The grand experiment begins Monday for at least three Inland Northwest colleges and universities. Washington State, the University of Idaho and North Idaho College will begin their first academic year in the coronavirus age.
All of the institutions have plans on how to put in place various safety procedures, including distancing, temperature checks and mask requirements. And all plan a mix of online and in-class instruction.
At North Idaho College in Coeur d Alene, 60% of classes will be in person, 40% online.
At the University of Idaho in Moscow, 25% will be in person, 30% online, and 45% hybrid.
In Washington, some schools are being more cautious. For WSU students, including those in Pullman, and those in Spokane at the Colleges of Nursing, Medicine, and Pharmacy, all classes will be delivered remotely with extremely limited exceptions for in person instruction.
“One of the reasons we decided to go with a learn-in-place model is, one, to keep the students safe. Social distancing in the classroom would be difficult given the size of the class. It allowed us to really plan for a robust curriculum and be able to deliver a quality education for these students," said Dr. Farion Williams, the associate dean of clinical education for the College of Medicine at WSU's Tri-Cities campus.
That means lots of Zoom time for students. But in an attempt to retain some of the tradition of medical school, Williams and his fellow faculty members are carrying on with a few established rituals.
On Friday, new medical students participated in the annual white coat ceremony. Normally, students gather in an auditorium and walk up on stage to receive their coats and shake hands with the dean. This time, the ceremony is held outside on campus. They drive up one at a time in their cars, then get out, masks on, receive their coats on a makeshift stage and pose for a quick picture. An virtual ceremony later in the evening provides students with their formal welcome to medical school.
Now the hard work begins. Third- and fourth-year medical students are scattered around the state, assigned to clinical settings. Students will continue to see patients while wearing protective equipment. First- and second-year medical school is mostly study, but there’s also a scaled-back clinical component planned. And anatomy lab, a staple for first years, will be conducted online, not with students exploring real cadavers.
“We don’t have the full scope of experience. It’s a partial experience, but they do still get some clinical experience," Williams said.
Which, for now, is probably the best they can hope for.
Gonzaga’s classes begin on September 1. Whitworth starts September 9. Eastern Washington and the Community Colleges of Spokane begin fall quarter on September 23.
At those three, officials are going with plans that would allow students to take classes online, while at the same time offering some in-person options. The community colleges are also both offering a mix of in-person and online classes.
With the in-person courses, students will be notified if, at some point, during the quarter, their course needs to move to online learning.