have 24-person lab sections,” Drew said. “I’m going to web link the two so that, if I make comments in one, the other lab can hear.” 

“I’m going to have partners set up, but they’re going to be separated in individual rooms, but linked by Zoom,” Drew noted. “They can share data and share what they’re doing through Zoom across the two lab spaces.” According to Drew, he will be teaching both a morning section and an afternoon section for the lab, and each section is expected to have 24 students.

In addition to doubling the number of spaces, further changes are being made in Drew’s classrooms. “Everyone’s going to have assigned seating,” Drew said. “They’ll have to put their PPE on.” “We are going to have some controls on how people move around the lab,” Drew stated.

Although courses may look a bit different this fall, Drew noted that “in terms of the science they’ll be doing, it’ll be the same.”

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